"It is expedient for you that I go away. For if I go not away,
the Comforter will not come unto you. But if I depart, I will send Him
It may have escaped your notice, but as the Church lined up her liturgies
for these Sundays after Easter, she didn't exactly follow a sequence in
the Gospel readings. For example, last Sunday we read from St. John's Gospel
in the sixteenth chapter from the sixteenth verse onward. Today we begin
the sixteenth chapter but at the fifth verse. There is a transposition
of these passages of Scripture because, as we near the festival of Pentecost,
the Church feels it is important for us all to understand what the meaning
is in that Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Last week the reading was about the imminent departure of the Lord from
this world as He talked to His disciples about His ascension. This week
it is about the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Church uses this transposition
of readings to convey a liturgical message to us. It is probably also one
of the more difficult passages in St. John's Gospel to comprehend. It is
not very easy to understand in the translation in the Prayer Book. So I
would have you bear with me as I give you a different translation that
I think is a little clearer. It is so important for us, as we near the
festival of Pentecost, to know what the Church is saying about the Holy
Spirit and about our role as members of the Church. What is the Holy Spirit
supposed to be doing in us?
Jesus begins by saying, "Now I go back to Him who sent me. Not one of
you asks me, 'Where are you going?' Because I have had all this to say
to you, you are overcome with grief. Yet I tell you the sober truth. It
is much better for you that I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never
come to you."
Here is a different word than what the Prayer Book used. The Prayer
Book used the word "Comforter." This translation uses a Greek term, Paraclete.
(Not parakeet, but Paraclete!) A paraclete in Greek terminology is two
things: a witness and a prosecutor. In their law they were rolled into
one. The individuals who showed up at court to testify were people who
actually did the. prosecuting, accusing the person of the crime. It was
a very serious thing to do because if those witnesses, those prosecutors,
were wrong or were lying, and it was a capital offense, and they were found
to be lying, they were killed. It was a pretty special role: witness and
prosecutor - or paraclete.
"If I fail to go, He won't ever come to you," Jesus says, "Whereas if
I go, I will send Him to you." And this will be the paraclete's role, the
witness's role. "When He comes, He will prove the world wrong. He will
prove the world wrong about sin, about justice, about condemnation." Then
John takes up each one of these three elements one at a time.
"He will convict the world wrong, first of all, about sin." Jesus says,
"About sin, in that they refused to believe in Me." It is the role of the
Holy Spirit to bear witness and to accuse the world of its unbelief. This
is the ultimate sin in John's Gospel: to remain in darkness and unbelief.
To know that Jesus is Lord, to know that He is the Messiah, to know that
He is the Savior and still reject Him: that is sin. That is the ultimate
sin. And it is the role of the Holy Spirit to hold this up to people. How
He does this, we will get to in a moment.
"He will convict the world about justice." Remember Jesus was unjustly
condemned to die. And He died on the cross. There is the injustice. "About
justice from the fact that I go to the Father and you can see Me no more."
What does He mean that He is going to convict the world about justice in
this way? It means very simply that as He returns to the Father, He will
still remain with us by means of His Holy Spirit within His Church.
Finally, "He will convict the world about condemnation, for the prince
of this world has been condemned." The prince of this world - the satan,
the adversary - that principle of evil has been condemned. Jesus was condemned
to die on the cross. It was by the power of that darkness that it happened.
Now the Holy Spirit would say, "Ah, no!" The irony of it all is that as
Jesus was condemned to die on the cross and did so; that very condemnation
brought about the condemnation of the evil one. It's the role of the Holy
Spirit, the accuser, the witness, to present that testimony to us.
How is it that the Holy Spirit is going to be doing all this? To convict
the world about sin, about justice, about condemnation: how does the Holy
Spirit do this? This is at the very nub of what Jesus wants us to understand.
The witness of the Holy Spirit is the witness of the Church. They are identical.
It is up to the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit, to convict the world
now about sin. about justice, and about condemnation. By our very lives
as members of a Christian Body, as members of a Christian Church, you and
I are committed to show the world what folly sin is. In Christ there can
be no sin. He is the sinless one. In His Body this is what we aspire to
as well. We would be sinless as we live the life of the Holy Spirit. It
is so important for us to understand that the witness that you and I give
is the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is the witness of the Church, individually
and collectively, and a witness that needs to be made.
If there is anything that afflicts this time and this society, it is
this causal atheism that is afflicting so many people. They don't believe.
They do not believe that Jesus is who He claims to be. They do not believe
that He is Lord. They do not believe Him. They do not believe and will
not accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior and Messiah. And they
go about their own way.
The Holy Spirit animates His Church in order that His Church can give
witness to the fact that Jesus Is Lord. You can see it in His Church -
or at least we should be able to see it in the Church. We know that the
Church also is sinful. The image of Christ in the Church, animated by the
Holy Spirit, is not all that clear to the people because of our personal
sins. But when we seek the forgiveness of the Lord because we have sinned,
then we can be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to give witness against
You and I are called upon to be witnesses and to convict the world about
what true justice is. We hear a lot about justice in our society these
days. There are elements of injustice, of course. But true justice, according
to Saint John, is a right relationship with God. It has to begin there
and flow from that or it isn't authentic justice. There is no other way
for us to live as a Christian people than to be rooted and grounded in
the Person of Jesus Christ our Lord as the center of our being. We do not
belong to some nice little holiness club with a set of ethical standards.
We belong to a living Organism called the Body of Christ that is animated
by the Holy Spirit. And that Holy Spirit is to give witness to the world
"I have much more to tell you," says Jesus, "but you cannot bear it
now. When He comes, however, being the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you
to all truth." Remember that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate at Jesus'
mock trial? "What is truth?" said Pilate. He didn't know what truth was
when it was standing right in front of him! Pilate isn't unique. This is
a world that is so often living a lie, living in error; not living the
truth. The truth is Jesus Christ. The truth is that He is Lord, that He
is power in our personal lives. He is everything He claims to be. Now it
is up to us to bear witness to that, to show the lie for the lie that it
is. There is no other way than the way of Jesus Christ our Lord.
"All that the Father has belongs to me," says Jesus, "That is why I
said that what He will announce to you, He will have from Me." There is
a unity here between Jesus our Lord, the Holy Spirit and the Father. Remember
that Jesus said He has done nothing and said nothing on His own, but only
what He has received from the Father. Now He is saying, "All of what the
Father has belongs to Me and that's why I said that He will announce to
you (that is, the Holy Spirit will announce to you) what He will have from
Me”. There is a unity here and this unity is what we are involved in because
we are caught up in the very life of the Trinity. We are members of the
Body of Christ. There is a unity there.
We call God our Father, not in some symbolic way, but because He is
our Father, truly and really. We have been begotten in the waters of Baptism.
Jesus Christ our Lord is our Savior. He is our brother. And it is the same
Holy Spirit that animated Christ in the womb of His mother that animates
His Church, individually and collectively. This is our identity! What we
are! This is why we need the Holy Spirit. We aren't some kind of holiness
club here, folks. If we are into that kind of thing, we don't belong here.
We are into something much greater than that. We are into the very life
of God Himself, for He has drawn us to Himself and given us His Spirit.
That is what it means to bear witness.
As we offer our Eucharist to God the Father through and with Christ
now, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, let us offer it with this intention:
that you and I will truly be a Church of witness; that the Holy Spirit
will continue His work now in our time; that through us the world continue
to be convicted of sin, of justice, and of condemnation. That witness is
ours to give because the witness of the Spirit and the witness of the Church
are one and the same.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstan’s Church and Fr. Sisterman.