MORE THAN A SNUGGIE
A Pentecost sermon on John 14:8-17, 25-27
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
June 9, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Every so often, a consumer product hits the market and becomes a cultural phenomenon. Back in the 80’s, it was The Clapper, a sound activated light switch. (Anybody here remember The Clapper?) More recently it was The Snuggie, a blanket with sleeves that came into the market in 2008. After only one year, it sold more than 20 million units. (OK—time to confess. Let’s see a show of hands…How many of you have at least one Snuggie in your home?) While this kind of success is impressive, the Snuggie holds a dirty secret. It was not the original. The Snuggie was created after being inspired by an already existing product known as “The Slanket.”
The Slanket was created in 1997 by a freshman at the University of Maine named Gary Clegg. As the story goes, 17-year old Clegg was sitting under a blanket in his poorly insulted dorm room on a cold December night. He wanted to change the channel on his TV, but to do that, he had to take his hand out from under his warm blanket in order to point the remote at the screen. Annoyed by this fact, he cut a hole in the blanket and stuck his arm through. Within a few hours, he came up with the idea to add sleeves to his blanket. A few weeks later, he went home for Christmas break and commissioned the first Slanket to be made by his mother.
Clegg used his strangely shaped blanket to keep warm for the next four years while he finished his education. Then, a couple of years after graduation, he founded The Slanket in 2005. He started by selling it to family and friends mostly via word of mouth. Then he took orders online and then on the shopping network QVC. Within two years of the creation of the company, QVC was selling Slankets faster than Clegg’s company could manufacture them.
In 2008, Clegg was ready to take the next step and approach national retailers like Walmart with his product. Unfortunately, the maker of the Snuggie, the Allstar Products Group, had beaten him to the punch. Commercials for the Snuggie were already being broadcast and contracts had already been signed with major big box stores by the time that he was ready to make his pitch. Alas, he was too late. Although the Slanket is still selling quite well overseas, the Snuggie eclipsed it in sales in the US a long time ago… 
When asked why he thought that the concept of the sleeved blanket had become so popular the world over, Clegg replied, “The feeling that it gives is universal. We all like to feel safe, warm and comfortable…”
In today’s scripture passage from John, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He tells his disciples that he will be going away from them, but that he will not leave them comfortless. The Spirit will come to be with them, teaching them and reminding them of all that he had taught them.
In a lot of English translations, the name that Jesus gives the Holy Spirit in this passage is “The Comforter.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “comforter,” it brings to my mind different images than what I think that our Lord intended to convey. When I hear the word “comforter,” I think of soft quilts…or puffy bed spreads…or maybe even blankets with sleeves. Things that we can use to wrap around ourselves to stay warm and cozy when we are feeling sick or when the weather is cold outside. I doubt that was our Lord’s intent in using that word. Nor do I believe that the Scriptures teach us that it is the Holy Spirit’s primary job to keep us warm and comfortable. I think that it would be safe to say that the Holy Spirit is not the spiritual equivalent of a Snuggie…
The word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit in today’s text is the Greek word paraklētos. Paraklētos is a word that only appears five times in the New Testament and it only occurs in writings by the Apostle John. It’s a word that has several shades of meaning that are simply not conveyed by the English word “comforter.” From the outset of this discussion, it must be stated that “Comforter” is a legitimate translation of paraklētos—as in, one who gives comfort and encouragement to another. One who stands alongside of another. But that is only one facet to its meaning.
You may have noticed that in the reading of the passage earlier in the New Revised Standard Version that the translators chose to use the word “Advocate” instead of the word “Comforter.” That is because paraklētos is primarily a legal term. It means someone who pleads another’s case in a court of law before a judge. It has the implication of being counsel for the defense—a legal assistant—a helper to plead on one’s behalf. In fact, the only other time the word paraklētos is used in the New Testament outside of the gospel of John is in 1 John 2:1. In that passage, the word refers to Jesus. It says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous…” The picture that John is painting for us is that Jesus is making our case to God the Father on our behalf whenever we commit sin. He is our defender. Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus is able to be our advocate.
And perhaps that is why Jesus in verse 16 of the text refers to the Holy Spirit as another Advocate. We have not just one advocate named Jesus, but we also have an additional advocate before God the Father in the person of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is what Jesus had in mind…
Here is another idea. In addition to the Holy Spirit’s job of being our advocate before the Father, perhaps it is also the Holy Spirit who is God’s advocate to us. That is, whenever we are tempted to sin…whenever we are weighing our options as to what to do or to say in a particular situation or circumstance, perhaps it is the Holy Spirit’s job in our lives to speak to us on God’s behalf. To remind us of the promises that we have made to the Lord. To advocate so that we might choose the path that God would have us to choose. To bring to our minds the goodness of God…and the tenderness of God…and of all of God’s loving mercies to us in order that we might continue in the way that he would have us to take. Just as Jesus was sent to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God and to advocate for that Kingdom during his earthly ministry, maybe that is now the Spirit’s job in our lives…to aid us, to empower us and to instruct us in the ways of Christ on God’s behalf…
I think that is exactly what Jesus meant in today’s passage when he identifies the Holy Spirit to the disciples as “The Spirit of truth…[who]will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:17, 26) It is the indwelling Spirit’s task to advocate for God’s way in our lives…and then to help us to be transformed from the inside out into the new creation that he intends for each one of us.
