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Posts tagged ‘paraclete’

The Three Ps, Every Day

John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15     Inclusive Bible

Note: Paraclete can be translated: one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate

When the Paraclete comes, the Spirit of Truth who comes from Abba God, whom I myself will send from my Abba—she will bear witness on my behalf. You too must bear witness, for you’ve been with me from the beginning. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. Now I am going to the one who sent me–yet not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ You’re sad of heart because I tell you this.

Still, I must tell you the truth: it is much better for you if I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send her to you. When she comes, she will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice and about judgment: About sin—in that they refuse to believe in me; about justice—because I go to Abba God and you will see me no more; about judgment—for the ruler of this world has been condemned.

I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now.

When the Spirit of Truth comes, she will guide you into all truth. She won’t speak on her own initiative; rather, she’ll speak only what she hears, and she’ll announce to you things that are yet to come. In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me, for she will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that Abba God has belongs to me. This is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.

graduation_capsGraduations are upon us.

It’s that time of year again when high school, postgraduate, and graduate students line up in robes with funny hats and tassels. After a painful race to the finish line of exams, papers, projects, and theses, they will sit in seats for a couple of hours listening to speakers and hearing their names called. They’ll march up to the stage and shake some faculty members’ hands; they’ll get a diploma [or in some cases an empty container, because their diploma gets mailed to them afterwards]. People will clap and take lots of pictures. Parents and grandparents will cry.

And pretty much all of the graduates will be in a state of shock and wonder.

Is it really over?

All the work, all the stress, all the challenges, experiences, and all the friendships?
Is it really over?

I remember all three of my graduations as being completely surreal. I mean, how can you really sum up years of your life in a ceremony that lasts a couple of hours? The truth is that you can’t. The robes, funny hats, tassels, diplomas, and ceremonies just don’t cut it. Yes, we mark these occasions as special, because to some extent, they are. But certainly, a graduation ceremony is no more special than any of the days or moments during the four years of high school or college. Certainly, those years are not defined by a piece of paper called a diploma. What about the relationships you forged? What about the challenges you overcame? What about all the things you learned, not just from books, but the things you learned about yourself, others, and the world?

We put so much effort into marking the occasion of graduation.
But once the hats are thrown up in the air and the parties end, what next?

Will tomorrow also be a special day with funny hats, robes, and celebration?
This is the question I would like for you to consider.

Is it possible for everyday to be a special day?

Mull over that for a moment.

And now, let’s move from funny hats to funny words, all beginning with the letter p.

Paraclete, Pentecost, and Promise anyone?

Certainly, the first two “p” words are strange.
What do they mean anyway?

Let’s start with Pentecost.

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after Resurrection Sunday.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.
It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew.

This festival began Saturday, May 23rd at night, and continued through Monday. People read the Torah, fast, eat special foods and specifically dairy products, and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

And now, what in the world is a Paraclete?
No, it’s not a pair of soccer shoes that float through the air.

parachute

Paraclete originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf.

This is often why Paraclete is translated advocate in English Bibles. But as you can see, Paraclete is the word used in John’s Gospel, and its meaning is wider than just advocate.

And the last p word you’ve heard before, but do you really know what it means?

Promise.

promise

Certainly, there are types of promises, some of them being: vows, oaths, commitments, and even legal contracts. The type of promise that goes with the other two p words of Pentecost and Paraclete is really none of those types of promises.

It is a covenant promise.

Keep in mind that a covenant is very different than a contract, which is based on law, and often built on fear. A covenant is based on grace, and built on love.

Covenants have a growing edge; they are fluid; they don’t impose limits.
In a covenant, accountability is mutual.

And finally, covenants require community affirmations and re-affirmations.

Of all the three p words I’ve mentioned, perhaps promise is the most important one, or at least the word from which the other two flow. There is no Pentecost with promise. There is no Paraclete without promise.

You see, Western Christians are notorious for marking liturgical days [like Pentecost], putting on strange robes and funny hats, giving special speeches, and observing one day as an extra special one.

But that’s not at all what Paraclete and Promise are about.

The Paraclete, the Spirit of God, is a promised reality. The Spirit is not limited to a day, or a time, or a place, or even to a religion. The Spirit flows as it wishes, and it flows through all. And the Spirit is part of the covenant promise, for the Spirit flows with grace and fills with love.

I return to the question I asked you to consider:

Is it possible for every day to be a special day?

Consider: what if every day were Pentecost?

No waiting for some mythical “Holy Ghost” to come down, or for some second coming—no waiting. Today.

What if impatience for “better days” or anxiety over what is to come took a back seat to the realization that today, right now, there is spirit, and promise, and life?

How would that change our living?
Our decision making?
Our treatment of others?

The Spirit–She is already here—proving us wrong when we say that there are only certain days that are special, only certain times when we can be filled with compassion, understanding, and joy. She is here today, standing beside us in times of need and standing up for that which is right. She is in us and around us, and so every day is an opportunity for us to change, to discover ourselves, to find wisdom, to listen, to learn, and to love.

Peace and Presence, Inspiring Love

John 14:23-29

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…

ohtheplacesCover 

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

Seuss

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.”


seuss2

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.


seuss3

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![1]

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.[2]
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.[3]

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.[4]  

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.


[1] Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss, Random House, 1990.

[2] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary #3875 – παράκλητος

[3] Chatterjee, Gautam (2001), Sacred Hindu Symbols, Google books, pp. 47–48.

[4] Strong’s Concordance 7965.

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