“The Holy Spirit Our Advocate”
This morning my daughter and I stepped out of the front door of our home and exclaimed, almost at the same time, “Whoa!” A mist hung in the air and was visible even up to the porch. She marveled that she could barely see her way to the bus stop. We were caught unaware. Hadn’t we ever seen a misty morning before? Yes, but it still excites the imagination. Autumn is my favorite time of year, but when it is cold and wet, I confess I would much rather be indoors.
I confess that I have much to learn about many things. I want to speak to you today about things I barely know about myself. Living by faith is full of mystery. Not the kind of mystery where you have to figure out “who dunnit” but more the kind where you seek to follow the hand of God with only three feet on the path in the mist before you and only enough provision for today.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 16, Jesus sits at his last meal with his disciples and begins to reveal the end and the beginning of the divine plan to them. They had been following him down all the dusty roads of Palestine, through fields and onto hills, and even on dangerous roads. They’d heard and seen unbelievable things. My friend Bob often says, “I think I stick around this place because I never quite know what is coming next,” and I’m sure the disciples felt a bit like that too.
“What kind of crazy adventure will today bring? What leper is going to wander up to us? What blind man will start yelling Jesus’ name and not stop? Are we going to have to fight the children off of Jesus? Will he disappear overnight and then come out walking on the water and scare us half to death? Where to next, Lord?” But in our text today Jesus says he is going away to the Father who sent Him, to a place they cannot come, and yet that this will be a good thing.
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me;10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (Jn. 16:1-15, NIV)
Jesus says that after he leaves the Holy Spirit will come to lead them into all truth. He calls the Spirit the Paraclete, which means Comforter, and Advocate. Today, as I think about that word Advocate it brings many things to my mind. We might think of people like lawyers, doctors, social workers, activists, politicians or preachers as advocates. In this role they represent a person or a cause before the involved powers that be and try to get them access to services or benefits. A lawyer might advocate for leniency before a judge, a social worker for shelter for a homeless client, and a preacher might advocate for better work and fair wages.
The kind of comfort and advocacy Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring, however, sustains the disciples in the midst of a hostile world that is very content with sin, unrighteousness, and self-love. The Apostle Paul said, “We know that the whole creation has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now.” (Romans 8:22, NIV) This is not just a dark and wicked world, it is a world loved by God. The Holy Spirit never gives up his loving work in the People of God. Every day that Jesus does not “drop the curtain” and bring all things to an end and a new beginning is a new day in which the people of God are used by Jesus to accomplish His work.
I’d like to take a close look at John 16:8-11. In his role as our advocate, the Holy Spirit defends us “in court”, as it were, before the world. The world is wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. We had been told previously that we could expect persecution from religious and nonreligious people alike. Without the Holy Spirit there is no way we could endure the onslaught from the world. On our own we’d come to think ourselves crazy, alone, abandoned by Christ, and overcome by the devil’s power.
These verses tell us that the Spirit will show the world that it is sinful, bent on its own way instead of Christ’s. Here in the 21st century, there is not a lot of talk about sin. We hear about terrible things happening every day, but not that these are a result of sin. This morning for example, a prominent senator exclaimed that something must be done about climate change. When fourteen foot walls of water overtake the east coast of our nation, we must take it seriously! But as I listened to his sound bite on the radio I thought, “How many times have I heard this before?”
Climate change is man-made and it is sin! We are using this world up like toilet paper and remain in denial about whether or not that should change. We say, “Somebody should change, but not me.” Americans worry about India and China being overpopulated and polluting the planet, because they want to keep their own standard of living, and consuming in excess. That’s just crazy! More than that, it is sinful! God wants us to bless the earth he created by honoring it with our presence. We honor it by growing our own food, using biofuels, consuming less, and showing our elected officials that less is more!
