13 Feb 2022
13 February 2022

13 Feb 2022

Passage: John 14:15-31
Service Type:

Racial Justice Sunday[i]

(John 14:15-31)

What’s your favourite TV court room drama? Perry Mason was one of my favourites. Perry Mason, the American defence attorney, would always pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute and prove that his client was innocent. But actually Perry Mason pales into insignificance when compared to some films based on real life court cases. One of the best is the British TV production, The Biko Inquest.

Steve Biko was a black South African activist who was arrested by the South African Police in the apartheid era in August 1977. A few weeks later, he was dead – beaten to death by his captors. The apartheid regime tried to cover it up, claiming his death was an accident. An inquest was held and the government witnesses all peddled the official line. But the Biko family had an outstanding advocate, Sydney Kentridge QC, whose cross-examination of those government witnesses revealed what had actually happened. The magistrate ruled that his death was accidental, but it was clear that it was anything but. The TV film, The Biko Inquest, based on the transcript of the inquest, makes it plain that the police had beaten Steve Biko to death. Indeed, 20 years later four policemen admitted to killing him. A skilled advocate is able to get at the truth.

This is the second talk in our series on John’s Gospel, focusing on Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples immediately after the Last Supper in Jerusalem, the night before his crucifixion.  In today’s Gospel reading we’ve heard Jesus saying to his disciples that he will ask the Father, and the Father will send them another advocate to help them and be with them forever - the Spirit of truth. The Father will send Jesus’ disciples another advocate.

There are three questions that arise from the passage that I’m going to look at today:

  1. What is an advocate?
  2. Who or what is the first advocate?
  3. Who or what is the second advocate? Because when Jesus says he’s going to send another advocate, he must mean there is already a first advocate.

So, firstly, what is an advocate? The Greek word that is translated in the NIV as ‘advocate’ is ‘parakletos’, or ‘paraclete’. When Jesus uses the word paraclete, what does he mean? There are two Greek words that are combined in paraclete, ‘para’ which means ‘alongside’, and ‘kletos’ which means ‘called’. So a paraclete is someone who is called alongside – someone who pleads another’s cause.

A paraclete isn’t someone who goes in front of you and says, “Let’s go”, or stands behind you and says “Go ahead”, but someone who stands alongside you. And that’s why the NIV translates it as ‘advocate’, someone who speaks for you, alongside you. An advocate is someone who speaks the truth on your behalf. An advocate is a representative, a substitute or helper, who stands alongside.

A social worker sometimes takes on the role of an advocate. They have to advocate for and speak for a vulnerable powerless person, and deal with the powers that be on behalf of that person. They’re not in front of them, or behind them, but alongside them, and they are representing them.

Or a lawyer can be an advocate, like Sydney Kentridge at Steve Biko’s inquest. In England, we call lawyers who represent people in big court cases ‘barristers’, but in other countries such as Scotland and South Africa, they are called advocates. The role of the advocate is to argue on their client’s behalf to a judge or jury. An advocate is someone who comes alongside, represents you and speaks on your behalf.

And now on to the second question: Who is the first advocate? Well; it’s Jesus. Jesus is the first advocate. He is saying, I’m going away, but I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come in a new way and in a new sense, and I will send you another advocate. That means he must be the first advocate.

Indeed, that is what John, the writer of the Gospel thought.  In his letter, 1 John chapter 2 verse 1, he writes, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

We have a clear parallel here. So, what does it mean for Jesus to be an advocate for us? I’m going to suggest three ways.

First, the Bible tells us that one day, when we die, we will come before God in judgement. And Jesus will act as our advocate because we are in the position of being accused. We stand before God. That may sound very old-fashioned to believe that we stand before God in judgement. But the idea of judgement is very much present in the Bible, and I believe that it also makes sense. When we look at the world, at the calamities caused by the climate emergency, the racism that still abounds, the scandal of child abuse and the many atrocities that occur far too often, it is easy to despair. If there is no judgement, there is no hope for us and for this world. If there is no judgement, how can we be confident that good will triumph over evil? There is a justice that we shall all have to deal with.

Judgement is a reality but, secondly as John says in his letter, Jesus is our advocate and stands and represents us before God. He is the one who defends us. Jesus stands in court, like an advocate, like a defence lawyer. If you are accused of a crime and stand trial, what is your relationship with your defence lawyer, or barrister as we would say in England? Your relationship with your barrister becomes everything for you. If your barrister is eloquent, you’re eloquent. If your barrister is wise, you’re wise. If your barrister fails, you fail. Is that fair?

Well, that is the relationship between you and an advocate. In the court, for the most part it’s your advocate that is seen and heard. Your advocate’s successes are considered yours; your advocate’s failures are considered yours.

And the Bible tells us that we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus himself.

Jesus is our advocate and, thirdly, he represents us and presents an infallible defence. Barristers who take on clients who are guilty will try to get them off with a light sentence. They use their powers of persuasion and oratory to persuade the judge to give their client a light sentence. Is Jesus like that? Does he go before the Father and say, “Here’s Trevor, he should’ve loved you and his neighbour more than he has, he’s often been selfish and he’s far from perfect. But he’s often tried hard and means well, so give him a break.”

Is Jesus’ attitude like that, or does he have something more to say? How will Jesus defend us?

Jesus won’t deny that we’ve fallen short of God’s standards. The answer to questions such as, “Has Trevor lied?”, “Has he been unjustly angry and lost his temper;” “Has he been lazy?”, “Has he failed to stand up for what is right in a conversation?”, “Has he got too drunk?” and “Has he failed to help someone in need?” will all to ooften be “Yes, yes he has!”

But Jesus will say, “I have paid the price. I have died on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins.” And so we as Christians are acquitted – we are found “Not guilty”.

Jesus is our advocate who died for us and who is beside us and for us. And now on to the third question: Who or what is the second advocate?

It is the Holy Spirit. We can see that in verse 26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit will point us to Jesus. Among other things the Holy Spirit is a floodlight on Christ. My main experience of floodlights is at sporting events.  I don’t actually watch the floodlights, but I watch the match that the floodlights are illuminating. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us of himself; instead, the Spirit says, “Look at Jesus.”

The Holy Spirit is an advocate on the inside of us. We need one on the inside as well as on the outside, because of our stubborn hearts. Our inside advocate comes alongside us, and says: “Look, you’re going down the wrong path; you need to change direction.”

The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in love and challenges us. He challenges us to look at Jesus, to look at the glory of what Jesus has done for us, to look at his message and to remember that Jesus died for us. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit who tells us continuously to look at Jesus, the first advocate. The Holy Spirit points towards Jesus. So, what is the Holy Spirit saying to us today?

Today, as we’ve heard, is Racial Justice Sunday. And this year’s theme is: “Racial Justice Sunday: What’s it got to do with me?” Indeed, that is the question that the Holy Spirit could be prompting us to ask: “What has racial justice got to do with us?”

The answer is – Everything. Christians are called to engage in the righteous struggle for racial justice because racial justice is everyone’s business. This Sunday provides an opportunity to focus on the three ‘R’s of ‘Remembering’, ‘Reflecting’ and ‘Responding’:

  • ‘Remembering’ the importance of racial justice
  • ‘Reflecting’ on human diversity and thanking God for it, and
  • ‘Responding’ by working to end injustice, racism and ignorance through prayer and action.

Jesus is our advocate. He stands alongside us and speaks for us. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus. And we too can be advocates – advocates for racial justice. We can speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Let’s pray. This is a prayer for racial justice written by Pope Francis:

“Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.”

[i] 13 February 2022


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