John 15:26–27 (NRSV) 
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:4b–15 (NRSV)
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
For the past few years I have thought a lot about what it means to be a Christian. I know that might sound strange for a pastor to say, but it is a question I feel is very important. If we get this one question’s answer incorrect, everything else we do falls apart. What does it mean to be a Christian?
Do we ever stop and think about that question? I am fairly sure if we are sitting in this building we at least think about it some. Is being a follower of Christ following rules? Is it performing the proper rites at the proper times? What is it?
Today we celebrate Pentecost. This day, in my opinion, does not get enough recognition. Pentecost has a history that goes to the very beginning of the church, actually to the very beginning of the Hebrew religion. The history of this day goes to Mt. Sinai. When the children of Israel left Egypt and wondered in the desert. This desert was formative for these tribes of people. They left all they knew and they wondered. Sure, all they knew was that they were slaves, but now they are free. What and who are they now?
It was on Pentecost they began to learn who they were. God directed them to the base of a mountain, and he called their leader, Moses, up to the summit. Imagine if you were there. Imagine if you were walking out of the land of bondage toward the place the God of your ancestors promised. The place you had only heard about in stories. They were going to be the people of God, living in the land of God. No rulers, not masters holding a whip to force them to do the will of the one holding the power, just them free people and God. Just let us go back to Egypt, we know what to expect there they would whine, but God did not lead them to Egypt. He leads them to a mountain. And on that mountain, He gave Moses the law. It was on that mountain God made a covenant with the tribes of Israel. It was on that mountain they became his people and He became their God. Pentecost is the anniversary of faith, it is the marriage of the people of promise and God. This day has a rich history, but does it apply to us?
For three years Jesus ministered among the people of Israel. His ministry was built on the history of centuries of faith. From the times of Moses until Christ, Israel was still trying to figure out one question, who are we and how what does it mean to be the People of God? It is not exactly an easy question to answer. They had this law that gave them some good advice, and for the most part they did their best to keep those laws. Well they kept them in the manner they saw fit. But it was not long after the covenant was given that they began to pull and push away. It was not long before people began interpreting and twisting the words to best fit their ideas. They entered the land with no king, and each person lived how they pleased. They became envious of other nations, with rigorous governmental systems. They liked the idea of living under a king, because the king was in charge, the king had to make the decisions, and they would not longer have to answer the questions weighing on their minds. Then prophets came declaring the word of the Lord. They shared with the people the areas they had failed to keep the covenant. Mercy is what God wants not sacrifice they proclaimed, yet the law if filled with sacrifice. Suddenly the question they pushed off onto a king is again dropped into their minds. What do they do now?
Easy we kill the prophets. We get rid of the ones that make us question our actions. They are weird anyway and they make us uncomfortable. A long history of struggle, a long history of asking the very same question we ask today. A long history of cycling from one extreme to the other and not totally getting it right. Today we celebrate Pentecost, the anniversary and birthday of faith.
Today’s scripture is the closing remarks of Jesus’s farewell discourse. The final teachings Jesus would make as he approaches the hour of his glorification. At the beginning of this message, He said do not let your hearts be troubled believe in God, believe also in me. He told them that he was about to go to a place where they could not go, but he was going to prepare a place for them and that they would know the way to meet him. And the disciples said we don’t know where you are going so how will we know the way. His answer was and still is, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He then continued to teach, and as he taught the disciples became quieter to the point they no longer made a sound. Jesus closes out this teaching by going back to the beginning. “I am going away,” he says, “and no one is asking me where I go.”
They no longer ask, because they are filled with emotions they do not quite know how to express. For years they had followed Jesus and watched how he interacted with the people. For years they joined him while he worshiped in the various synagogues in Judea and they watched as he withdrew to the isolated places to pray. They were even asked to go out in his name to do the very same things that they had observed him do. These past few years were the greatest years of their lives. And not they know that things are about to change.
These past few weeks have been filled with many events that mark important transitions. Marco graduated from High school, Ember graduated from JUCO, and Bridget graduated from university. These graduations mark the closing of one chapter of life and the opening of another. But there is a mix of dread and excitement as we turn the pages of life at this point. It is like in a book where the printers purposely leave a blank page between the closing of one part and the beginning of the next. What will happen? What will we become? We are filled with the excitement of spreading our wings and pursuing our dreams, yet there is that anxiety we feel what if my dreams are too big and I am not up for the challenge. We have all been there, we know those feelings. We felt them at our own graduations, we felt them on our wedding days, we felt them when children were born, and when we started a new job. We feel those same feelings just prior to a race, or game. We feel them when we take on a new client in our business, and prior to opening night of a play.
The disciples are just beginning to understand what the past three years were. And now Jesus is saying I’m leaving and it’s a good thing too. It will be great when I’m gone you will see. It will be amazing and you guys are going to love it. Dread and excitement. Jesus is overjoyed yet they do not quite know what to expect. How will we live without Jesus showing us the way?
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” This advocate, this Paraclete, of which Jesus speaks is what we know as the Holy Spirit. And it is this personality of God, the third member of the Trinity that makes the transitions between chapters of life more bearable. It is often said that the term paraclete is a term representing a legal advisor, although it is not wrong it is not exactly the full extent of what it means. The paraclete is a representative, a counselor, an advisor, one that stands with you. It is not exactly a lawyer, although it does have the credentials to serve in that manner if need be. John, the writer of this gospel, uses this term for both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but it is used in different ways. For Jesus it takes on the role of representative before God, the one who stands for us. But for the Holy Spirit that role is different, the Spirit advises us to the world.
This is profound. This is actually a game changer so to speak. Jesus is telling us that we will have and do have access to the very mind of God for the express purpose of translating the life we have with God to those who do not know Him. I want you to just consider that for a moment. The entire purpose of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is to help us minister to the world.
