The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s032bg12   Pentecost 27/5/2012

'he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement'   John 16.8

The ordinary atheist, agnostic or generally unchurched are actually not concerned about sin, righteousness and judgement, and church people are wont to suggest that they are wrong to not be concerned about these things; that they are going to be judged because of their unbelief and indifference to judgement.   It is the orthodox and the devout who are the experts in matters of sin, righteousness and judgement; the ones who had Jesus crucified, and these words of Jesus say that their 'expert' opinions about these things actually were wrong.   Some orthodox and devout think 'We' are right, others are wrong, and we are thereby exempted from doing anything, even from the command to love these others.   Whatever our prejudices and actions derived therefrom, we will be accepted???  No matter how much others love indiscriminately, they will be condemned???     Immediately we see that ugly head of sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia.

Just recently I met a retired minister for the first time.   He told me how he would probably describe himself as an evangelical, though he'd had experience of both high church and charismatic congregations in his ministry.   But he couldn't accept liberals.   I wondered if he didn't realise the significance of the rainbow lanyard on which my cross hangs, or it inspired his chosen topic of conversation.

The people who didn't believe in Jesus were those who had him crucified, the orthodox and the devout - those who supposedly loved God with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength.   Others also didn't believe in him; those with whom he had worshipped all his life in the synagogue of Nazareth, who were scandalised that he spoke of God's love for others.   We are also told that members of his own family didn't believe in him, presumably for similar reasons.   How interesting it is that God uses those closest to us to bring us the message of his love for others as well!   The perception of entitlement that the orthodox and the devout had, just like those who might presume on their association with Jesus, and those who were actually related to him, lead, sadly, to sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia.

So it is precisely this perception of entitlement that leads to errors about sin and righteousness and judgement.   When we consider ourselves as right and others as wrong.    And this is no less true for those who invoke the name of Jesus as a basis for their entitlement today, as those who invoked the name of God, in the time of Jesus.   And so we can't invoke the name of the Holy Spirit to justify entitlement as we celebrate Pentecost either, today!

The Holy Spirit leads us to the opposite of sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia separate from others – so the Holy Spirit leads us to an earthy selflessness, to humility, to awareness of others and to action alongside others.   And the picture I have of Jesus is not someone who was noted for his sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia separate from others, but who was crucified precisely because of his earthy selflessness, humility, awareness and action alongside others.

Again and again we see how 'doing unto others', especially those others who are not of our physical and spiritual family, is the essence of the gospel message.

The Holy Spirit leads us into action, into incarnation into the real world.   And if we are to be incarnated into the world we will need an advocate: for the whole raison d'être of religion has traditionally been in the opposite direction.  

And those other words: ‘He will take what is mine’ - the incarnation – ‘and declare it to you’: means that we are also to be incarnated into the world, as Jesus was and is.  

And those words: ‘the ruler of this world is judged’: mean that the force behind sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia is judged to be a force for death rather than life.  We will need an advocate when we stand up against sanctified selfishness.

The force of repression, of endlessly harping on about what has gone before, is contrasted to the Advocate who will 'declare the things that are to come': the inclusion of all who want to be included with others, a willingness for and to be a part of incarnation.    We will need an advocate to free us from theologies like 'penal substitution' and to embrace a world that is dying to be embraced.

This is why Jesus was killed, because he was incarnated fully into society rather than the sanctified selfishness and arrogance of a holy huddle.   We will need an advocate to enable us to become fully the people we were meant to be, for we are only fully that person within the community as a whole.

Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first apostles enabling them to speak the language of the hearers, not to enable the hearers to speak and understand the language of the church.   So we celebrate the church being incarnated into the society, not society being subsumed into the church.   So our celebration challenges any sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia, which is essentially of the world, even when it is dressed up in scriptural, theological or spiritual clothing.  

The Holy Spirit empowers us to look around us towards others, to see the good in them, even to speak their language.   We need the advocate to empower us to do this as we need Jesus’ example which has inspired countless people over the centuries.   It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to understand the language of others, and so to really engage others in dialogue marked by mutual respect.

When we think about the mission of the church, what we really want others to do unto us, is to recognise the spiritual treasures, the taonga, of our tradition; so the words of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit, tells us to recognise the spiritual treasures, the taonga, of other traditions.   And learning to speak their language also includes ‘seeing’ and appreciating the source of their inspiration and strength, be it from nature, art, or looking scientifically at the microscopic world or the astronomical universe.

As I worshipped this morning, I thought about Jesus speaking with authority, yet somehow that authority has been lost, and perhaps this points to a kernel of content that has also been lost.    The command to love one's neighbours is thoroughly Old Testament.   Surely the authority is found in Jesus round denunciation of the sanctified selfishness, arrogance, blindness and inertia of those who claimed special affinity with the divine - undoubtedly most clearly expressed in Matthew 23, but in reality littered throughout the gospel accounts as the devout and the orthodox clearly ‘got’ Jesus’ message, time and again.   But of course the majority of the New Testament was written to people who had experienced Jesus’ earthy selflessness, humility, awareness of others and action alongside others.   The words of denunciation didn’t apply to the majority of them.   And so it is also for the majority of worshippers today, those who know the earthy selflessness, humility, awareness and action alongside others of Jesus and are empowered by the Spirit do likewise, know the joy of the kingdom.

Thanks be to God that we are called simply to be ourselves, selfless, humble, aware and active in society, and that the Holy Spirit is given simply to enable us to be these things.   For this promises a society that is also selfless, humble, aware and active rather than a continuation of the opposite.  Amen.

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