This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 1, 2016.
This text touches on several themes, not all of them clearly connected, so the first challenge for a preacher is deciding which part(s) of it to preach. The farewell discourse (John 13-17), like other extended speeches of Jesus in John’s Gospel, does not always move with a linear logic but in something more like a spiral. Various themes are repeated in different places, and as the text circles back to them, they do not always seem directly related to what immediately precedes or follows. So here in quick succession we find the themes of loving Jesus and keeping his words, Jesus and the Father abiding with disciples, the role of the Advocate, the peace that Jesus gives, the counsel to have no anxiety or fear, the departure and return of Jesus, his relation to the Father, and a call to rejoice and believe. Connections can certainly be found among these verses, but any attempt to treat them all in a single sermon would likely fail to give any of them its due. The text’s assigned parameters in the lectionary seem arbitrary, and we will likely need to be selective, choosing smaller portions of the text to explore.
A helpful device for understanding the farewell discourse was offered by Fred Craddock, who once compared the disciples here to children playing on the floor and looking up to see their parent putting on hat and coat. The children ask anxious questions: Where are you going? Can we go, too? What will we do while you are gone? Who will stay with us? Jesus answers the first question: “I go to prepare a place for you.” (14:2) He answers the second: “Where I am going you cannot come, but you will come later.” (13:33, 36) He answers the third, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (13:34) The fourth question—“Who will stay with us?”—he addresses no fewer than five times. The text before us includes the second of these. He had already said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… he abides with you and will be in (or among) you.” (14:16) Now he adds in 14:26: “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.” These words are arresting, and may have useful connections to other parts of our text.