Jesus explains it like this, “He will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement.” I want to take a moment and say that in this instance Jesus’s explanation is not very clear. This is about the least clear explanation he has ever given. But it is important. The spirit will prove the world wrong about sin. We in the church love to talk about sin. Especially the sins of others, but this actually draws us back to that question I first asked, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” If we were to examine the definition of what sin is according to John, we would find that sin is simply unbelief, and more accurately the lack of belief in Jesus.
According to John, Jesus did not come to the world to condemn us but to save us. And to be saved we must believe in Jesus, if we do not believe we condemn ourselves. Or as CS Lewis says, “the doors of Hell are locked on the inside.” The condemnation we face is not from God, but is our lack of belief, it is our unwillingness to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives. When Jesus says that the Paraclete will prove the world wrong about sin, he is saying that the world sees sin as being an error in action, but what sin is in truth is an error of relationship. It is us closing ourselves in locking the door and hiding away in ourselves, instead of opening the door to the one standing there knocking. Jesus explains this even more when he said, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was naked and you clothed me…For what you did for the least of these you did for me.”
The Paraclete does not only prove the world wrong about sin, but also about righteousness. When the prophets of old said that it was mercy that God wanted and not sacrifice, they were speaking about righteousness. The people of ancient days were very pious people. They offered sacrifices according to the law, they tithed according to the law, they did everything according to the law, but what they often failed to understand was the intent behind the law. The intent was not sacrifice for sacrifice sake, it was all about the giving of oneself for the benefit of others. One of the most profound and inspiring statements made by a president was given by John Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It does not matter who the person was or even if we like their policies, that statement is profound. It speaks of righteousness in a way that many of us neglect to see. Righteousness is not about you or me it is about what you or I can do for others. We give tithes and offerings not so we can gain power in a religious community but so we can help those in need. And we do that not because we have a religious obligation to do so, but because those people we are helping are people loved by God and carry within them the very image of God just as we do. What we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus.
The paraclete will also prove the world wrong about judgement. If we know that Jesus came to the world to save it, not to condemn it, what is judgement about? If Jesus stands before the father in our place who then is God casting judgment on? If the only sin is lack of belief in Jesus, then judgement is not about how good we are morally. It is instead based on Jesus. When I was a senior in college, I spent the summer between my last two semesters in Ukraine. I went to that country to teach conversational English to university students, and to share the gospel of Jesus. Why I went is actually a mystery because at the time neither of those things were activities I participated in. I did not talk so why would I teach, and as far as I was concerned I was a man of science and religion was just something I did not something I talked about (again I didn’t talk). My faith was just my faith and it was not much of a faith it was more of a culture to me. But I found myself on a plane going to Ukraine. While there we presented the 4 spiritual laws. And I had to memorize how to present this in a way that seemed natural. We even practiced drawing diagrams on napkins. Something that struck me later was that question we constantly asked our students, “If you were to die today would you be in heaven or hell?” It is a great question, but only if the person you are speaking to acknowledges a heaven or hell. We present things about judgement that may not be the clearest picture, Jesus did not come to condemn but to save, and we condemn ourselves.
I continue to ask the same question; the question people of faith have asked from the beginning. “What does it mean to be a Christian?” I like everyone answer this in my own way, and I like everyone else have redefined it as I have matured in my faith. I once believed it was just a culture. Then I realized that it was more than that. I then thought it was about living a good life, following the rules God set up, because he set them up and he wants me to. Although it is good to do that and you might benefit from that type of lifestyle, following Christ is more than rules. I then focused on grace, and that set me free I could live free from shame because God loves me and that is all that matters. That also is true, but the Christian life is more than grace. James the brother of Jesus even said that grace without works is empty. What then does it mean to be a Christian? It is belief. It is the belief that Jesus did exactly what he said he would do. It is belief that if we follow him and take on his lifestyle we will have an abundantly full life. It is grace and it is sharing grace. It is works and it is sacrifice. It is living every day loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. To be a Christian is to show God’s love to those God loves, showing God’s love to those that carry the image of God. It is encouraging those around us to open a door that they have tightly shut, and let friendship grow. It is becoming vulnerable ourselves and letting people know why we have hope even when life seems tough and sharing Jesus with them. It is nurturing friendship and walking with others as they become seedlings of faith, assisting them as they identify the weeds of their lives that are potentially choking out their faith and helping them see how to eradicate them. The Christian life is letting the Paraclete advise us in our daily lives, directing us as we represent the Kingdom of God to the kingdoms of Mankind. What does it mean to be a Christian? It is loving the one that loves us, and it is loving the ones who hate us. It is giving all we have for the benefit of others, because that is what our God did for us.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us sit with this question, “What is a Christian?” Let us ask the very spirit of God to explain it to us, and with Holy Expectancy listen to what our Paraclete has to say. And let us love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Jesus with others.
 Diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu. (2018). Art in the Christian Tradition:. [online] Available at: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/diglib-fulldisplay.pl?SID=20180520503440603&code=ACT&RC=54350&Row=4 [Accessed 20 May 2018].
 Google Books. (2018). The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. [online] Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=JaC0_Yvffr0C&pg=PA626&lpg=PA626&dq=lewis+%22doors+of+hell+are+locked+on+the+inside%22&source=bl&ots=wE7oUR-7SW&sig=yUiKO25xVTNKsqtFo9k9GutTBk0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=d2OaULiDD8ffqAGTi4DABg#v=onepage&q=lewis%20%22doors%20of%20hell%20are%20locked%20on%20the%20inside%22&f=false [Accessed 20 May 2018].
Sermon by: Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church (May 20, 2018)