This is just one example of sin in this world. The Holy Spirit guides us into representing the righteousness of the Kingdom of God in this sinful world. The world thinks it knows what is right, but Jesus, who has gone to the Father, demonstrated its righteousness was a sham. Self-righteousness is the worst kind of delusion. It calls wrong right, and turns virtue into sin. Being self-righteous is like believing in a 36 hour day. You can set yourself a 36 hour schedule, but you’ll find yourself at odds with the universe. Time and space will be your enemies.
The world is wrong about righteousness. Jesus is the righteous one, the Holy One of God. The world’s standards of justice are very short sighted. There is no universally accepted picture of what it means to live gently with one another, especially when the universal vision of the modern world is to extract, commodify, own, defend, consume, and make obsolete. The Holy Spirit directs us to Jesus Christ, the righteous lamb of God, who demonstrates his victorious power through submission. Being God, he humbled himself. There is no way to be humble and self-righteous at the same time. A truly humble person is willing to be found righteous later and yet humiliated and thought unrighteous in the present. The only way to be truly humble is through the righteous one, Jesus Christ.
Finally, the world is wrong about its judgment. The world condemned Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter preached these words: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go” (Acts 3:13, NIV). Where the world had condemned Jesus, Jesus said, “The prince of this world stands condemned.” The devil, the accuser, tempter, and deceiver, is the great loser. He was defeated on the cross and all his works have been revealed for what they are. The devil can’t really build anything good, and those who believe him can only keep up the deception for so long. Jesus Christ is Victor! Hallelujah!
What I hear Jesus saying about the great Advocate here is that where I feel alone, utterly sinful, misunderstood, inadequate, and incompetent, the Holy Spirit will lead me back to the truth of who Jesus is. If I want to be a good advocate for other people, say for instance, in directing poor and homeless people toward places, people, and services that offer temporary and long term assistance, I will remember that Jesus Christ is really what every disoriented, homeless, lonely soul needs.
I have met so many individuals who can’t be at home anywhere because they can’t find rest in Jesus. I can give all of my time and effort to persuade people to do the next right thing, but if I am not led by the Holy Spirit, I have done them no favors at all. Sometimes, because I point people to Jesus, they won’t bother to come around me at all, because they know I care about them body and soul and they don’t want to hear me tell them the truth. No one belongs on the corner with crack in their hands. No one belongs huddled in a doorway in the rain intoxicated with an empty stomach. Because of sin this way of life that doesn’t work, is the only life many people think they want.
I cannot advocate for anyone who will not advocate for themselves. I can want the best things in the world for you, a clean home, warm clothes, a loving family, good supportive friends, a good job that pays enough for you to live off of and then give to others in need. I can want you to grow in the Lord within a local church where you learn to serve Jesus and lead others to Christ. But if that is not what you know want, then what I want for you would only be misery.
Many people want some of these things. They want a house and money, but they also want the kind of friends around that will destroy the house, spend all the money and leave them feeling angry and hurt. Others want a good job where they can work all the time and afford anything, but they don’t know what to do with themselves in their off hours.
My work as a minister means preaching a revolution of the heart. You are not the sum of what you eat, buy, and watch. You are a person who can bless the world around you with gratitude, affirm the goodness of God’s creation, and share the presence of Christ in you with every other person you relate to. These gifts are powerful because they come from and lead to a powerful God!
Thomas Merton said,
“We make ourselves real by telling the truth. Man can hardly forget that he needs to know the truth, for the instinct to know is too strong in us to be destroyed. But he can forget how badly he also needs to tell the truth. We cannot know truth unless we ourselves are conformed to it. We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us. But we make ourselves true inside by manifesting the truth as we see it.” (No Man Is An Island, pg. 198)
I began by telling you that living by faith is a life full of mystery. The longer I live the more I’m conscious that I have much to learn. I know that Jesus Christ is righteous and that God alone is true. I also know my own propensity to dishonesty. My heart often strays from God. If you believe these things to be true for yourself, I ask that you pray with me:
“Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris Rice