Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year B
Based on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-11
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The Bible gives the Holy Spirit many names. Along with this wide variety of names, comes special functions or ways of speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit. In our gospel today, the name of the Holy Spirit is rendered Advocate. The Greek word is parakletos, which literally means someone who is called to the side of someone else.
In our gospel, Jesus is saying farewell to his disciples; he is preparing them for the near future when he will leave this world. So he promises them that they will not be left alone; the Advocate will be there with them ~ along side of them. He also explains the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the name Advocate. The Advocate will testify to the truth on Christ's behalf. The Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment. This language used to describe the person and work of the Holy Spirit is courtroom language. It is the language of law and justice.
P. Mohan Larbeer has the following insights into this language of law and justice: "The role of the Holy Spirit as advocate or defender is normally understood by people in a very passive way, as one who comforts, helps or mediates. The word Paraclete is a Jewish legal term; it means one who advocates. It has an implied militancy within itself. Advocating is not only pleading for the guilty but also fighting against injustice to establish justice. According to the Fourth Gospel, the Spirit acting as a substitute for Christ, convinces the world concerning sin. The Spirit protects people from the injustice brought about by evil forces."
"The Paraclete however does not dispense justice as an outsider but as one who is involved in the life of the oppressed ~ One who always identifies one's Self with the victims and speaks on behalf of the victims. One who argues for the victims and protects them from a biased judgment by bringing conviction about true righteousness. Since the Spirit identifies with the victims, the Spirit also partakes in their sufferings and pain. By mediation, the Spirit functions as a source of strength to the victims."
So then, the Holy Spirit as Advocate works to administer judgment upon the world ~ since the world stands in judgment of God and of Christ, it must be judged by the Spirit of truth, the Advocate. The Advocate proves the world wrong first by convicting it of sin. One of the worst consequences of sin at work in humans is to deny that they are sinners; or to deny that sin even exists; or to believe that in a very distorted way, sin is actually good, right, and virtuous.
The world puts its faith in itself, in believes more in its extraordinary capabilities and potentials than in God. This is what happened in the story of Babel. This has been the ongoing story of the human race ever since then too ~ in all of our sinfulness, we have, and continue to, fill the world with hatred, divisions, wars, poverty, pollution, and destruction. What is it that wakes us up and makes us realize our sin? How is it that the world is proven wrong, is convicted of its sin?
According to William Barclay: "In an Indian village a missionary was telling the story of Christ by means of lantern slides flung on the white-washed wall of a village house. When the picture of the Cross was shown, an Indian stepped forward, as if he could not help it: "Come down!" he cried. "I should be hanging there ~ not you." Why should the sight of a man crucified as a criminal in Palestine two-thousand years ago tear the hearts of people open throughout the centuries and still today? It is the work of the Holy Spirit."
The second thing the Advocate proves the world wrong about is righteousness or rightness. Far too often, the world has seen right and might as one and the same reality. We have seen this during the height of the cold war period with proliferation of the arms race. We see altogether too much of it on television programming and in our movie theatres. We see it in current events when innocent, peace-loving people are taken as hostages, kidnapped, sometimes cruelly mistreated by people resorting to violent means.
We see it when political leaders advocating democracy, justice, and peace are arrested, and not released because it is right to do so, but because letters from organizations like Amnesty International exert international pressure. We've seen it in the tragedies of Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, East Timor and elsewhere.
The world is, at the wake of this new twenty-first century, still drastically wrong about righteousness or rightness-might Does Not make the world right, It Never Will Either! The Spirit of truth, the Advocate, will prove the world wrong about righteousness. How shall the Advocate do this? By convincing the world of the truth of Jesus; by revealing his perfect righteousness which was given to the world through his life, suffering, death, resurrection, and now reigns over the whole creation with God. This righteousness that comes from Christ shall one day win the world over by the work of the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful work! What a wonderful hope that we've inherited by receiving the Holy Spirit when we were baptized. As Christians, we have been called and commissioned to share this message of hope with the world by our thoughts, words, and actions. The Advocate makes it possible for us to carry out this task.
The third thing that the Advocate proves the world is wrong about is judgment. Judgment is a present reality: "The ruler of this world is judged." On the one hand, we know we are being judged: the refugees, the hungry, the homeless, the polluted environment, the extravagant wealth and waste, over against abysmal poverty ~ All Judge Us.
Yet, we resist judgment, trying to lay blame so we can maintain advantageous systems and structures and standards of living. We try to convince ourselves in our sinful-distorted way that we can somehow escape judgment. Yet, there shall come a day when everyone ~ including ourselves ~ will face God's judgment. This is a very sobering reality. If God has ultimately won the victory over the powers of evil, then God's justice must prevail by the administration of God's judgment.
However, God's justice and judgment is not the last word. Ultimately, God's justice and judgment serve a provisional, preparatory purpose. They provide us with the deep-seated need of forgiveness when we are confronted with all of our sin and evil; by having to face the tragic consequences of our sin and evil, we are then prepared to receive God's loving grace. For the judgment is something that we cannot survive on our own ~ it causes us to turn to and rely more completely upon our God of love and mercy, our God who makes us holy, special, set apart for a good purpose, as the word itself suggests.
May the Holy Spirit of truth, the Advocate continue to work powerfully among us ~ that we, like the Christians on that first Pentecost might share the Gospel with others.
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