Thursday, June 13, 2019
Advocate. . .
The term Holy Spirit is not as common as you might think. It is used only three times by St. John the Evangelist but only St. John identifies the Holy Spirit as the paraclete, here and in chapter 15. The English is almost verbatim of the Greek, a word we struggle to explain in English. Some versions use Comforter, the ESV uses Helper, but the best word is Advocate.
Advocate has a legal context. One who speaks in your defense. Perhaps this is the most appropriate one since the Vicar who will be installed today is also an attorney and a retired judge. The Advocate went with you into the court, spoke on your behalf before the magistrate, and heard at your side the judgment of the bench. As apt as it might be to focus on this word, I think it best to let the work unpack itself.
Paraclete literally means the one who is called to stand beside you, who speaks to others, sure, but also speaks comfort and encouragement to you. Jesus is our paraclete. St. John calls Jesus our paraclete or Advocate before the Father. God sent forth His only Son into the womb of the Virgin Mary, to be delivered after nine months, to grow and mature as we do, to live holy and righteous as we do not, and to suffer in our place the death of sin and to rise to bestow upon us forgiveness and everlasting life. Jesus does this saving work from within our midst, flesh of our flesh though without sin. He is our brother and we His brothers and sisters. He reconciles us to our heavenly Father and leads us prodigal sons and daughters home to the Father forevermore.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit as paraclete. Jesus promised not to leave us orphans but to send us the Spirit. This Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus said and did. This is not simply because we are forgetful and need to be reminded – which we are – but this is how faith lives, through the goodness of the Lord acting through the means of grace. Faith recalls the goodness of the Lord by recounting the mighty acts through which God has delivered His people, delivered you and me, and we are made stronger.
The Spirit dwells among us in the Word of God read and preached and in the Sacraments. The Holy Spirit speaks to us, convicting us of our sin, pointing us to the cross, prompting our fearful hearts to believe the Gospel, and filling us with faith. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies each one of us through the means of grace. The Holy Spirit prompts our forgetful minds to recall what God has done to save us but this remembrance is not like recalling a fact.
The Spirit brings to our remembrance what God has done. Now that’s interesting; remembrance is the same word Jesus uses in the Words of Institution. Do this as my remembrance. Anamnesis in Greek. Jesus says as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Remembrance is not simply pulling back a forgotten fact but receiving its gift and grace and proclaiming in witness that gift and grace before the world. The Spirit’s work of remembrance is also the work of receiving Christ’s gifts with faith and equipping us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world. This is how the Spirit works among us. He works through the Word and Sacraments which are the source and center of our life together in Christ.
The Spirit also speaks on our behalf to the Father. When prayers falter, He turns our sighs and groans into petitions and prayers. The Spirit addresses us to the Father through the Son, bringing our needs to Him for answer. And the Spirit works through the means of grace not only for us but so we might stand before the Father under the banner of Christ’s redeeming blood and be kept holy and blameless until Christ comes again.
But God has given other paracletes. A pastor is paraclete and it is for this that Vicar Owen is placed here. He will stand with you, in your midst on Sunday morning as you gather around the Word and Table of the Lord. He will not be far from you, not in geography or in thought. But He will not simply defend you or suffer with you in times of test and trial. He will speak Christ’s word of comfort and encouragement to you. You are not alone before the world and neither are you alone with your wounds, disappointments, or trials. God has ordained the Holy Ministry so that His people are not without a shepherd’s voice, a shepherd’s staff, or a shepherd’s heart, someone to stand among them as God’s man for you.
Vicar and soon Pastor Owen will do this not by motivating you or inspiring you but by bringing you God’s Word. He will not be left to his own devices on how best to guard and direct you as God’s people. God has given His ministers the tools through which God works among His people. It does not end with the worship service on Sunday morning but it certainly begins there. God meets His people, speaks His living Word into them, accomplishes in them what that word says, and sends them forth as His people in the world. Vicar Owen will serve you in God’s name, guarding you as God’s own possession, directing you to the heavenly goal, and sustaining you with the Word of God that accomplishes God’s purpose every time it is spoken and preached.
You are not alone, even when eyes do not see another with you. Christ is Your Advocate before the Father. He sent His Spirit to be your advocate in His name. He will speak for you to the Father as you pray but He will also speak to you words of forgiveness and comfort. He will address you with and through the sacred Word of God so that you know where you came from and where you are going. But God has also established the office of pastor that you may know where you came from and where you are going as the Word is preached and taught and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s bidding.
Vicar Owen is finishing the last stage of his formation as a pastor and fulfilling the final requirement of this vocation with this internship. It will be his calling to be with you in times of sorrow and struggle, to call you to repentance and faith when you wander from the truth, to remind you to be in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day when other pursuits would fill your time, to call you to hope when tears fill your eyes and death comes near, to pray for you and with you that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven, and to wield the staff of God’s Word when enemies of the kingdom torment you. He will be an advocate so that you may be delivered safely to everlasting light and life.
Pentecost is an awesome day. It is the day full of grace in which we rejoice in the God who keeps all His promises, who does not leave us to our own devices but directs us by His Word and Spirit, and who stands us up and out as witnesses before the world of all that God has done to save us. On this day you receive the service of a new individual, a vicar, who will learn the pastoral office by being among you and serving you with the Word of God. It is a day in which the focus is not on you or on Vicar Owen but on Christ who said this is what He would do and the Spirit who comes in Christ’s name to accomplish what He has promised.
You are so valuable to God that He will not leave any thing to chance. He has saved you by His grace, forgiven you all your sins, given you new birth in baptismal water, fed and nourished you with His Body and Blood, and directed you with the living voice of His Word. He remains in your midst as the Holy Spirit who points you to Christ and all He has done. He has established the pastoral office through which He continues to speak of His mighty deliverance. He has raised up good men to continue to stand among you in Christ’s name.
But you are also paracletes sent to be witnesses in the world. As the Father has sent Christ, Christ has sent you that in your homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and across the world His Word may be spoken, people called to faith, His own sustained in trial, and the work of redemption come to its fulfillment.
This is how Pentecost continues its miracle right here and right now. May the Lord keep you holy and blameless until the day of His coming and may the Spirit be your advocate, helper, and comforter, to bring to completion what Christ has begun in you. Now, and forevermore. Amen.