Vicars sermon: Pentecost 2021 John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15
I spend a lot of time in court…at least I do when I watch the TV. ‘Police procedurals’ are everywhere: ‘Scandi-Noir’ was big a few years ago: Wallander and The Bridge. Currently we’re making our way through a French detective series: ‘Engrenages’ – giving thanks for our British police force and legal system after every episode! Sarah, has recommended ‘Bosch’ to me: an American series. My brother-in law a police series set in Senegal. In all of these we are looking for evidence, witnesses, truth…and most folk need a good lawyer to make their case.
Most year’s on the Feast of Pentecost I’m with the disciples in the Book of Acts caught up in the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today I’m in our Gospel reading wondering why I had never realised that here we are introduced to God’s lawyer. In this reading Jesus talks about ‘the Advocate’ who will lead the disciples into all Truth. He will guide them, counsel them. He will ‘testify’ on behalf of Jesus, he will bear witness to Jesus. He will go on to ‘prove’ the world wrong about ‘sin, righteousness and judgement’. This language is the language of the court room, and again, I don’t know why I have never read it as such.
Who is who? Who is on trial? Who needs witnesses? Who needs ‘another Advocate’ (as the Holy Spirit is called elsewhere)? Well, for sure, once the disciples start to proclaim the Gospel they will find themselves hauled before the authorities and put on trial – but that’s not what’s being talked about here. No. The whole of John’s Gospel is a discussion about who Jesus is…and the answer to that question leads us to ask ‘what is the nature of God? ‘
Bearing witness, giving evidence or ‘signs’, Jesus’ ‘I am’ declarations and his repeated run-ins with those whom John calls ‘The Jews’ are all part of this Gospel’s attempt to uncover the true nature of God Himself.
Jesus makes God’s nature known through His words and His deeds. God is revealed in Jesus to be Love. The sort of love that pours itself out on the cross; which is utterly self -denying; which endures and overcomes all things; which brings life and healing to us His creatures. Jesus bears witness to this God standing against those who interpret God’s nature to be bound up with ‘power’ or ‘ moralising law’. He is God’s representative to us: we see God in Him. But, as he prepares physically to leave His disciples he tells them that He will send them another advocate to be with them.
One of the greatest gifts of Judaism to the world was its legal system: detailed guidance written down in the Old Testament about due process, the hearing of testimony, the importance of at least two witnesses when evidence is presented. That due process famously went AWOL when Jesus was put on trial but it is here in our Gospel passage: the disciples and the Holy Spirit are the two witnesses required to bear testimony to the nature of God as revealed in Jesus.
So what? Well its important. The church of God needs the Spirit of God to be effective in its testimony to His goodness and grace seen in Jesus. Each disciple needs the Spirit of God in their lives if they are to bear true witness to Him. You need God’s Spirit in your life (another Advocate) to be alongside you in your journey of faith. Churches are not religious clubs, rather they are quite literally divinely inspired communities, dependent upon the presence of God’s Spirit as they bear witness to the grace and truth of God shown in Jesus. So every time we gather we invite the Holy Spirit to come alongside us. In our meetings we attend to His counsel in the Word of God and at Pentecost especially we pray: Come Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of your love.’
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