"Connecting Convicting Companion"
Pentecost June 4/06 John 15:26-27, 15:5-15
What follows is not the secret wishes of a geek, but a modern-day parable. Jesus told the agriculturally-based first-century Palestinians stories about farmers sowing, sheep getting lost, and vineyard tenants refusing to pay their rent. So here's a parable in terms to which a 21st-century culture might relate.
"Oh, that I might have High Speed internet! The local computer shop and ISP provider commented the other day that Blyth and Brussels seem to be the last places in Huron County that don't yet have DSL lines. At the hospital in Wingham I can download a 20 MB file in a couple of minutes, while at home that takes over an hour!
"Oh, what a difference it would make in my life if only I had High Speed! I would be able to keep informed so much more easily - so much easier to download the CBC webpages, I might even watch some of the news videos. I could even have a news ticker along the bottom of my screen, constantly updated right to the moment. I would always be in touch with the truth, what's really happening.
"And think how much more productive High Speed would make me! No more sitting there aimlessly, waiting for webpages to load. It would be no problem to keep all my applications updated to the most recent and powerful version. Sermon illustrations would be a cinch - just type in a couple of keywords and, voila! High Speed would allow me to be so much more fruitful.
"Besides efficient and productive, if only I had High Speed, I would be so much more connected in relationship! I could have MSN on all the time and be instantly available to parishioners or family members. Reticent youth group members might find it far easier to strike up a chat than to have to make a phone call. What's more, I could keep in touch with family members spread across the planet via webcam, microphone, and headset - almost as if they're sitting in the same room with me! Through a broadband phone plan I could do away with long distance charges. The barriers of space would fall away; my access in relationship would be immensely improved."
Truth - fruitfulness - access...OK, I'm not really so antsy about High Speed; what's the parable getting at? Not High Speed but Holy Spirit. The heavenly Counsellor is our best news source, keeping us up-to-date with God's truth. Jesus called Him "the Spirit of Truth" who "will guide you into all truth...He will tell you what is yet to come...[and] make it known to you." (Jn 15:26; 16:13) Also, the Holy Spirit is the One who makes us truly fruitful and productive. Jesus says at the beginning of chapter 15(5f) that only those who remain in Him will bear much fruit; without the Holy Spirit connection to our Lord, people can do nothing, and are cut off. Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit produces fruit and gifts in our lives - love, joy, peace; serving, encouraging, giving (Gal 5:22f; Rom 12:7f). In addition, it's not our internet connection (high speed or not) that makes relationship and connection on an eternal scale possible, but the Holy Spirit is our means of connecting with Jesus and our heavenly Father through prayer and worship. Jesus told His disciples the day would come when they would ask the Father directly, and He would give them whatever they ask in Christ's name (John 16:23ff).
So, there's Someone who's much more exciting than even getting high speed! Our passage highlights a couple of key aspects about the Holy Spirit - that to those who trust in Jesus the Spirit is our constant Companion, and Giver of much needed truth.
The context for our passage, John 13-16 - Jesus' final period of teaching to His disciples the night He was betrayed - features a dominant theme: "I am going away." (13:1, 21, 33; 14:2ff, 12, 19, 28; 16:5, 7, 16, 28) He was trying to prepare them for the fact that He would soon be dead, then ascended back to the Father. Of course, this seemed bad news to the men who'd followed Him closely for over 3 years; v6 describes them as "filled with grief". But Jesus hastens to add that it was necessary, it was for their good, it was actually best for them that He went away. He explained in v7, "Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." The English word "Counselor" translates the Greek "paraclete", one called alongside to help; other possibilities include Helper, Aider, Advocate. In verses 13-15 Jesus says the Spirit "will guide you into all truth...He will tell you what is yet to come...He will...make it known to you (2X)." The last 3 instances use a verb similar to "angel" or messenger, "to announce, make known, report." Someone who shows you what you need to know or assists you to get where you need to go.
