Sunday, June 9, 2019
John 14:8-17, 25-27
This coming Sunday is the Day of Pentecost, the anniversary of God’s Holy Spirit coming to the church. The Jewish festival called Pentecost celebrated the early harvest. It is also known as the “Feast of Weeks,” seven weeks after Passover, day fifty.
(7 x 7) + 1 = 50.
After the resurrected Jesus went up, up, and away from his followers, they waited in Jerusalem as he had told them to do. They prayed together a lot, and spent their time in the Temple.
Then, during the Pentecost festival, something really strange broke out among them: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.... about God’s deeds of power.” (Acts 2:4 and 11). Visitors who had come to Jerusalem for the festival from foreign countries were able to understand the message in their own native languages. Jesus’ disciples told everyone about God raising Jesus from death to life!
This event at the beginning of the church’s story raises numerous issues for us today, when we are still trying to be the church. One issue is language. Rather than make all of the foreigners in Jerusalem understand Hebrew (or Aramaic), the Holy Spirit made the Apostles able to speak the various languages of the foreigners! The Apostles were fairly ordinary Palestinian Jews: fishermen and so forth. Nevertheless, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they were transformed into translators.
In our current situation, when many Americans are troubled to hear languages other than English spoken, the Pentecost story reminds us that God does not like the English language any better than Farsi or Creole or Korean. God likes his people to get past their differences.
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
-1 Corinthians 12:13
† † †
On Sunday, we will hear about the coming of God’s Holy Spirit, from two different sources in the New Testament: The Gospel according to John and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. In John, we hear Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples and to anyone who would follow him; in Acts, we hear how the Holy Spirit actually showed up on the Day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem.
As one gets familiar with the New Testament, it becomes clear that these two documents came from very different authors who worked within distinct communities of Christians. In Acts, the Holy Spirit is always called “Pneuma Hagion,” which can be translated “Wind / Breath / Spirit Holy.” But in the Gospel according to John, Jesus promises to ask his Father to send his disciples the “Paraclete,” which he says is the same as the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26). The only New Testament writer who calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete is John.
Untold numbers of books, sermons, and articles have been written about the mystery of the Paraclete. At the most basic level, a “paraclete” means someone who is called to one’s side. In general, you could say that you call someone to come and help. Among the ancient Greeks, as well as other groups who ended up using the Greek language, this word paraclete most often referred to a lawyer, someone whom you could call upon to stand by your side and speak for you when a judge or some other authority figure was on your case. The Latin-language translation of paraclete is advocatus: this is where we get the word, ‘advocate.’ To this day, in languages that come from Latin, a lawyer is an ‘abogado,’ an advocate.
Human lawyers are often stereotyped as weaselly characters who take all your money, and, if you’re lucky, they may use their tricks and technicalities to get you out of trouble. Not exactly “holy.”
But then, how is the Holy Spirit like a lawyer?
In the New Testament, John tells us two ways:
One, the Paraclete will be with us and in us and among us forever, to “teach you everything, and remind you of all that [Jesus has] said to you.” (John 14:26) The Holy Spirit is an ‘inner Counselor,’ who always helps us stand up to the wicked world, as Jesus did.
Two, through the Paraclete, Jesus himself advocates for us with the Father. The Spirit of God lives in you and me, helping us stay right with God, as Jesus in his time on earth helped his disciples.
(John 14:16, 1 John 2:1)
...send forth Your Spirit...
- Psalm 104:30