John 14:23-29
Reflecting on John 14:23-29

We were delighted to welcome, Ben MacRae, our Theology Student who will commence his learning module this coming September as we resume Jazz Vespers. 

Here is a little information about Ben. I'm sure you will enjoy his insightful energy and the passion he has for the church.


 “Pondering John 14:23-29”

John 14:23-29 & Psalm 67 ~ Northwood UC ~ May 22, 2022 ~ Ben MacRae (visiting Theology Student)  

As Linda mentioned, I am a second-year student at both the Vancouver School of Theology and St. Andrew’s Hall, The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s college and residence which is located at the University of British Columbia. I recently completed my first year of studies in the Master of Divinity program and towards ordination within The Presbyterian Church in Canada. God willing, I aspire to become a congregational pastor and to serve in whatever ways the Lord calls me to serve. The funny part is that I’m still working out this calling, as I’m sure many of my pastor friends would agree, and while most days I feel a lightness in my heart, a readiness in my mind, a yearning in my soul and a quickness in my feet to serve, there are days that I wonder if what I am doing is good, or right, or true. Now don’t get me wrong; life is good.  

My life is good, and for the first time in all my days, I can say that even though there is darkness in this world, that life is good, because our Triune God, moves in all things. Yet sometimes I need to be reminded of this, of God’s wholeness, God’s fullness, God’s divine presence that makes the sunshine, that stirs the breath in my lungs, that cause life to spring forth from void-and-nothingness2 and to flourish with lush abandon, stretching towards God, we yearn to embrace the Love that first loved us.3 We, as children of God, can’t help but love, or failing that, we act in absence of love, filling the holes of our broken selves with something temporary, something other-than-God, something that is a non-thing. I’m sure that many of us have been there, and speaking for myself, I know that this is a dead end. Yet despite knowing these truths, (and I do mean knowing, not believing, – but that’s another sermon) it is so easy for me to slip down dark paths of despair; there is no end of contemporary issues from which to write yet another doom and gloom sermon.  

We’ve all had enough of those, and while I’m sure there will be a time for such a message from me at some point during my time with Northwood United, today is not the day. Today we look at a passage that celebrates our God being with us, Emmanuel, with us in the beginning as the Creator, for us on the Cross at Golgotha in Jesus of Nazareth, and present with us as the Holy Spirit, Three in One, One in Three, the blessed Trinity of our adoration and confessions. {Pause} As I was preparing for this service, I kept finding my attention drawn 14.25-26, “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 what I have said to you.”  

Reading this passage in a few translations, I kept noticing that the Greek word, paraklētos/paraclete, translated here in the NRSV as “advocate,” seems to be a point of contention for the various Bible translators. Various Bibles translate this word as advocate, and yet other translators use prefer helper, advocate, counsellor, intercessor, or even consoler, to depict the richness of the Greek language as it attempts to put a name to one of the persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This piqued my curiosity, and being a nerdy seminarian, I decided to see where else this word occurs in the Bible, and to my surprise, this word, paraclete, only appears five times in the Bible; four times in St. John’s Gospel, and one time in First John.4 Conversely, the typical New Testament Greek word for the Spirit, the neuter-noun pneuma,5 which occurs three hundred and eighty five times in the Bible, (and is also the same word as breath, a direct translation of the Old Testament feminine noun Hebrew rûaḥ6), does not appear in St. John’s Gospel.  

It would appear that we have a word game, a mystery, afoot here! So what’s going on? What is holy scripture trying to teach us? If the typical New Testament Greek word for the Spirit, pneuma, is attempting to translate the Old Testament word John’s word, rûaḥ, which is used to refer to God’s Spirit, then what is John doing here? As far as I could tell, and I’m no Hebrew or Greek scholar, it would appear that John, by using paraclete, with its multifaceted imagery (advocate, helper, consoler, etc.), is referencing another Hebrew Bible word, the masculine nounʿēzer,7 which occurs twenty-two times in the Old Testament, but most famously in Genesis 2.18. 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle and to the birds of the air and to every animal of the field, but for the ma there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. In all other twenty occurrences this word,ʿēzer (helper) (See - Genesis 2.18, 2.20, Exodus 18.4; Deuteronomy 33.7, 33.26, 33.29; Psalms 20.2, 33.20, 70.5, 89.19, 115.9, 115.10, 115.11, 121.1, 121.2, 124.8, 146.5; Isaiah 30.5, Ezekiel 12.14; Daniel 11.34; Hosea 13.9. 8 Genesis 2.18.  

Okay, so, like my pastor would likely tell me right now, “who cares?” What does this mean for us, God’s people in the here and now? {Pause} St. John uses the word paraclete, instead of the typical pneuma name for the Spirit, highlighting connection with God as our advocate, counsellor, comforter, helper, and consoler. While God is our breath, the great Spirit of life that illumines our bodies, souls, and minds, the Spirit of God that moves on the waters in the creation story of Genesis 1 St. John is drawing a link to God as an intimate partner that cares for our every need, Whether great or small. In doing so, St. John is affirming the long-held Judeo-Christian tradition that such things are not below God; quite the opposite in fact. While there are problems with associating the paraclete with feminine imagery, (women are far more than just advocates, counsellours, helpers, etc.), one must consider the context in which this scripture was written; first-century Judea was not a modern liberal democracy such as Vancouver in the twenty-first century. If we take a moment to consider this, then the meaning of scripture becomes much clearer, and far more radical. God, by associating the Spirit with the feminine imagery of ʿēzer/paracletus (2022-05-22) 10 that is found in both Genesis 2.18, 20, and John 14.25, is affirming the goodness and value of human females as something that is made in the image of God, and can be used to understand a part of God’s divinity.  

This is a radical upheaval of the then millennia old anti-woman discriminations, and an affirmation of something special and unique that is shared between female humans and their Creator God. This is, in part, how some ancient Christians were able to call God “Our Mother,” and as recounted to me by a fellow classmate and Armenian Orthodox Priest, is how some in the ancient Syrian churches were able to refer to the Trinity as Father, Mother, & Son. Taking it one step further, is not the belief that the Creator God, Lord and progenitor of the entire universe, can be born and take flesh of an ordinary, Jewish woman, at the heart of our Christian faith? The belief that God moves equally in all the good things of his creation? One final thought, before my closing remarks; while the Bible has relatively little to say of non-binary folk, it is notable to me, that of the four terms used for the Spirit discussed here today, that one of them is feminine, another is gender-neutral, and two are masculine. While this still slants towards a paternalistic bias, it is again remarkable how much wisdom flowed from our ancestors-in-faith. In God’s image we are created, and if we be created of love, than so too is the diversity of our reflections of God’s image.  

Sisters, Brothers, in this day and age of reckoning and reconciliation, it is so important that we draw upon such passages as these as we move forward together, to build a more inclusive, loving and affirming church. As we move forward in the spirit of scripture, with the Advocate at our side, passages such as this can become a wellspring from which we might move forward in the fullness of holy scriptures meaning, rather than being rigidly confined to a more narrow, dogmatic reading. Is this not one of the many things Jesus teaches us? To live into the intent of the law, of scripture? To love as Christ first loved us? To affirm the goodness of all of God’s creation?