Hospitals can be intimidating places, and the bigger the hospital, often the more intimidating it seems. I recall the times Yvonne had her most recent surgeries, we would often start out waiting in some basement holding area, not knowing where the surgery would actually take place. Just about the time we would be getting really nervous, who should appear but a friendly porter. It seemed the porters were invariably cheerful, helpful, encouraging and reassuring. They wheeled her on her way and knew every twist and turn through the renovations and myriad hallways. The Holy Spirit is much like that: a friendly Helper who comes along when you most need it and knows exactly what to do, shows you where to turn, assures you of the Father's constant love and care. The apostle Peter described the process of inspiration of the writers of Scripture that way in 2Peter 1(21): "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Though Jesus would no longer be physically present to the disciples on a day-to-day basis, He was arranging for another Counsellor to accompany them forever: one whose availability was not limited by space and time in a physical body as Jesus was. This is not some vague or unresponsive Force but a personal Spirit, who has the attributes of personality (will, mind, thought, knowledge, words, love) and can be treated as a person: lied to and tempted, resisted, grieved, outraged, or blasphemed against (1Cor 12:11, 2:10-13, Rom 8:27, 15:30; Ac 5:3f,9, 7:51, Eph 4:30, Heb 10:29, Mt 12:31 - Pictorial Bible Dictionary).
Yet there is another dimension to the Paraclete than simple caring companionship: more than just being a sort of cuddly comforting teddy bear, the Spirit has a challenging role in our lives with regard to God's truth. V8 outlines this: "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment..." Such terms presume some standard of holiness by which we ought to be held accountable. Jesus calls Him "the Spirit of Truth": but our society today would prefer to ignore God's principles, and relativize morality at its convenience.
For an example of how off-base and wacky society gets, consider this news item: "A convicted killer is asking a judge to order Massachusetts corrections officials to help him get a sex change operation. Robert Kosilek, who is now known as Michelle Kosilek, initially sued the Department of Correction four years ago, seeking treatment for gender identity disorder. (Kosilek is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife.) A federal judge ordered the state to provide female hormone treatments for Kosilek, but stopped short of ordering a sex change operation...A lawyer for the state said it would be a security risk to allow Kosilek to have a sex-change operation, because other inmates in the prison might attack him." (http://www.wcsh6.com/news/ article.aspx?storyid=36093)
How quirky can we get? Now it's almost as if the criminals are ordering the state what to do, rather than the other way around!
Truth has run onto hard times in modern culture. Selfishness and pride lead people to rebel against outside authority and the idea of absolute truth to which they ought to be held responsible. Barna & Gallup researchers report that in America: Only 22% of adults and 6% of teenagers are certain absolute moral truth exists. 64% of adults and 83% of teenagers believe in relativism. 33% of Americans claim to be "Born again" Christians. Yet 37% of these reject the infallibility of the Bible. 53% of these reject the belief in holding absolute truth. 28% believe that Jesus sinned. 50% believe Satan is only a symbol of evil rather than a real being. 55% believe the Holy Spirit is only a symbol of God's presence and not a living being. (http://www.arcapologetics.org/about.htm ) Isn't this shocking? Bad enough that the general public don't believe there's absolute truth; but even a majority of so-called 'born again' believers reject it. And apparently more of these believe Satan is real than believe the Holy Spirit is real. How far we are from the mindset of Christ!
And we wonder why crime is so prevalent and morality is continually eroded. Relativism undermines ethical codes. Senator Dan Coats wrote, "I recently saw the story of a high school values clarification class conducted by a teacher in Teneck, New Jersey. A girl in the class had found a purse containing $1,000 and returned it to its owner. The teacher asked for the class's reaction. Every single one of her fellow students concluded the girl had been 'foolish.' Most of the students contended that if someone is careless, they should be punished. When the teacher was asked what he said to the students, he responded, 'Well, of course, I didn't say anything. If I come from the position of what is right and what is wrong, then I'm not their counselor. I can't impose my views.' It's no wonder that J. Allen Smith, considered a father of many modern education reforms, concluded in the end, 'The trouble with us reformers is that we've made reform a crusade against all standards. Well, we've smashed them all, and now neither we nor anybody else have anything left.'" (emphasis added; Imprimis, Vol. 20, #9, Sept., 1991; http://www.bible.org/ illus.asp?topic_id=1765 ) A liberal relativistic reformer is actually admitting that ungodly changes have sown the seeds of chaos and hastened the breakdown of social order.
In contrast to that teacher, the Holy Spirit is a Counselor in the best sense of the word, helping us discover right and wrong and become convinced of absolute, eternal truth. As we saw in v8, He convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. "Sin" translates the Greek hamartia, which means to miss the mark, as when an arrow falls short of the target; in this sense, sin violates God's law. Romans 3:23 declares, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." Robinson comments that hamartia indicates sin's reality "as wronging God and man, not a mere slip or animal instinct or devoid of moral responsibility or evil." Sin is not something we can pass off by blaming it on our upbringing or a challenging environment. Guilt is legitimate because God our Creator has every right to set the rules.
