Sermon:  “The Spirit of Truth”

30 May 2010, Trinity Sunday

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Trinity Sunday
Book of Remembrance
May 30, 2010

John 15:26-16:7 and 16:13-15

“The Spirit of Truth”

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

Today’s text is important for us to look at, because these final words of Jesus in John’s Gospel are the most extensive discussion of the Holy Spirit in the entire New Testament.  And the Holy Spirit is important for us to approach in prayer and at least try to understand – not only because it is the “Spirit of Truth” that shows us how we might hear our “still speaking God,” but because Jesus thought it was important enough to leave with his disciples on the last night of his life.  As he faced what he expected would be his arrest and execution, he knew he had very little in the way of material things to leave his disciples – except this promise to send them the Holy Spirit to be their guide and advocate when they would need it the most, in times of trial that were sure to come. 

This promise from Jesus to send this mystical “Spirit of Truth” comes in that several-chapters-long speech he makes to his disciples after the Last Supper, and after Judas has left the room to go find the troops to arrest Jesus.  So the disciples had to have been afraid.  They didn’t know exactly what was coming next, but they had to know it couldn’t be good.  This is that “time of trial” Jesus taught them to pray about in that translation of the prayer he taught them, saying “and save us from the time of trial.” That is the part of the prayer we translate as “and lead us not into temptation.”  But the only temptation the disciples were facing right then was to run away or deny Jesus, because they knew some very real evil was about to be unleashed upon them.  They knew they were likely to be arrested, and probably tried and condemned along with Jesus.  And certainly, if that happened, none of them would have been able to afford legal counsel – even if the Roman Empire would allow it.  As a persecuted people whose nation was under foreign occupation, they didn’t have the rights of Roman citizens – they would be tortured and executed as “terrorists,” with no hope of a fair trial.  So you’d think this would be very good news that Jesus promises to send “the Spirit of Truth” as an “advocate” from the Father to testify on behalf of Jesus. 

Well, yes and no.  I mean, for a pragmatic bunch of fishermen, it might have been hard to see how “the Spirit of Truth” was going to help anyone.  You know, if I heard Jesus tell me people were going to come and drag me out of this meetinghouse and try to murder me as a act of devotion to God, I think I might suggest to the Lord – with all due respect – that sending a band of his very best angels with swords might be more helpful than… “The Spirit of Truth.”  Like wisdom, truth is great, but if you’re like most people, being alive is worth more to you than the comfort of having truth on your side. 

But think about it for a minute.  Our Congregational ancestors were strengthened to do many great things, I’m sure, knowing that “The Spirit of Truth” was on their side – including founding this great nation, fighting to abolish the evil of slavery, and fighting for the rights of women and people of color to vote.  The very ideas of freedom and democracy are rooted in our Congregational “priesthood of all believers,” where we believe “the Spriit of Truth” can and does speak to the hearts of faithful Christians who struggle together to discern the will of God for the people. 

The actual Greek word used here for “advocate” is “paracletos,” which literally means someone called to the side of someone else – exactly like a lawyer or a counselor.  That should be comforting, knowing that when we call on God for help, we can count on getting it.  It’s not as easy as just picking up the phone and calling – although it would be nice to just send an e-mail or text message to Jesus and get an immediate and helpful response!  But the Good News in knowing Christ’s “Spirit of Truth” remains with us is that we CAN call and expect a response.  That’s what “Savior” really means, after all.

You remember the last line of Peter’s Pentecost sermon that we read in Acts 2 last Sunday?  “Those who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Our ancestors, we know, experienced that –from the saints of the early church to those we remember this Memorial Day, who gave their lives in war.  Men and women, young and old, throughout history, we know their faith brought them through times of incredible difficulty.  This promise of Jesus to send God’s own “Spirit of Truth” as an advocate, to stand at our side, may not seem like Good News on an ordinary sunny day in Brookfield, but when those terrible times of trial arrive, I assure you, we start to be very glad we are not alone.

Several of our families have suffered times of trial in the past year – many of us lost loved ones and been surrounded by sympathy and prayers, listening ears and shoulders to cry on, not to mention some amazing casseroles!  Through this church, the Holy Spirit, the advocate, came and stood with us in our sorrow.  Others had tragic accidents literally out of the blue – and were given, somehow, the strength to go on.  The Holy Spirit, the advocate, came and helped them to stand, and not to stand alone.  Church friends and family gathered around in ways that have been a powerful witness to the Holy Spirit in our community – like the work crews that have been making Joe Rocky’s home accessible. 

And just now, just in the past couple of weeks, several more of our members got the bad news of a cancer diagnosis, and miraculously, somehow the Holy Spirit, the advocate, rushed to their side and gave them a boost of courage that truly is beyond words and beyond our human capacity to understand.  The Holy Spirit, the advocate, gave them words that actually provided comfort to their loved ones – and not the other way around, which is what we might expect.  Salvation comes in many forms, when people pray for help – many times it’s not exactly the kind of help we were expecting, or even hoping for – but help comes nonetheless, from the Holy Spirit. 

Not only does the Holy Spirit bring comfort, though, Jesus sends his Spirit of Truth to give us the courage to let go of our need to play it safe and to speak truth to power – when we witness an injustice, for instance.  If we are listening for the Spirit of Truth, we are given the words we need to speak the truth – our truth, or the truth as we see it – in love.  In the body of Christ, as we gather as His Church, we can best discern “the Spirit of Truth,” as Jesus calls it, to make good decisions when we are willing to share our thoughts in community, and listen well to others. 

In the Congregational Church we value the way “the Spirit of Truth” speaks to the hearts of all of our members.  Just we heard last week, in the Pentecost vision of Acts 2 that Peter preached from the prophet Joel, in our church we expect our sons and daughters to prophesy and our young men to see visions and our old men to dream dreams.  As we do, let us listen with love and with patience to our fellow Christians – because it is through one another’s voices that we may be given the grace to hear “the Spirit of Truth” Jesus promised us from our “still speaking” God.

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.



John 15:26-16:7 and 16:13-15

[On the last night of his life, after he shared one final meal with his disciples and washed their feet, Jesus said,] 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. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless 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….

13When 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. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”



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