May 24, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
Sunday 23rd May 2021 10:00 Festal Eucharist
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
For some reason I can’t quite fathom, perhaps it’s the guidance of the Holy Spirit or a chance conversation with a friend, or both, I find myself reflecting on last week’s guest on Desert Island Discs, Professor Brian Greene. He is a physicist in New York, who said on the radio, ‘I’m only after the truth’.
Why does that resonate with Pentecost? Because in our gospel reading Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth…. I am sending you the Spirit of Truth, and when he comes, he will guide you into all truth.’
Now the truth that Brian Greene is searching for he expresses like this:
‘Why are we here? How did we get here? What is the nature of reality?’
And for him, he says, ‘String theory has the potential to make headway on these questions to put all of nature’s forces together in a unified framework that might tell us what space is, what time is and why there is a universe at all.’
If you don’t know, string theory provides the so-called answer to everything that potentially reconciles the theories of small things (what’s inside atoms… Quantum mechanics) to the theory of big things in space (Einstein’s theory of General Relativity). There’s a problem – these two theories can’t both be right because they don’t connect with each other.
And Einstein came up with his theory about gravity after developing Newton’s laws, which he discovered after leaving the plague-ridden rat-infested halls of Cambridge University during the Great Plague of 1665. He wandered around the apple orchards of his family home in Lincolnshire and had a brainwave about gravity. So we have this long line of scientific development, from Newton, to Einstein to String theory in the search for truth. But the problem is that string theory comes up with some quite whacky conclusions that you can’t prove by performing an experiment – like multiple universes – in which we all exist, countless times, depending on what choices we make.
It’s at this stage, that my mind boggles and I think it’s rather easier to believe that God has revealed himself in a person who we know as Jesus of Nazareth, and that we can even connect ourselves with him through this powerful agent, that we know as the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who came at Pentecost.
One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us, is to bring us to a point of conviction: to persuade us of what is true and what isn’t. There are three things that Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit convinces us of: about our sin, our righteousness and our judgement. Let’s look at each in turn.
First, John 16:9 the Holy Spirit convicts us ‘concerning sin because they do not believe in me’: The Holy Spirit helps us recognise that we’re being sinful if we don’t believe that Jesus is who he says he is.
I heard this week of a young man in his twenties who got in touch with a church in the diocese, saying, ‘I’m a Christian, tell me more about Jesus.’ He’d been plugging into online church during lockdown, and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that Jesus is real, and he had received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.
This just goes to show that God is at work in the lives of people who don’t even ‘go’ to a physical church service. Maybe you’re watching this online, and recognise something similar in your experience over this past year of lockdown. God has given you the gift of faith: something has switched, the light’s gone on, and you believe Jesus – if that’s happened to you, then that is the work of the Holy Spirit in you.
2. The second thing the Holy Spirit does is convict us of our righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father. Many of us, I’m sure, think that we are right. In all the disputes of our time there are people of passionate conviction and history on different sides. The Palestinians think they are right. The Israeli’s think they are right. Putin thinks he is right. Biden thinks he is right. Everyone thinking they are right and that the other is wrong leads to conflict, hurt, pain and suffering.
When Jesus walked this earth we have in the gospels numerous examples of him dissipating violence, anger, fear and power. Faced with a mob about to throw stones at him, he says to them, ‘Are you going to stone me for all the good things I have done?’ When he is arrested he is not threatened by the Temple militia coming at him with swords. He tells everyone to put their swords down.
Jesus redefines what being right means; righteousness comes not through obeying the rules of the temple, but by allowing his body to become a new temple, a temple of the Holy Spirit. And because Jesus has given his body on the cross, and as the resurrected Christ is going to the Father, we, the church, become that body. The Holy Spirit convicts us in our hearts when we’re not right, when we’ve done wrong, when we need to seek forgiveness and work out how to bring peace and reconciliation.
What is the Holy Spirit convicting in you right now? If something has just popped into your mind, take it that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you and he wants you to do something about it. You might need to speak to someone for advice, or if you’ve caused hurt to someone, to ask for forgiveness. That’s what it means for the Holy Spirit to convict us of righteousness.
3. The third thing the Holy Spirit does is convince us about judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged. Jesus is talking here about evil, the devil, the father of lies and the purveyor of death. The people who caused Jesus to be crucified have been listening to the lies of the devil. They don’t believe Jesus comes with a message of hope love vitality and destiny. The execution of Jesus as an innocent man was a travesty of justice, but the resurrection of Jesus shows just how wrong the devil was. Death could not hold Jesus in the grave. He rose to life again. Because of that the ruler of this world has been exposed, judged and condemned.
We are all tempted to believe lies.
‘You’re too fat.’
‘You’re not good enough, you’ll never do it.’
‘You’re not clever enough to go for that job.’
‘Just a short glimpse of pornography on social media never did anyone any harm.’
‘I need a drink.’
‘My wealth will protect me.’
‘You’re not the right class; they all look down on you.’
They’re all lies.
The Holy Spirit is the godly power in our lives that crushes the head of the lying snake under our heel.
I will be impressed when scientists develop string theory sufficiently to be able to tell the truth about sin, righteousness and judgement. Perhaps such a revelation will come to them when, during a pandemic, they walk in nature, look at a tree, and have a revelation that they had never thought of before. They might even describe the power of the Holy Spirit using strings.
But we don’t need to be a physicist to know the truth the Holy Spirit brings us. As you wait in your seat to receive Holy Communion, or as you sit in Spiritual Communion with us, I invite you receive the Holy Spirit. Simply speak to Jesus and say, ‘Send me your Holy Spirit. Amen.’