Another Advocate

Another Advocate

by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

May 30, 2004:

Scripture: Acts 2:1-21;
John
14:8-17, 25-27

“But
the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will
teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to
you…”

John
14:26

The name that the translation
from which I took our sermon title renders, “another advocate,” is
translated in several other ways. For example, it is rendered “counselor,”
or “comforter,” or, simply transliterating the Greek original,
“Paraclete.” All these translations are good; Paraclete literally means,
“one called to the side of,” that is, one who, like counsel for the defense
in a criminal trial, stands beside the accused and defends him or her.
Therefore, all the above translations are good because such a person performs
the whole range of services covered by our translations; he comforts, counsels,
and defends the accused. Two more vital functions of this comforting, counseling
presence, according to our text, are that he is “the Spirit of Truth (vs.
17),” and that “he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance
all that I have said to you (vs. 26).” So we know that the Holy Spirit whom we
celebrate today is a comforter and counselor, our defender when others accuse us
(or we accuse ourselves too much), a Spirit of Truth, and one who reminds us
always of Jesus and his teaching.       

John characteristically deals
with the events of Jesus’ life, especially his miracles, by placing them
within a context of interpretation which says basically that the event is
important but not that important, and what really matters is that we understand
the event as a sign pointing to who Jesus really is, and that we follow the sign
to faith in him. The only truly important event that the Gospel of John wants us
to see is you and I coming to believe in Jesus as God incarnate because of what
John has written and we have read.

So let us try to imagine how
John would read our passage from Acts, the traditional narrative account of the
day of Pentecost. We discover that the point is not the so much the event itself
as the miracle of restored human understanding across cultural differences. All
those present understand what the Apostles are saying, there are no more
language barriers, the disaster of the Tower of Babel has been reversed and we
can understand each other despite the difference of languages. This event is the
beginning of the church and so the church is an inclusive, transcultural
community. When we read Luke in a Johannine way we discover that the point is
not that we should expect flames on our heads, or wind in the rafters, all the
literal things that the fundamentalist interpreters emphasize, but rather a
renewal of our ability to communicate with all life, and thus a forging of true
relationships around the world.

So from our passages we have the
following descriptions of the Holy Spirit: he is Paraclete, he is Truth, he is
universal understanding, and in all of these functions, as a summary of them
all, he is the true presence of Jesus our Lord. Let us consider each one of
these items in order. As Paraclete the Spirit gives us what these days we call
support, or another way of saying it is, “he is there for us,” there when we
need him, there when we fall into danger or despair. The forensic meaning of the
name is especially interesting because it takes account of the fact that many of
us feel guilty for no obvious reason, as if someone were accusing us. One of the
famous novels of the last century, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, begins when
a certain Josef K wakes up one day to find himself accused of a crime. The
nightmarish novel centers on his attempts to find out what he is supposed to
have done so that he can defend himself. He never finds out what he is accused
of, and ends up being convicted of an unknown crime. This bad dream of
guiltiness is the negative correlative of the Paraclete; he assures us that we
are not guilty, have committed no crime. In traditional Christian thinking the
accuser in such a context is the devil. One of his titles is “the accuser.”
So God the Paraclete by being there for us, to assure us that we are not guilty,
to assuage our anxiety, delivers us from the devil. As the Truth the Spirit
enables us to separate what is true and real from all that is false and phony.
When we know the truth we are free, when we do the true we are healed. In
chapter 10, John says of the true shepherd that his sheep recognize is voice and
therefore follow him, while they do not recognize the voice of the stranger. In
these days especially, but in all our days in this media drenched culture of
lies, we must be listening for the voice of the true shepherd. That voice is the
Truth of the Holy Spirit, and we recognize it when we hear it. Thirdly, as
mutual understanding the Spirit is the miracle of those moments when we are able
to see the world through the eyes of another, when we truly feel the co-humanity
of the hated stranger, the Muslim form Saudi Arabia, the African–American from
East Palo Alto. Let’s for a moment at least here in the presence of God who
knows all recognize the racism, xenophobia and chauvinism in ourselves, and give
it over to the Spirit.  Finally, the
summary of these three experiences is that they are the things of Jesus that the
Spirit makes real again for us. Jesus is there for us, Jesus is true for us,
Jesus is real relationship for us, and that is why the Spirit achieves all that
he does simply by making the things of Jesus live again in us and for us.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is
the term that the Gospel of John uses for the ongoing presence with us of the
living Jesus. This is very important to remember; the Spirit is Jesus with us.
Why is it important? Because cut loose from this definition the Spirit becomes
an independent power that many people think is at their disposal to be used for
their own purposes. Today there is a powerful spiritual movement called
Pentecostalism, and while there is much that is authentic and blessed in it
there is also a major negative possibility, namely, that those who believe they
possess the Spirit will fall into a more or less severe state of megalomania.
People in this state give great authority to their intuitions, taking them as
guidance from the Spirit rather than hunches to be checked out rationally,
empirically and critically. Such people are dangerous, not least because they
are often so totally convinced of the rightness of their decision that they
convince other people. We are so pathetically susceptible to persuasion by those
who are totally convinced. I am told that in some schools of psychotherapy this
is called “identification with the archetype,” that is, in our religious
case, such a person has identified entirely with God and comes across as
speaking the Word of God. Most sects have leaders who do this sort of thing, the
so-called charismatic leaders, and many people are psychically overwhelmed by
them.

Clearly, when John tells us that
the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth and the possibility of mutual understanding
has as his main function taking the things of Jesus and making them live again
for us, he means something other than enabling us to identify with the
archetype. Rather John means that the Spirit is primarily the power in us to
witness to Christ not to identify with Christ. This is the all-important
distinction, the distinction between Christ and me. The Spirit does not identify
me and Christ, but rather facilitates and infuses a relationship between us.
What is the difference between identification and relationship? A relationship
by definition includes a separation that the relation reaches over to make
contact, while identity means the difference has disappeared and two individuals
have become one. This is the way it is with human relationships, – since
identification is not possible – and this is the way it is in our relationship
with Christ; relationship not identity, the meeting of two separate persons not
the melting of each into the other.

This separation is what is in
play when Jesus talks of his going away; the chapters in John that we have been
considering for the last several sermons are called the “Farewell
Discourses,” and for good reason. Jesus separates himself from us and then
returns to us over the gulf of that separation as another advocate, to stand by
us, be there for us, to open our minds to the Truth, to enable us to understand
over the distinctions of language and culture.  

Perhaps
we might sum up the teaching of John on the Holy Spirit by saying that the
Spirit does not make us Christ, but rather makes us ourselves. The underlying
implication, of course, is that we cannot be ourselves unless we are in a right
relationship with God, and that the Spirit brings us that. So think
relationship, think of the miracle of two separate people uniting while
remaining separate, indeed, enhancing their separate selves by means of the deep
relationships with others. Then focus on the primary relationship of our life,
the one made possible and nourished by the Holy Spirit, the relationship with
God. The Holy Spirit is the power of right relationships, with God and with one
another, and for that reason he is Paraclete, truth and interpreter.

Amen.

 

 

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