St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-20-2018

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-20-2018

All of the Above; and More!

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.

One of the Biblical translation problems that comes up in conversation frequently comes from the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 3 where the Greek word ‘anOthen’ has two meanings in Greek that will not, cannot, come through with a single English word. In the Greek it can mean ‘again’ or ‘from above’; and so there is disagreement as to whether the verses should read “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” as the King James version renders it, or “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” As we read in the New Revised Standard version.

But it’s not necessarily a matter of one or the other, but both. Jesus uses the dual-meaning word intentionally to demonstrate how one-way thinking doesn’t always work in matters of understanding God’s Word as delivered through him. Nicodemus’ confusion over how a grown man can reenter his mother’s womb and be ‘born again’ shows a one-way understanding. Jesus’ clarification saying “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” is another understanding, but not exclusive of the first. When the two are put together we find what a Greek reader would have seen easily; We must be “born again” of the Spirit “from above”. We must start a new life; a new way of living; as offered by the Spirit of God!

Another, similar, translation problem comes up in today’s reading; only this one many times more complex. This time the Greek word is “παράκλητος” or transliterated “Paraclete”.

(No, we’re not talking about a fancy-colored little bird that many people keep in their homes, as flashed into my mind the first time I heard the word.) 

It’s a noun that Jesus uses, only found in John’s Gospel. In the NRSV reading we heard this morning it is translated “Advocate”, the King James Version renders it “Comforter” and the New Interpreter’s uses “Counselor”. Beyond these three, the word in Greek can also mean exhorter, intercessor, helper (especially in legal matters), or advisor; and one who makes appeals on another’s behalf.

Christ is clearly talking about the Holy Spirit; he starts this section with the words “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf”. But why doesn’t he use “The Spirit” throughout his speech; why does he use instead, “Paraclete”? And, what is the proper English word to be used in translation?


We’re still in Jesus’ farewell speech and if we look back over the entire content we can find him making many references to the Spirit, by whatever name he chooses to use.

In the beginning, at chapter 14, he says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever… I will not leave you orphaned” (vss. 15-16). ( In the context I hear “Comforter”)

A few verses after that “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”. (26) (I hear “Counselor”)

A chapter later; “When the Advocate comes… he will testify on my behalf. (15:26) (I hear “Exhorter)

And another chapter after today’s reading; “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (16:13) (I hear “Advisor”)

Looking beyond John’s Gospel we find even more options (though using “Holy Spirit” in place of “Paraclete”)

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. (Matt. 10:19-20) (I hear “Instructor or Teacher”)

And, just 1 more, In Romans Paul writes…

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”. (8:26) (I hear Helper and Intercessor)

So, what would be the proper English translation for the noun “Paraclete”; Comforter, counselor, exhorter, advisor, instructor/teacher, or intercessor?

I think you’re getting the idea by now that it can be any of the above. In fact it should be any of the above depending on which fits the context of a particular verse!

This is why John uses the peculiar word when translating from Jesus’ native Aramaic language into Greek in the first place. A native reader of the language, knowing all the possible meanings, would automatically consider the multitude of meanings and find the one or ones that best fit.

Trying to find the one right translation and staying with it throughout the book, or throughout the entire Bible for that matter, diminishes our understanding of what God is trying to teach us; it takes away from the fullness of the scriptures; and, sadly, it takes something away from us.

Just as the discussion of whether we need to be “born again” or “born from above” causes us to miss the blessing of being ‘born again in the Spirit from above’; leaving a single word in place for the actions of the Holy Spirit causes us to miss the awareness of the many blessings the Spirit brings to us.

If we only hear “Advocate” we miss the sense of having an “exhorter” encouraging us to move forward. If we only hear “Comforter” we miss the knowledge of an “advisor” in our presence as we seek God’s truth. And if we only hear “Counselor” we miss the fact that we have an “intercessor” connecting us directly to the grace and the love of God and Christ. We miss all these things the Holy Spirit does for us and so much more.

Open yourself to the Paraclete when you need an advocate, when you need comfort, when you need to be pushed forward, counseled, advised, taught, need to feel connected, whatever your need; and know that the Spirit is with you, offering you new life, with the power of flowing water and a wind-swept fire!




Acts 2:1-21
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works–
104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Romans 8:22-27
8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;
8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?
8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.
15:27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’
16:6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.
16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
16:9 about sin, because they do not believe in me;
16:10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;
16:11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.