Pentecost Sunday – St Petri Lutheran Church 20/05/2018
Sermon – Bishop John Henderson “Pentecost Conversation”
John 15:26, 27; 16:4b-15
The Work of the Spirit of Truth
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning
I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 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. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 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. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 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.’
Dear friends in Christ,
There’s a conversation going on today between the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit.
You can listen to it by tuning in to this morning’s Gospel reading.
And tune in you should, because the conversation’s about you.
God sees what’s going on in this world and in your life. God is concerned for you. God knows that, left to ourselves, we humans fall into destructive spirals that will see the end of us.
God isn’t prepared just to sit silently by to watch us suffer. God is a God of engagement, conversation and dialogue. God wants relationships. That’s why God speaks to us through the Word, because God wants to communicate with us. The conversation begins in creation: ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ God’s image is about relatedness, connection and community. We are relational beings. God creates us to gather, use language and, by nature, build communities. The Triune God makes us in that image.
But the image is now corrupted. We see it all around in the disruption and fracturing of relationships and communities. Sin reveals itself most clearly in the ways we deal with one another. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ We can be legends in our own living rooms, but out in the community we discover who we really are. We see the sin that fractures and breaks the relationships for which God created us.
The first broken relationship is with God. In Genesis three Adam and Eve turned their backs on the divine conversation and perfect community they enjoyed with God. They decided to go it alone. That’s what sin is. Ever since God has been working to bring us back into the loving, communal relationship between creator and created which is our fulfilment.
Jesus is the centre of God’s work for us. He’s the divine-human Son of God, a standing invitation to bring us out of the darkness to re-join God in the light of a perfect relationship, to join once more in the divine conversation. God created you for that.
The conversation recorded in the gospels goes something like this. Jesus has finished what he came for. He was born, he lived among us, taught us, shared the Word and gave us the Father’s gifts. Yet we rejected him, judged him, and crucified him. The Father didn’t stop there, however. He raised his Son from the dead. Last week, if you were in church, you would have heard the risen Jesus talking about going back to his Father. He did that to clear the way for the Spirit to come and the conversation to go on. That’s why he sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit puts us in permanent contact with God. In the Spirit we can participate in the divine relationship, just as God always wanted. That’s why God gathers his church – it is a community of believers joined together in a Spirit-led conversation with their Creator and Saviour God. It’s a foretaste of heaven.
The words Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading are much more than history. He spoke them millennia ago and he still speaks them today. The word of God connects past, present and future, God’s eternal now. This very morning, Pentecost Sunday 20th May 2018, Jesus is promising to send us the Advocate, the Spirit of truth.
His actual word is Paraclete, and it’s to translate it into English. It literally translates as ‘One who comes near’. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit, the God who has come near. Our eternal, conversational, relational, creator God is as close to you as the air you are breathing, as close as the sound waves reaching your ears, as close as the light striking your retinas. As close as the thoughts inside your brain. The Paraclete continues what began in creation. God is with you, in this very moment, right now.
The Paraclete is the Spirit of truth. Not truth like a courtroom where judge and jury forensically distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. Not truth like a science lab, where through hypothesis, trial and error, sorting through the data, scientists test their theories.
This is more. It’s truth of purpose, identity and relationship. Who am I? Who are you? Who is God? How do I know that? Can I trust you? God, why did you make me in the first place?
These are the truths of the Paraclete. His message from the Father is fundamentally, ‘I know you, I love you and I want to be with you, and you with me. I will wait for you as long as it takes.’
Jesus shows us what this looks like in Luke 15 in the parable of the Waiting Father. Sometimes called the Prodigal Son. The parable tells of a father and two sons. Both sons are essentially prodigals. The love of the father binds the story together. Whatever shame they cause him and however much it costs him he loves them equally and patiently waits for both of them. This is our heavenly Father waiting for humankind to come back home.
In this morning’s gospel reading Jesus gives us three key words that are central to the Paraclete’s message. They might jolt us a bit, but we must face up to them for the relationship to be real. They are sin, righteousness, and judgement.
They jolt us because they are unpopular words today. We frequently block them out of our conversations because they sound negative and out of step with the times. We prefer to speak more comforting, affirming words like spirituality, love and peace. But we can’t have those things until we have dealt with our most pressing problems: sin, righteousness and judgement.
We have already talked about sin today. We have considered how God responded to sin by sending Jesus. Faith in Jesus Christ is our number one priority. Without faith we are without hope, lost in sin.
‘About righteousness,’ Jesus says, ‘because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer.’ A few minutes ago we said just that in the Creed. When Jesus’ returned to his Father he did not leave us alone. He opened the floodgates to the full indwelling of God. Our Small Catechism teaches the same thing: ‘the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Galatians 3 affirms, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’
And finally, ‘about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.’ This is all the forces and powers of darkness that want to smother the light of Jesus and steal the children away from the Father. We call it the devil. There’s a dark mystery in that name and it’s just too dangerous for us to go there. Only Christ can do that.
The light of Christ expels the darkness. In him darkness is condemned. In the past, it’s true, we have sided with the darkness instead of Christ and so deserve judgement. But that hasn’t stopped God loving us. Christ takes our place. He takes our death. Just when darkness thinks it has won, God raises Jesus from the dead. He just won’t let the ruler of this world have you, as God’s Word says in Romans 8, ‘there is … no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
So these three words – sin, righteousness and judgement – are how God begins his Pentecost conversation with you. Jesus explains that knowing each of one these words assures us of God’s love and salvation.
The Paraclete brings you the message he hears from the Father. And everything the Father has also belongs to Jesus. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, working together to bring you back to life, to relationship, to community, to be the person you were created to be.
Do not doubt that God loves you, has a permanent place for you and is right here, right now, closer to you than you are to yourself. You have received the Holy Spirit who will always be with you, guiding you into all truth, and showing you what is to come.
Praise God for all his love, and for sending the Spirit so we, and all believers, may have true, saving faith in Christ our Lord.