When the Advocate comes…

When the Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

Sin, righteousness, judgment, – not exactly the most encouraging words to begin my sermon – but how nice to be affirmed by Jesus that so many people, over the ages –  including us of course, have got it all wrong when we talk about sin and judgement!

At the first Pentecost people are amazed, astonished, perplexed –they are inspired, and they are baptised into the new Christian faith because the message they hear in their own language is a message of Good News: it is the message of God’s mighty deeds of power. So how then did sin, righteousness, judgment, and then later on condemnation as well get to dominate our talk about religion?

And how did Good News get turned into bad news?  Because when Jesus talks of sin, righteousness, judgment, and even condemnation it must actually be Good News:  How could they be otherwise?

How could Jesus’s final message to his disciples whom he loved be anything other than Good News?  Why would Jesus finish his ministry on earth with a bitter condemnation because some people haven’t been able to believe in him? Somehow, it doesn’t quite compute. This is not the kind of Jesus I know and love and follow:

So ‘Come Holy Spirit’ and give us a new Pentecost: a new language of communication, a new prophecy, – so that we always find Good News in the words of Jesus, even when others make it look bad.

And – believe me or not – these words of Jesus – even sin, righteousness and judgement – are good news.  In fact they are such astronomically radical, amazing, and extraordinarily inclusive good news that people, including the church, haven’t been able to cope with them:  but then, Jesus did say:   “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  So it should come as no surprise that for two thousand years we have not been able to grasp the full measure of the height, and depth, and breadth of the Good News which Jesus shares in these words !

Let me explain: Jesus says:

When the Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

So here is the first Good News – Jesus will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will come.  The Holy Spirit who is right there at the very beginning of creation – brooding across the face of the waters.  The Holy Spirit who from the beginning is right there inspiring the prophets, the dancers, the musicians, the artists.  The Holy Spirit who gives strength to Samson, breathes new life into Ezekiel’s dry bones and makes young and old prophesy.   The Holy Spirit who comes upon the Virgin Mary as she conceives, and who leads Jesus into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit who comes upon the sick and anxious and cures them.  The Holy Spirit who is breath and life and the very power of God. God working gloriously, relentlessly, extraordinarily, creatively in every atom of creation, every quark, photon and every sub-atomic particle.  The Holy Spirit as close to us – and to all people – as the air we breathe.  As essential to our lives as the oxygen atoms which bind themselves to our blood cells and make our bodies work.  The Lord and giver of life: who is in all things, with all things, and always has been and always will be, will now come to us in a new way.   Jesus will send another comforter, another advocate, another teacher for us just as Jesus had been our comforter, our advocate, our teacher – one who will guide us into all truth: But when this other one comes, this new Advocate – this new Spirit of Jesus you might say – will be able to speak directly to the hearts of all people, of all races, and languages and nations and in all times and places.  Something which Jesus himself could not directly do, bound as he was by being born in one time, in one place and amongst one set of peoples.

And when this new Advocate comes, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because they do not believe in me.

And how our world has got it wrong about sin.  How we need to be proved wrong by God’s Holy Spirit.  We live in a world where some people call love a sin and some people call killing a just cause  – and I would say how wonderful to see the Holy Spirit working this weekend in the people of the Republic of Ireland and showing the Church that it is wrong about Sin, about righteousness and about judgement. Come Holy Spirit – I say – and prove us wrong about many things yet!

And Good News – Jesus sends this new dynamic teacher into our hearts because not everyone has the blessing of believing in Jesus. Not everyone has learned to pick up the bible and learn the teachings of the prophets and of the Christ. How wonderful, then, how gloriously inclusive, what Good News, that Jesus will send this Spirit to teach the whole world, because he knows that people do not believe in him – and even people who do not believe in him need a teacher – about Sin, about righteousness and about judgement.  A Spirit who will speak to our conscience.

The Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because they do not believe in me.
And so, in case you missed that extraordinary statement the first time:  Jesus says:
And about righteousness:  because Jesus is going to the Father.  Of course – Jesus will no longer be there – will he – to be our teacher, our rabbi, our Lord. So there will have to be a new teacher and rabbi and Lord – an eternal and universal Spirit who can and will teach all people directly into their hearts all they can bear to hear about righteousness – gradually, powerfully, eternally – Good News for all people, not just for believers !

And about judgment, because Christ’s work truly is finished whether people believe it not  it is accomplished  The ruler of this world has been condemned – and what greater good news can there ever be than the message that the God of love has conquered evil – for all time, for all people, in all places.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth;

Jesus comforts his disciples, and comforts us with the knowledge that his teaching will go on, and that this new Advocate will teach, guide, inspire, and lead generation after generation into truth and life and peace. To prove us all wrong about our misguided notions about sin, and righteousness and judgement and condemnation – and to teach us about love and justice and forgiveness and peace. Good Good News !

But hang on Paul, you might say.  All this lovely inclusive universalism is all very well and good.  As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive: – and all that – But if the Holy Spirit is now for all people – then what about us?  What about we who do believe in Jesus?  What about we who have left everything and followed Christ, what will there be for us?  –  If everyone is to be saved and taught and inspired and guided by the finger of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit – in this new universal spirit-filled vision – then why should we bother being a Christian at all? Don’t we at least get to travel first class to the other place and have access to the executive lounges here on earth? – perhaps to sit at God’s right or left hand – as the disciples put it.

And here is the greatest and best Good News of all on this great feast day of Pentecost … God who is Holy Spirit and who is so big, and who cannot be contained or comprehended or possessed – God the Spirit who is universal for all people, all things, all places and all times – this God the Holy Spirit is also small enough and delicate enough to touch each one of us individually, personally, and privately in fire and wind and breath and grace in the most personal way – God is also a quivering flame dancing above our heads. This mighty Holy Spirit who can brood over the whole waters of creation as a great force, can also whisper inspiration silently into St. Philip’s ear to make him speak to an Ethiopian Eunuch one sunny day on the road to Gaza.  This God, who can shower unbounded unimaginable blessings on the whole world – the good and the bad alike,  rich and poor, saint and sinner,  – this God can shower the smallest particular blessing on you and me, on bishops and vergers and churchwardens and the person sitting on the cathedral step. God can be extravagantly universalist with everyone, and outrageously particular with each one of us – both at the same time. God can save the whole world – and does, and God can save you and me too, individual and unique as we are.  Good News not just for humanity, but for us!

The Spirit fills the whole earth and everything that is in it, and the Spirit comes down upon each one of us, if we desire her, so that we may be filled with wisdom, and knowledge, and faith, and healing, and miracles, and prophecy, and discerning of spirits, and speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues.  So that each one of us can know love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our own every-day lives.   For nothing is ever too big for God and nothing and no-one is ever too small. Good News for those who are far off and Good News to those who are very very near.  A message of reconciliation for the whole world, and a message of reconciliation for each one of us as individual beloved children of God.  “‘for my child,’ says God to each one of us, whenever we are tempted to be jealous of God’s extravagant and totally unfair generosity with everyone else – ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’  

everything I have is yours – says God to us.  If we then know how to give good things to our children – How much more will our Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him

And so, my dear friends in Christ,  where else could we go – These are the words of eternal – and of abundant – life.

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