Yet note what Jesus says about sin in v9: He talks about it not legalistically, but relationally - "in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me." The most fundamental aspect of sin is not the act of adultery or lying or theft, but idolatry, in particular - rejecting Jesus, not wanting to allow God to have control in your life.
V10, "in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer..." The resurrection of Jesus vindicated Him, proved He was righteous and suffered innocently in our stead. The Bible says that Jesus "through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4). Jesus would no longer be walking around, visible as a living perfect standard; the Holy Spirit becomes our barometer of righteousness, an inner voice of virtue, convicting and correcting us.
V11, "and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." The term for 'judgment' means a decision or verdict given concerning justice or injustice, right and wrong. And the verdict is, the enemy and his ways are all messed up and doomed. Satan's shortcuts may bring short-term pleasure but long-term bondage, disaster, and regret.
Reading the paper or listening to the news, it becomes evident our culture is caught and sinking in a moral quagmire. Having jettisoned the anchor of revealed truth, we're adrift toward the waterfall of each one doing what is right in their own eyes - and ultimately the powerful get their way. Justice requires compliance with commonly recognized laws, based on religious principles. Order and direction require an absolute point of reference, such as the Holy Spirit and Scripture provide.
Last Saturday some from our congregation took a hike in the Hullett Conservation Area - less demurely known as the Swamp. It was going to be an adventure; most of us had never done it before. With trepidation the trembling explorers set off into the wild unknown. Once we got going, though, we realized we weren't too badly off. I'd been able to print off a map from the website. We found we'd brought along several reference tools: a compass, a GPS, a watch, and a cell phone. The sun was out, so we could figure out where south was. And best of all, we had Lynn's verbal instructions: she'd described how you go to the end of the road, over a bridge, etc. Yes, we survived, and made it back to tell the tale. In real life it's the Holy Spirit's directions, coupled with His inspired principles in Scripture, that save us from sinking in the swampy waters of the modern immoral mess.
Remember that 'values clarification' exercise about the purse? What would you do if you found something so valuable? That's what determines whether we're really spiritual, if we listen to God's voice in the middle of the sticky situation and bring glory to Jesus by doing what's right, regardless of the cost. What if the purse did hold $1,000? What if it held more - would you have your price?
A March 29 story from San Francisco relates, "John Suhrhoff found the Louis Vuitton bag on a park bench in Sausalito during a lunch stop in the scenic city following a weekend hike. Inside the bag, police say, was a treasure trove: a 12-carat diamond ring, pearl and emerald jewelry, a Cartier watch and roughly $500 in Canadian and American cash. The contents were worth $1 million.
But the respiratory therapist didn't think of heading to a pawnshop - he returned the bag to Sausalito police headquarters on Monday afternoon after failing to track down the owners. The bag is en route to the Ghannadian family of Toronto, who were in Northern California for a daughter's wedding.
"Every person I know or associate with would have done the same thing," Suhrhoff, 56, of San Rafael said yesterday. "I'm glad to be able to help." (I wonder how many actually would have returned it: Sausalito police Sgt Kurtis Skoog said it's rare to find someone so honest he or she would pass up a bag of expensive loot. Many others would have tried to pawn the contents for a fraction of their value, he said.)
"You have to be a real man to return that bag," Ghannadian's son Ali told the newspaper. "Even the bag is expensive. We're really, really thankful to that guy." (http://www.signonsandiego.com/ uniontrib/20060329/news_1n29purse.html)
Praise God for a person who was a 'real man', who did the honest and honourable thing even though many would not have. Praise God for the Holy Spirit who Jesus sends to guide us in paths of righteousness, to own Him as Lord and reject evil. We sum up with these words from the EMC Christ at the Centre pamphlet: "The Holy Spirit empowers us to love like Jesus in victory over the world, the sinful nature (flesh) and the devil and causes us to be partakers of God's nature through union with Christ and to be His witnesses, sharing our faith with others (1 John 2:15-17; 4:12-13; 5:1-5; 2 Pet 1:4; Acts 1:8)." May the Spirit's truth, fruitfulness, and relating shine out gloriously for the Lord in our lives. That's worth vastly more than you'll get in any pawn shop! Amen.