The burden of proof

24 May 2015
The Feast of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

I’m always a bit skeptical when the designers of the lectionary leave out little bits. I immediately turn to the omitted passage to see what it was they didn’t want us to read. In this case, Jesus describes the relationship the Johannine community will have with the world, specifically the synagogue. The community will be expelled from the synagogue, and indeed anyone who kills one of them will suppose he is offering worship to God. When Jesus later says, “I have many things yet to tell you, but you cannot bear them now,” one wonders how much worse it could get.

For John, the gift of the Spirit (the Paraclete, Advocate) is given to support the community through its coming trials, as well as to maintain the presence of Jesus within the community. Because of that presence, the world will hate the community in the same way it hated Jesus, but they will not be alone in their trials. Indeed, the Paraclete will turn the tables on the world, putting the world on trial. The Paraclete will refute, or expose, the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. This verse seems at first to be a bit of a non-sequitur. The paraclete will expose the world concerning sin, because the world did not believe in Jesus; concerning righteousness (or vindication) because he is going to the Father; and concerning judgment because the rule of this world has been judged.

Sin for John is a failure to believe in Jesus — it is none of the other things the world thinks it is. Eternal life is believing in Jesus, so sin is failure to live that life. Like so much in John’s Gospel, the evangelist leaves us, the readers, to fill in the content of that statement. In what ways does this failure manifest itself in the world? Righteousness is connected with Jesus’ going to the Father. It is Jesus’ journey to the Father that renders the community righteous, that vindicates its way of life. We are on that same journey, and Jesus is the way. And the judgment is not some future event, but the world and its ruler already stands under judgment. Again, we are left to explicate what this looks like in the world as we encounter it. The community logos (discourse) is where we find the content of these expressions.

So, the gift of the Spirit puts us in the way of some important challenges. It puts us at odds with the world, and sets us on a course about which the world is not happy.

The passage from Acts is much more upbeat, but even here there is the expectation that the Spirit requires something of us. Once the Spirit had fallen on the Church, they began to witness to God’s mighty deeds of power. Peter in his sermon, refers to the Prophet Joel, that in the last days, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh so that old and young, men and women prophesy and dream the future. All this in advance of the great and terrible day of the Lord. Again, the world as it is stands under judgment, and these first Christians would suffer for their testimony.

Paul also suggests that the Spirit gives us a special role in the salvation of creation, in the realization of God’s plan for the world. We who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan for the revelation of God’s adoption, and the restoration of the world. We are what God’s plan looks like. We have not seen it, but we have been saved for hope. When we can’t see God’s plan, and don’t know how to carry it out, the Spirit will prayer through us, in sighs too deep for words.

Why would anyone want the gift of the Spirit? Who would sign on for this journey? The presence of the Spirit in our midst helps us to discern what God is doing in and for the world, so we can take our share in the new birth.

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