Graduation! It’s that time of year. Students will be graduating from high school, college, graduate school—it’s a major milestone in their lives. It is the result of a lot of struggle and hard work; the facing of challenges and the overcoming of obstacles; times when they thought they wouldn’t make it; graduation is a time to remember the people, who helped along the way—who supported, encouraged, walked with them, and advocated for them.
I remember fondly all of the times when I graduated. Each graduation was unique and important. But today I want to remember [with you] my high school graduation. I, along with two other students, was chosen to address the crowd at our graduation. The three of us, rather than give a speech, read a book. We read a Dr. Seuss book: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. I’d like to start by reading from…
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do
to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
OH! THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
This book—and my graduation experience–came to my mind when I looked at this passage in John 14. Now obviously, Jesus was not giving a graduation speech [though I think he probably would’ve rocked it if he had]. But this part of John does sort of feel like a graduation speech for disciples who needed to hear something inspiring and relevant. Now of course not all of us are graduating soon, but I still think the message applies to all of us. You get the feeling that the words in John were not meant for just a select group of people. Jesus appears to address everyone in the challenges and the blessings of his words. That should not surprise us, though. After all, we are reading John’s Gospel, written so long after Jesus’ death. This was a Gospel that had more universal appeal, simply because it was written with a wider audience in mind. By the time these stories were written, the early communities that followed Jesus [what we now call the church] already existed.
Today we’ll need to look closer at some particular phrases in Jesus’ speech. First, those who love me will keep my word…
It can be tempting [and it has been very tempting over the centuries] to reduce Jesus’ teachings and life to rules and theological viewpoints. But let’s try to stay above that fray, as best we can. The word of Jesus is not a word per se, and certainly is not the word as defined by some to be the book we call the Bible.
Jesus’ word is a reality of being.
Remember John’s Gospel starts with that explanation. The word was there from the very beginning, the word was with God, the word was God, and the word became flesh. So word is living. And how did Jesus live?
Well, for Jesus of Nazareth, living involved the fruit of loving people. Sometimes this meant healing; others times, teaching; sometimes, feeding; and other times, caring for and guiding; other times, forgiving. That is by no means an extensive list. But you get the idea. Jesus lived to love. Love, for him, was less a feeling and more an action.
So for the disciples [and us] to keep Jesus’ word, is to keep on loving.
Just as Jesus loved, we are supposed to love. Just as Jesus healed, we are supposed to heal; just as he cared, we are supposed to care; just as he forgave, so are we to forgive; and just as Jesus gave peace and wholeness, we are supposed to…
But wait a minute. It all sounds nice, but isn’t Jesus about to ditch the disciples?
Isn’t he about to leave them alone?
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Okay, now THAT’S BETTER! Suitable for any graduation speech, I think. Yes, I’m going to leave and you will definitely be on your own. But you won’t really be alone, because an advocate will go with you on your journey. And you will have wholeness—something that is far beyond what the world can possibly offer you. So don’t be afraid.
I’m into this.
But we need to look closer at this spirit word, par-ak-letos, the Greek word that appears here and is translated [loosely] in English to both advocate and holy spirit. Let’s break it down.
Para means alongside.
Kletos means called.
Par-ak-letos, literally translated, means the one called alongside.
In a daily life application, this word par-ak-letos could apply to someone who is summoned to court in Greek law to help out as an advocate—to plead someone’s case.
Keep in mind that the people of the NT were not all Greek. Yes, the New Testament, as we know it, was written [for the most part] in Koine Greek. Over the centuries, though, manuscripts of the Bible were copied and changed. This is proven, because various NT manuscript copies of the same passage but from different years are not exactly the same. Whenever you translate something from one language to another, this is bound to happen. So please understand that paraclete is a good guess. And remember that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and many of his disciples most likely did, too. So often when you read a Bible story, you are seeing words translated from Aramaic into Greek [and sometimes mixed together], before being translated into a language that has nothing to do with Middle Eastern languages: American English.
And just one more thing to add to the craziness. Paraclete, in Greek, is also borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures [the OT].
The word is nacham. This means comfort.
You may recognize from Psalm 23: your rod and your staff, they comfort [nacham] me.
Essentially, take the Greek word for paraclete [one called alongside] and nacham [comfort] and you get what we see here: helper and comforter, later called Holy Spirit.
At this point you may be scratching your head or perhaps wondering what’s lighting up your Twitter feed or how you can discreetly escape, but please don’t despair or turn your brains off just yet. I’m saying all this just to help us understand that all these words for spirit are not necessarily interchangeable, but words from a variety of linguistic and cultural origins trying to describe something somewhat indescribable.
The presence of God promised by Jesus is indeed mega-inclusive.
This promise that we will not be alone is bigger than we think.
Comfort. Help. Advocacy. Presence.
This could be why Jesus finishes his disciple graduation speech by talking about another elusive word.
Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives to you, do I give to you.
Yes, peace. I’ve said this quite a bit, but it’s worth restating. Peace is a poor translation of the Greek word eirene, just as peace is a bad translation of the Sanskrit word you hear in Yoga class, namaste. Namaste actually means I bow to the god within you or the spirit within me salutes the spirit within you.
A lot more than peace and love, baby.
In the same way, the Greek eirene and the Hebrew shalom mean a lot more then peace, bro!
Eirene, a translation of shalom, is promoting the well-being of all people and society. It is wholeness, abundance, reconciliation, social harmony, and spiritual and physical health.
Again, Jesus is going all-inclusive here.
First, the spirit is for all and doesn’t leave us alone.
Second, the wholeness beyond superficial understanding is poured out on everybody.
I don’t know, but I have always been greatly encouraged by this section of John’s Gospel.
Like the confused and scared disciples, you and I will go to many places in our lives. Some of those paths we walk will not be all that great. We will encounter obstacles. We will have tough decisions to make. Oh, the place we’ll go, but oh, how hard it is to go there sometimes!
But we don’t go alone, and that’s what encourages me. We are not meant to journey alone. The wholeness of God is part of our experience with other human beings who also journey with us. We meet people in all the places we go. Some help us and some don’t. Some encourage and love us, and some don’t. Some places will be wonderful; some will be meh or awful.
But regardless, we don’t go alone. And we have a loving, comforting, challenging, holistic spirit walking with us. This is not a fantasy, but a promise. If we love as we are supposed to love, we will notice that this spirit is with us. The command to love goes right along with the promise of the spirit’s presence.
Love–and you will experience wholeness beyond understanding.
So friends, let’s be a place and community of love where the spirit lives. Let’s draw the circle wide—believing that God’s promises are not just for a few, but for all. Let’s not push people down or to the side; no one should stand alone or be left alone. Let’s live and breathe side by side with people of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs, perspectives, and personalities.
If Jesus’ love knows no limits, why should ours? Our love should not be scared of borders or differences. Jesus opened doors that were once closed. He opened hearts that were hard.
We can open doors.
We can welcome and invite.
We can show hospitality to all kinds of people in a million different ways.
And when we do this, when we draw the circle wide, invite in, love people well—we notice that the Spirit is in us and part of our lives. And then, oh, the places we’ll go! Amen.