I wanted to be able to call myself a downhill skier.
They were the risk-takers, the ones with the tan lines around their eyes where there ski goggles had been for a sunny day on the mountain, the ones with the lift tags – sometimes many of them – a seeming badge of honor and proof, on the zipper pulls of their ski jackets.
We, the Uffelman Family, we were a cross-country skiing people. We were cautious, economical, as we did our skiing under our own steam through quiet and undisturbed countryside, at a pace both measured and safe.
As a freshman in high school, I wanted almost nothing more than to walk down the hall on a Monday morning, and join the cool kids, as I saw them, talking about the powder conditions at Mt. Bachelor over the weekend.
Mostly, I wanted that lift tag on the zipper pull of my jacket.
Somehow, I talked my dad into taking me to that mountain on a cold Saturday in January of 1986. I paid for part of the expensive lift ticket. I got the coveted tag. My dad was a good sport about it; he taught me the basics of what to do, from getting off the lift at the top of the run, to learning how to fall without hurting myself (that was the goal, anyway). And so we skied, and I fell, and it mostly wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t love it.
And then it was the end of the day, and the one lift I hadn’t gone on yet was called the Black Diamond. I don’t know that it’s still the case now, and maybe it’s that way everywhere, but in January of 1986, the Black Diamond was the highest and the most difficult ski run on Mt. Bachelor. I had been skiing for the better part of one day at that point. And I decided that that day would not be complete until I could not only walk into school the coming Monday morning with the lift tag on my jacket, but to be able to do that while talking about my time skiing Black Diamond.
I have no memory about how I convinced my father that this was a good idea.
But we rode the lift up, and I slid down the off-ramp at the top…the really, really high top.
Did I mention that we Uffelmans are a cautious people? I am, anyway. And I already had that stupid lift tag.
I looked down the mountain at the place I needed to ski in order to be finished with this ridiculous endeavor, and I just stopped. I couldn’t. My dad tried to encourage me, probably to the point of frustration on his part, but I just couldn’t bring myself to it.
And then it was dusk, and there were no more skiers on our part of the mountain. The lifts weren’t even running anymore, or else I would have made the case for riding back down on one.
A guy from the ski patrol showed up, seemingly out of nowhere. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s do this together. I’ll stay with you.”
And he did. He stayed right next to me, showed me how to take that mountain bit by bit. He waited for me when I fell. He talked with my dad all along the way.
He wasn’t annoyed that I, a brand new downhill skier, had done this thing that was so clearly beyond me – or if he was annoyed, he didn’t show it, so points to him for that. He just stayed with me all through that thing I didn’t think I could do, all the way to safety. When we finally got to the bottom of the mountain, just outside the lodge, he wished us well and skied off.
Jesus’ disciples are in a space of fear and confusion and sadness in today’s gospel. This is still his farewell discourse, a continuation of him saying goodbye to his friends before the betrayal and arrest that loom ahead of him.
“If you love me,” he says, “You will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The Greek word for advocate is paraclete. It means “one who has been called to our side.” The one called to witness. The one called to be our companion.
By Jesus’ own words, this is not the first paraclete – this will be another. Because the earlier advocate is Jesus: look at the ways he has lived his life and ministry called to people’s side. Sure, the healings and the miracles. But also the walking with people from the Galilee to Jerusalem. The taking up of children in his arms. The noticing of people whom others would disregard. The times he sits and eats with wealthy people and prostitutes, with tax collectors and Pharisees. Again and again, Jesus comes alongside people. He sees them and he knows them, and he wants to be with them. He sees us, and he knows us, and he wants to be with us.
In promising another paraclete, Jesus promises that what the Spirit will do is what Jesus has already done – things those disciples, those friends of his, have already seen and tasted and heard and felt.
“The world will no longer see me, but you will,” Jesus tells them. “Because I live, you also will live. I in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
One of my seminary professors used these five chapters marking Jesus’ farewell in the gospel of John, when he taught biblical Greek to his students. There are comparatively fewer vocabulary words here, they just get rearranged and repeated a lot. This passage is a prime example, the “I-in-you, you-in-me”-ness of it contributing to a kind of poetic, mystical, dare I say “spiritual” quality.
But what if it’s not that?
I’m a little flinchy about asking this question, but what if Jesus is actually being, well, literal?
What if he means this in practical and real ways? “If you love me, you will show up and wash each other’s feet, and feed people who are hungry, and shelter people who are homeless. And I will ask God to send another Advocate to come alongside you, as witness and companion. The world might not see me, but you will. Because I live, you will live; because I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
What if this description shapes our very presence in this world? What if the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives has a claim on how we live as disciples?
Because I live, you will live.
I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
“This is the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, Jesus himself dwelling in (us), and among us.”
You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a fearful and confusing time – so much is unfolding in these last days, all at a furious pace, and channel by website by posting by tweet, we’re being shouted at about what to think and how to feel and who to blame.
What a blessing, then, what a blessing we can find, in those people who show up and come alongside us, alongside those we love.
Thanks to Debbie Buesing for doing that in your ministry at St. Augustine’s, which we celebrate today. Thank you for your leadership as witness and companion, for loving the children and youth and families and everybody else in this parish. Thanks for building a ministry of wonder at what might be possible, with God’s help, and then working with others to make it so.
And thanks to the many of you who continue the good work Debbie has begun, coming alongside our young people, teaching them to explore the stories of who we are.
Lift tag and tan lines and Black Diamond stories or not, we need paraclete ministry in this life. We need people who show up and say, “Come on, let’s do this together. I’ll stay with you.” Because whatever our circumstance, we all face moments so scary that we can’t quite bring ourselves to begin, or times painful to the point that it takes our breath away, or those that are profoundly joyous, or just bewildering, or even so amazing that we need somebody else to be there and say, “yes, this is really happening!” We need each other. We need people who will show up as witnesses and companions, people who will come alongside us until we make it through.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me,” Jesus says. “And those who love me will be loved by my Father; and I will love them, and will reveal myself to them.” May it be so. Amen.
 Linda Lee Clader. “John 14:15-21, Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 491.
 Clader, 493.