Soon after God created Adam, God noticed that the man was lonely. Feeling sorry for him, God decided to fix the problem by creating animals and sending them one by one to Adam. Adam gave them names, but his loneliness didn’t go away. Not even the dogs, who are our best friends, nor the cats, who can be good companions – just don’t have too many of them – could fill the void that Adam was experiencing. Interestingly enough, not even Adam’s relationship with the Creator would suffice, and so God decided to create a companion who was perfectly fit for the man. When Adam saw the woman, he said to God: you got it right this time. She’s bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.
This creation story reminds us that deep within us is a need to be in relationship with others like ourselves. Of course, we’re all different and so the way in which we experience relationships is different. Some of you are extroverts and you can’t get enough of being with people, and the more the merrier. Others of you are like me. You’re an introvert and even though you enjoy the company of others, at some point, you just have to get away by yourself!
Of course we need to find a balance. I may enjoy being by myself for a while, but not for too long. I remember spending a couple of months pulling brush on property that sat 7000 feet up in the mountains and ten miles from the next closest property. Now it was beautiful up there in the mountains. The main cabin sat on a small mountain lake that lay in the shadow of a much taller peak. In spite of this great beauty I couldn’t wait to head home for the weekend so I could get a little human companionship. This need for companionship seems to be instinctive. Have you watched a little baby reach out for his or her mother? Isn’t that amazing how we bond with our parents so quickly?
Here in John, after trying to comfort the disciples as he faced the cross, Jesus tells them that he wouldn't leave them orphans, but even as he goes to the Father, he will ask the Father to send them another companion – the paraclete who is the “Spirit of Truth.” This Greek word is really wonderful, because it has so many meanings and nuances. You’ll find it translated as companion, advocate, counselor, comforter, and even helper. So how might the Spirit of God be for us an advocate, a comforter, and a helper?
When you think of the Spirit, do you ever think about Sam Bernstein or Geoffrey Fieger? Well, they’re advocates. It’s hard to miss their seemingly omnipresent ads, that promise that if we have a problem they’ll take care of us. Although I’ll have to take their word for this, that’s essentially what an advocate does. If Sam and Geoffrey don’t seem like good analogies, what about Perry Mason or Ben Matlock? I know that my earliest views of attorneys were formed by watching reruns of Perry Mason, who always seemed to get to the truth of the matter. And that’s what the Spirit is – the defender of the truth, who comes in Jesus stead to fulfill the promise that "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous."
Then there’s the word “comforter,” and instead of Perry Mason of Sam Bernstein, maybe the best image is that of a mother who loves her children. In Isaiah 66, God says to the people: "I will comfort you there as a child is comforted by its mother" (Is. 66:13). Isn’t this a wonderful image? It’s an image that all of us can relate to – though with all due respect to Isaiah, a father’s love can be comforting as well! But here is this wonderful image of God comforting a child like a mother who is sitting in a rocking chair, gently rocking her child to sleep after some traumatic incident – whether it’s a scraped knee or the loss of a pet.
Some amongst us might see this as a diminishment of God. For some people, if we think of God in terms of traditionally feminine qualities, then God may appear to be weak and passive – though it might be good to remember that most of the women of the Bible, from Miriam to Mary were anything but weak or passive.
As you reflect on this name for the Spirit, perhaps the people of Joplin, Missouri comes to mind. Surely the Spirit is there with the people of that city, walking with those who mourn for their loved ones who perished when that horrific tornado hit the city. Yes, and surely the Spirit is standing with those who still hold out hope that a loved one could be found alive in the rubble. Surely the Spirit is there encouraging the people who must start their lives anew. And if we have experienced the comforting presence of the Spirit in our own lives, perhaps that might lead us to participate with the Spirit in bringing comfort to those who grieve and who hold out hope. One way of doing this, of course, is to contribute through Week of Compassion.
Then there’s this idea that the Spirit of Truth might be our divine helper. In the words of that powerful opening hymn of Martin Luther, we declare:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
And when God created a companion for the man, according to Genesis 2, God created a “helper fit for him.” This “helper” was to be a partner who would share life with Adam, not only sharing the chores in the garden, but sharing life itself with him.
I’ve used this text from Genesis in many a wedding because it’s so descriptive of the partnership that marriage is intended to be. But, this text speaks of more than marriage, because it speaks to our need for human companionship, whatever the nature of that relationship. But here, it’s the Spirit who brings completion to humanity. It’s the Spirit who is our spiritual partner in life.
Again as Luther put it in his hymn, God is "our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing," so that when we’re about to falter, the Spirit of God comes alongside us and lift us up, much like the mother eagle, who when she’s teaching her chicks to fly, lifts them up by the power of her own wings.
This morning we come to worship knowing that around the world there are people who need defending, and comforting, and help in life’s journey. We come remembering the people of Joplin; we also come knowing that this is the day before Memorial Day, when we as a nation stop to remember those who have died, especially those who have died in service to their country. As we hear this text from John’s Gospel, how do you hear the promise that God will not leave us orphans? How do you hear and respond to the promise that Jesus has asked God to send to us the Spirit of Truth who is our Advocate, our Comforter, and our Helper? How do you hear these words today? What do they call you to do with your life?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
6th Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2011