Homily: The Advocate
According to the gospel of John, Jesus promises his disciples that even though He (Jesus) will be going away, going to the Father, the Father will send another to be with them forever. The one who comes next is the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth. The Greek word is Paraclete, which also means Advocate, the defense attorney of the accused.
Satan is, according to one strand of the Bible, the accuser. Remember that in the book of Job, Satan initiates all the calamities that befall Job when he accuses him of being not really so righteous. He is righteous, says Satan, because he has gotten everything he wants. Job is, according to Satan and to use the language of today, living with great privilege, and so he can afford to be righteous. Take it all away, says Satan the accuser, and see if he is still so devout.
Accusation and Defense. How much of the life together is the endless repetition of accusation and defense and counter-accusation and counter-defense? And oh, how tempting it is to see it that interplay as morally equivalent, the actions of players who change sides, like a sports team that sometimes plays offense and sometimes plays defense.
But the spirit that comes after Jesus is not the spirit of forgiveness, according to John. It is not the spirit of neutrality, nor the spirit of "above the fray". It is the spirit of truth. Jesus calls Satan the father of lies, and he says that the truth will set us free.
What are the lies that Satan tells in this world. It is the lie of the false accusation. Not just any accusation, but the false accusation. After all, Jesus made many accusations -- he accused his critics of hypocrisy and narrowness and placing religious ritual and regulations between people and God. No, the lies of Satan are the false accusations that underlie and justify much of the social oppressions that we see today: that whole groups of people are depraved; that gays and lesbians lead lives consumed by lust; that the poor are stealing from us; that traitors walk among us.
These broad and general accusations should not be met with counter-accusations, but they must be met with the truth. Even though the truth is hard to know, because "everyone is sincere and is trying to do the best they can." Sometimes, the truth offends. And sometimes, we ourselves don’t know the truth in full, and we will need to be corrected.
The spirit of truth is an advocate and a defender, not the final judge. The Spirit of Truth takes the side of the falsely accused, the single victim, the scapegoat, the powerless.
Jesus gathered his disciples on the night of the Last Supper. They talked of him leaving and he assured them and reassured them. He had given them this word of the Holy Spirit who would be sent to be with them forever. And he left them the bread and the wine of their last meal together -- food and drink of everyday life -- and ways that they could remember him at every meal -- and himself in a form that could be taken into their own bodies, to give strength to their muscles and to enter into their thoughts and to give them life itself.
The church, the body of believers who are drawn together and inspirited with, inspired by, the One who the Father has sent after Jesus -- well, it is a body. And as a body it has work to do.
And much of that work is to defend the accused. At the very most personal and individual level, the church defends that single, lonely isolated person that carries within him or herself the accusation that they are not good enough for God to care about -- that they have fallen so low that they have no chance for God’s grace.
And we defend the sinner against the accusation that there is no second chance, or third chance or any chance at all.
And we defend all those who face discrimination and oppression against the countless accusations made against them that they deserve what is coming to them.
And we defend the poor against the accusations of the rich. And on and on.
But a body needs fuel to work, and here at this table we are given the food that strengthens us for the work that we do.
So come to be nourished and strengthened, comforted and inspired, as we remember the one who lived and died that we might be free in the truth of God’s gracious love for us all.