There are a number of symbols for the Holy Spirit given in the New Testament. One of the most popular symbols is that of the dove. As I look around at all the magnificent and priceless stained glass in our sanctuary, this is the symbol that the creators of the stained glass windows chose to depict the Holy Spirit. You can find the descending dove in one of the memorial windows to my left…and to your right.
[Side bar here: As far as I can tell, this is the only reference to the Holy Spirit among all the beautiful stained glass in our sanctuary—one rather small picture of a dove off to the side. I am not sure what that says…or if it indeed says anything at all…]
You all remember that the gospels record that, right after Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan River, “Heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) This dove alighting on Jesus was God’s way of confirming Jesus’ mission on earth as the Son of God, the One who whose business was to reconcile us to the Father…
Two other symbols of the Holy Spirit are to be found in the passage from Acts 2, which was read earlier in the service. The first symbol is that of wind. Acts 2 begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they [that is, the followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. 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…”
The Spirit came upon the believers like the “sound of a rush of violent wind.” Early in his earthly ministry, Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind as well. In John 3, you may remember that our Lord had a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. This is the same conversation in which Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” And he also said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7) In this comparison of the Holy Spirit to the wind, Jesus was emphasizing the surprising nature of the Spirit. You cannot control it. You cannot manufacture it. You can do nothing to direct or manipulate it. Just like the wind blows where and when and how strong as it desires, so it is with the Holy Spirit. No matter what you may do, no one can control the wind. Neither can anyone control the Spirit of God.
The second symbol for the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is fire. After the sound of the wind filled the house, verses 3 and 4 tells us that “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…”
The use of fire to symbolize the Holy Spirit is sprinkled throughout the gospels. For example, Matthew3 records the preaching of John the Baptist down by the riverside. In proclaiming Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, John declared in verse 11, “One who is more powerful that I is coming after me. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Another example in the gospels about the Holy Spirit being compared to fire: In Luke 12, we read that Jesus was teaching his followers many things about what it means to be his disciple. As a concluding comment to that section, Jesus told them, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Why fire? Well, fire can be a comfort. Anyone who has sat by a fireplace on a cold winter night or around a campfire after the sun has gone down knows the comfort that a fire can bring. Fire brings warmth and chases away the cold. Those are great things. But fire is also much more than that.
Fire brings light, illuminating and rolling back the darkness for all to see. Sometimes that’s a good thing, as it helps to show us the way. Sometimes that is not such a great thing, as it shows up things for what they really are. That sometimes includes our own sins and our failings. And sometimes the light shines in places where people would rather not have the light shine because it exposes the reality of the lives that they are living. A reality that shatters the façade of respectability that they strive to maintain…
But like the wind, fire is also something that sometimes cannot be contained. Just ask the people of California. It has been said that the 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest and most destructive season on record for the state. A total of more than 8500 fires burned almost 2 million acres. Once a fire is kindled, there is no telling how long it may last or where it may go next. Sometimes it almost seems as if the fire has a mind of its own…
So it is with the Spirit. Just like the symbol of the Spirit as the wind. The Spirit cannot be contained. It will move and inspire and compel people on its own timeframe and with its own agenda. You cannot set the Holy Spirit’s agenda. All that one can do is to be open to the Spirit’s leading, and once that leading has been discerned, then you must follow. That’s the way it is with the life in the Spirit.
One more thing about the Holy Spirit as fire. Contact with the Spirit requires an immediate response. Just like fire. You may be sitting around a campfire, enjoying its warmth and glow. But if you reach into the fire and pull out a stick, especially if you grab it near the end that is burning, then your response will be immediate, won’t it? You won’t be hanging on to it for long. NO—you will have to do something with it—and in a hurry. You may throw it on the ground, you may toss it back into the fire or you may drop it into a bucket of sand or water. But regardless of what action that you choose, there will be a sense of urgency in what you do.
So it is with the Spirit. Once one is filled with the Holy Spirit, there will be some kind of response. For the disciples at Pentecost, their response was to spill out into the streets of Jerusalem and preach the gospel to the crowds in lots of different tongues. When you are filled with the Spirit, preaching or speaking in tongues may not be the response that the Spirit will lead you to. That is okay. Instead, the filling of the Spirit may manifest itself in your life in other ways. Perhaps it will be burdened for a friend struggling in their life who needs the life changing message of the gospel. Perhaps it will lead you to some kind of ministry to those who are less fortunate and need assistance.
Regardless of where the Spirit may lead you, it will certainly evidence itself in the characteristics of a life lived more fully unto the Lord. The Apostle Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. In that chapter, he describes the character traits of those who are filled by the Holy Spirit. In that discussion, he lists love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those are the things that characterize one who lives their life filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to the believers assembled there and initiated a new era in what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I pray that we will all be filled with the Spirit, that the Spirit will have free reign in our lives, that God may be glorified through us, his people. Let us pray:
We have heard about you, Holy Spirit. You broke the bonds of every race and nation. You inspired the disciples to speak in every tongue, so that all would know about You. You made the disciples intoxicated with grace. You converted souls and emptied pockets. You showed how love can make all things new. You opened the doors to change and freedom. So we praise you. May we be swept up in your power and mercy.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.