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WE HAVE AN ADVOCATE!

A Sermon preached by the Rev. Michael Anderson Bullock

2024.0519.Pentecost.Advocate

[Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15]


Advocate.  This is the term that Jesus uses in the gospel lesson for this crucial Day of Pentecost.  Depending on the biblical translation you use, there are other names offered for the Holy Spirit.  All of them speak to a particular quality or characteristic of this divine gift’s nature: Names such as “Councilor”; “Comforter”; “Helper”; “Sponsor”; “Patron”; “Friend”.  It is as if the biblical tradition circles around the gift of the Spirit in an attempt to corral its mysterious meaning.  Yet, all the references to the Spirit stem from one Greek word: Parakletos; and it is from this Greek reference that all the other names blossom.


In some translations of the New Testament, this Greek term has been anglicized a bit, and you will encounter a name that simply sounds important but carries no immediate clarity.  “Paraclete” is the trans-morphed term.  As with the original Greek, it consists of two descriptors. One is “para” which means “alongside of”.  The other is “kletos” which means “to call”.  The coinage, then, of “Paraclete” points to “someone who is called to come alongside of someone else”.  I find this a rather interesting and telling description of the Holy Spirit, both in terms of its meaning and behavior.  Someone we can call upon to be alongside us.  That “someone” is the Spirit of God.


But there is more to this Greek “paraclete”.  I discovered that in Greek culture, “paraclete” referred to the custom of a Greek family having a family attorney!  Hence, the insight into the translation of “Paraclete” as “advocate” expands beyond that of a personal cheerleader.  The Spirit of God, the creative energizer of all life, which was made manifest to us in Jesus – this is our known Advocate.  The Spirit of God, revealed in Christ, alongside of us to advocate for us…it all tends to take one’s breath away.


So, in wondering what the Holy Spirit is, I propose a question.  What’s it like to have an advocate?  Have you ever been someone’s advocate?  What did that require of you?  More to the point, have you ever experienced having an advocate?  What difference did that make for you and your life?


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.  You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.1


Hearing the word “Advocate” triggers within me a very old memory from the early 1970’s when I first entered the Episcopal Church and worshipped according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  In that edition of the Prayer Book, the celebration of Holy Communion contained a series of preparatory references from scripture that served as reminders of Communion’s purpose and its invitation.  In that context, those scriptural citations were called “The Comfortable Words”.  Here they are:


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  -Matthew 11:28


God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  -John 3:16


The saying is true saying and worthy of all to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  -1 Timothy 1:15


And here is the last of the “Comfortable Words”, the one that has surprisingly surfaced for me on this Day of Pentecost.


If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.  -1 John 2:1-2


“We have an advocate – an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”  The very Spirit of God, that holy and creative Spirit that is the Source of all life; that same Spirit which Jesus embodied and demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection; that Holy Spirit of the loving and life-giving God comes “alongside” us to advocate for us – no matter what.  Can there be any greater “Good News” than this?


In this notion of “parakletos”, the image of a courtroom unavoidably comes to mind and with it emerges all the legal proceedings that occur in that official setting.  The daily headlines we confront overflow with court proceedings at a very high level, with equally high stakes at hand.  Our American legal system provides each of us with an “advocate”; but the truth is that not all citizens receive equally effective advocates.  Especially in the setting of the Manhattan courthouse, “money talks”, as they say; and the cost of the advocacy in this and the other associated cases should give us all great pause not simply over where all the money has come from but more to the point, to what end is all this money offered?  To what extent does it serve justice and truth?  


It is precisely to this issue that I have asked all of you to keep in mind and offer daily this prayerful phrase: “Lord, keep this nation under your care; and guide us in the ways of justice and truth”2.  Offering this prayer can be an expression of our advocacy for our nation


A courtroom setting occupies the imaginative, rabbinic reflections on the meaning of various aspects of the scriptures.  An example of this comes from the foundational story from Genesis.  Here is the scene.  


This courtroom belongs to God, and the Holy One is the Judge.  Israel is on trial, indicted with numerous accounts of breaking the Covenant, fraud, and abandonment.  In this setting, the prosecuting attorney is “Satan”.  The defense attorney is the archangel Michael.  (In the Hebrew biblical tradition, Archangel Michael is seen as Israel’s helper, the chosen people’s “advocate”.  In opposition to the people of Israel, “Satan” tries the case; and in so doing he lives up to the Hebrew meaning of his name.  “The satan” means “the adversary”; and this prosecuting adversary is relentless in his work, constantly bringing before the Judge how Israel repeatedly breaks the Law and, thus, deserves the full extent of the Law’s punishment.  Clearly and sadly, “the satan” has a powerful and irrefutable case.  


Back and forth the trial goes through the ages; but in the end the key to the trial lies in “the satan’s” partially detached retina, his blind spot.  While his prosecuting case seems to be airtight, what “the satan” cannot literally see (or tolerate) is the Judge’s mercy.  


“Mercy” means NOT getting what we do deserve.  Mercy then is a fundamental expression of God’s advocacy for the people of God, and the Holy One’s gift of mercy speaks to the fruit of his advocacy: namely, the reality of God’s love.  Rest assured that mercy has nothing to with “kissing the wounds and making everything all better”.  No, breaking the Law (especially the Law of Life) entails consequences; but God’s mercy always allows for new beginnings – no matter what.  In light of God and God’s mercy, the “Good News” is that there is always more to our lives than what we make of them.


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.  [He will give witness to the enduring God-life I have revealed.]  You also are to testify [to give witness] because you have been with me from the beginning [just as I have been with you all along]. [John 15:26-27 – with my transliterations]


When you hear that God’s Spirit, the Spirit that was at the heart of the Incarnate Jesus – when you hear that not only do each of us have an advocate but that that Advocate is the guiding, redeeming, fortifying presence of God’s love and mercy, do you try to figure this out; or do you simply realize that you and I are not on our own and go from there?  


I have asked you, what’s it like to have an advocate?  What I am suggesting about this Pentecost event and the gift of the Holy Spirit is that we have God as our advocate.  “We do have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”  What’s that holy advocacy like for you?  Do you share it with others as it has been given to you?


At its heart, this is what the Day of Pentecost is all about.  It completes the Easter experience and begins our advocacy from God.  I will close by offering St. Augustine’s understanding of the Holy Spirit.  Augustine wrote that the Holy Spirit is the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father.  If that is not life-changing advocacy, then I don’t know what is.  


Lord, have mercy.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

1. John 15:26-27 [NRSV]

2. Book of Common Prayer. “The Suffrages”, p. 98


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