United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

"The Holy Spirit"

Rev. Rebecca Migliore
May 21, 2017



(“A what?” reading from Seasons)


A:  What did you think of the reading this morning?

B:  To tell you the truth, I didn’t understand it.

A:  Why not?

B:  Too many words.

A:  Too many words?

B:  Yes, and are you going to repeat everything I say? A:  What words didn’t you understand?

B:  Well, the word Advocate, for example. What does    that mean?

A:  An advocate is like a comforter.

B:  Oh, like a helper?

A:  Yes, a truth.

B:  Like a promise?

A:  You’ve got the idea. What else wasn’t clear?

B:  Well, Jesus spoke about truth.

A:  Truth?

B:  Truth!

A:  As in gospel

B:  Revelation.

A:  You’re doing well.

B:  But there were other words.

A:  Other words?

B:  Yes other words, like abide.

A:  As in, stays with.

B:  Or shares.

A:  Suffers.

B:  Submits.

A:  I didn’t know Jesus used so many words.

B:  Well there is another.

A:  Like?

B:  Like orphaned.

A:  Foundling.

B:  Dependent. Hobo.

A:  This is quite a big passage we read this morning!

B:  But there is one more word.

A:  One more.

B:  One more, commandments.

A: Ah! Actions.

B:  Bidding.

A:  Call.

B:  Proclamation.

A:  Will.

B:  As in, “Will you now stop repeating everything   I say?”

A:  Is that now clear?

B:  Clear.

A:  Are you sure?

B:  Sure.

A:  Will you stop repeating everything I say?

B:  I suppose we should be repeating the things of Jesus.

A:  Like the way he lived.

B:  The things he did.

A:  The lifestyle he had.

B:  And to help us,

A:  Jesus gave us the Advocate,

B:  The comforter,

A:  The helper.

B:  Let’s stop repeating ourselves.

A and B:  Let’s copy Jesus.


       We are back in the gospel of John—world of mysterious signs and multiple layers of meaning, of a Jesus who uses lots of words, and a community who felt themselves under siege.  We are back in the midst of Passion Week—and this passage comes as Jesus is talking with his disciples at what we have come to call The Last Supper.  Jesus was talking to followers, friends, who were increasingly worried about what was happening.  He was talking about leaving them, going to “the Father.”  What would happen then?  How would they know what to do?  What would life be like?  What were THEY supposed to do?

       I can’t listen to this passage read without hearing the beautiful strains of Everett Titcomb’s “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you, yet again.” 

       Jesus is trying to reassure them (and all the disciples who have followed them), that they shouldn’t feel abandoned or orphaned, even in dark times.  True, Jesus won’t be able to be right by their side, but there will be another—a spirit of truth, an advocate, God’s presence, a gift, who will abides with them, and in them—The Holy Spirit.

       Now often when Presbyterians think of the Holy Spirit, it is as something/someone not too well defined, maybe even scary, best left alone.  That is not the world of the gospel of John.  Here, Jesus identifies this spirit as God with us now.  God on our side.  The One pleading our case.  Imagine you got in trouble, and had to go to court.  You would want to have the best representation you could afford.  That’s what Jesus asks God to give us in the Holy Spirit.  An Advocate who can best help us be who we should be.

       So, Jesus says, Don’t feel orphaned.  Don’t feel abandoned.  You aren’t alone.  The Spirit is with you, so close that we could say the Spirit is in you.  And this Spirit will help you to do what you are to do, to live as you are to live.  And I can hear the disciples questioning—“What is it we are supposed to do?  How are we supposed to live?”

       The answer is deceptively simple—love.  Love, an action, a verb.  Jesus reminds us, Keep my commandments by loving one another.  Doing my research for this sermon I came upon John Mayer’s song “Love is a verb.”  And although I’m pretty sure John was thinking of romantic love, his words point to what I think Jesus was saying.

“Love is a verb”  by John Mayer


Love is a verb, It ain’t a thing

It’s not something you own

It’s not something you scream.

       When you show me love, I don’t need your words

       Yeah, love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb

       Love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb

Love ain’t a crutch, It ain’t an excuse,

No, you can’t get through love, on just a pile of IOUs

Love ain’t a drug, despite what you’ve heard

Yeah, love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb

Love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb.

       So you gotta show, show, show me

       That love is a verb

       Love ain’t a thing, Love is a verb.


       So we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is closer than we might like, and can help us try to live our lives in love.  That sounds all well and good, but I know that sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, I am exhausted by the world we live in, exhausted by the overpowering sense of need, exhausted by the scope and size and depth of the problems we are facing, exhausted by my own inadequacy to fix any of it, exhausted by the knowledge of my all-too-limited supply of love.  How on earth are we supposed to keep Jesus’ commandments to love: in a world where there are regimes who routinely execute large numbers of people and burn their bodies so they can’t be identified; in a world where even rock stars who seem to have it all end up taking their own lives; in a world where resources are not shared with all who have need; in a world where we continue to abuse the sacred trust and responsibility of taking care of our planet, our home; in a world where there is such poverty, and inequality, and hatred based on the color of your skin, or the name of your God, or who you love; in a world that seems intent on making a 24/7 intravenous feed of the worst possible news; in a world where knowing how and where and when to love requires more knowledge than we feel we have.  What is a follower of Jesus to do?

       And that’s where I find solace in the convoluted, Russian nesting doll—esque description of love in the universe.  “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

       I hear the bedrock for Augustine’s definition of the trinity as “Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them” rattling around in this statement by Jesus.  I don’t want to get into too much parsing of what and who goes where and when, but it is apparent that active love, this verb, is something that God has in abundance, and by doing our own little bit of love, we open ourselves to allowing God’s love to course through us.  So we do not need to have unfathomable depths of love—because God does.  We do not have to understand how it will work out—because that is not our job. 

       I have no idea what the first disciples heard from this speech.  It is a small part of a lot more words.  They were frightened and confused.  I am glad that we get to chew on these words of Jesus.  That we can let them settle in our hearts, and our minds, and our all.

       I will not leave you comfortless or orphaned.  The Holy Spirit will be with you, as Advocate, and Comforter, and Peace passing all understanding, and Hope amidst hopelessness, and Justice for all people, and best of all, as the word Jesus uses at that table, on that last night, Friend.

       We, along with the Holy Spirit, are intended for great things—the greatest of which is love.  To love, love as a verb.

       And we should never forget, that we are not in this loving business alone.  We have been drawn into the swirling mystery of God’s love—the impetus for how we “live and move and have our being” in this world, our energy source, and our final home.

        That’s enough:  That’s enough for a lifetime.


May we open ourselves to being a part of the conduit of God’s love, having the Holy Spirit by our side and in our hearts, as we try to keep Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

 Alleluia, Amen.