Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on the Day of Pentecost: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Who or what is the Holy Spirit?
Jesus’ word for the Spirit was parakletos, “the Paraclete.” It literally means “one who stands alongside of.” Over the centuries, Bible translators have used a variety of different words to try to translate parakletos: “Comforter,” “Counselor,” and, what we heard this morning, “Advocate.”
They’re all good words, but I like to say something like “The Stand By Me God.” The gift of Jesus is the Stand By Me God, the One who never leaves my side or yours, or ours together. We are never abandoned. Never alone.
This Stand By Me God, Jesus says, is “the Spirit of truth” who will guide us “into all the truth.” That’s important! The Stand By Me God is the true God. It is not as we have feared. God is not the “my way or the highway” God, behave yourselves or suffer the consequences, the angry, judgmental God of our fears. That is not the true God, the God who is revealed by Jesus. Jesus reveals the God of Solidarity with us, Emmanuel, God with us, God for us. This is the truth.
Which means, as Jesus says, the world is wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. He seems to speak in riddles here, but what he means is, I think, quite simple.
The popular conception is that sin is hated by God and righteousness is loved by God, because God is, above all, a God of judgment. Sinners go to hell, the righteous go to heaven in God’s great act of judgment.
Wrong, Jesus says. This is wrong about sin, Jesus says, “because they do not believe in me.” All along Jesus has been teaching not that God hates sinners, but that God loves them. Jesus is the embodiment of a God who cannot be separated from humankind, even by its own sin. If you can conceive of God and I being one, Jesus is saying, than you can conceive of God and sinners being one.
Which is not to say that Jesus was a sinner, but it is to say that Jesus was fully human, and in him humanity was fully united to God, and if Jesus unites humanity to God, then he unites sinful humanity to God, because there isn’t any other kind.
Jesus told a story (John 8:1-11) about a woman who was caught in adultery, a very bad thing, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Her punishment under the Law was death by stoning, and when Jesus came upon her a crowd was getting ready to do just that. Being a noted teacher, they asked him for his judgment in the case, assuming that he would agree with the Law. Instead he said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” They all went away and the woman was spared be the Stand By Me God.
The world is wrong about righteousness, Jesus says, “because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer.” Huh? What does he mean by that?
He means, I think, that because he is being eternally united to God, righteousness is now about relationship with him, not about your or my ability to be good. Does Jesus want us to be good? Of course he does. Is being good a qualification for being in relationship with Jesus? No, it is not.
A Pharisee named Nicodemus once came to Jesus under the cover of darkness (John 3:1-17). He was strangely drawn to him even though most of his friends were at best suspicious and at worst outright rejecting of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus sensed his fear and gave him a challenge: “you must be born from above.” Which is to say you must have a different way of relating to the world, the way of the Spirit, which blows where it wills. You must relate to the world through Jesus, who has come, he says, not to condemn the world but to save it.
And the world is wrong about judgment, Jesus says, “because the ruler of this world has [already] been condemned.” Judgment has already happened. Satan, the Accuser of humankind, has already fallen as Jesus has been lifted up and drawn all people to himself as humankind’s Advocate. Greater love has no one than this, Jesus says, but to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And he, we are told, calls us friends. We are no longer the accused, we are the advocated for by the Stand By Me God.
This is all hugely good news. How sad it is that the world still, by and large, does not know it, certainly does not understand it. This largely lies on our shoulders. We have not testified to the truth! We have not sufficiently accepted the Stand By Me God, to allow the truth of this good news to form our words and deeds.
The church—you and I—continue to allow the world to be wrong about God, because we keep getting it wrong ourselves. We keep believing that God is primarily a God of angry judgment, the great Accuser in the sky. And if we believe that then certainly the world around us isn’t going to argue with us.
Our challenge is to believe the truth, to live into the truth, that our God is the Stand By Me God. The “ruler of this world” is already condemned and both sin and righteousness alike are drowned in the overwhelming flood of God’s love.
The truth is that God loves us. Period. Full stop. No ifs, and, ors, buts or maybes. No fine print. God is head over heals, puppy dog, drooling idiot, ga-ga in love with us. That is the message. There is no other. Any other message is a lie, and we ought not to be afraid to call it a lie whenever we hear it.
God loves you, Jesus says. Lift up that love and the world will be drawn to it. Proclaim the Stand By Me God so that the world will be proved wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. Proclaim the Stand By Me God so that the world will know the truth and the truth will set it free.
Let us be loved people today. Let us be free people today. Let us give thanks for and lift up the Stand By Me God.