The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you." Relax…you're not under arrest. We recognize these words of the Miranda Rights though, don't we? These are the words the arresting police office is required to proclaim to the person being arrested. Have you ever thought about what these words actually say? These words speak to core freedoms that we have here in the United States: the right to defend yourself when charges are brought against you and the right to a fair and speedy trial. This is why the sixth amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees that everyone can not only have their day in court, but they can have professional legal representation, no matter how poor or destitute they may be. This court-appointed legal representation bears the title "public defender." Justice is for everyone. That's why the statue of the lady with the scales in her hand that you always see around the courthouses has a blindfold on. Justice plays no favorites. It sides with the truth—period.
"Okay…so what does this have to do with us today?" Well…what if I told you that everyone of us are guilty and condemned criminals and everyone of us are so poor and destitute that we have a public defender assigned to us; two public defenders, in fact? It's true. Christ Himself tells us this in verse 16 of the Gospel lesson. "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper."
Now, before we go any further, we need to take some time and talk about what this means and, more importantly, what it does not mean. You see, the original Greek word that is translated here as "helper" is paraclete. Given our surroundings, I'm sure that at least some of you have come into contact with this word. This term—paraclete—gets a lot of play in well-intentioned Christian circles. Sadly, as often as this term is used, it's rarely, if ever, used properly. For most people, Lutherans included, this term is understood in a synergistic kind of way. Synergism: God does some of the work and we do some of the work. The Holy Spirit helps us to do the right thing. The Holy Spirit serves as a sort of cheer leader or motivational force that gives us that extra bit of "oomph" to push our words, thoughts, and deeds out of the realm of sinful and into the realm of blessed and righteous and God-pleasing.
Sound familiar? As I said, this understanding is quite common and quite popular among Christians, even among Lutherans. Why do I single out the Lutherans here? Well…Lutherans are the ones who often make the biggest stink whenever works-righteousness and synergism comes up. "I'm not saved by my works. Not even a little. I'm saved by faith alone in God's grace alone because of Jesus Christ's all-redeeming sacrifice alone." Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how many Lutherans will still look at the Holy Spirit through those all-too-familiar eyes of synergism when our words, thoughts, and deeds come into play. "What I do has to count for something, right? I know I'm not perfect, which is why I need help." You have to admit: It's hard not to see it this way when Jesus Himself refers to the Holy Spirit as "helper." What else could that mean?
This is where an understanding of the original Greek is so very helpful. If we let Scripture interpret Scripture instead of letting our fallen and corrupted understanding guide us, we discover that this word—paraclete—actually carries with it the meaning of advocate/defense attorney. In fact, John uses this same word in his first epistle to speak of Christ Jesus as our advocate with the Father. This is why I said earlier that we have two court-appointed defense attorneys. We have the Holy Spirit and we have Christ Jesus, both serving as our divine defense team.
Think about that for a moment. Kind of puts the whole heavenly Judge and heavenly courtroom into perspective, doesn't it? This necessarily directs our attention to those Scriptural terms of justification and sanctification. Our heavenly Father renders His verdict; that is, He declares us "innocent," not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ Jesus has done for us in our defense. That's justification. In sanctification, the lives we lead by faith, trusting that Christ has done it all; the lives we lead in response to the Good News of justification, the Holy Spirit, as we're told in Romans, "paracletes" for us in our weakness. "For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
What does this mean? There is a very old, very wise saying that says that the man who serves as his own lawyer and represents himself in court has a fool for a client. This is the reality of all those who wear sinful flesh. Yes…that does include you and me. This isn't just the reality of unbelievers, who foolishly try to stand before God without their divine defense team, trying to defend and save themselves. How many of your prayers sound more like, "God, let my will be done," rather than "let Thy will be done?" How many of you have prayed for things that didn't happen? Many a time we wrongly look at that as God not answering our prayers. Oh…He answered alright. He just said "no." Your plans aren't His plans.
Luther picks up on this in the Lord's Prayer portion of the Small Catechism. In many of the petitions he starts off by saying something to the effect of "this happens even without our prayers; even though we do not pray for it, but we pray in this petition that it may be done through us and among us also." That's what Paul is getting at with the sanctification reality of the Holy Spirit interceding/advocating for us. Because of sin, we don't do the Father's will perfectly, which is what He commands. The Holy Spirit—our paraclete; our defense attorney—intercedes for us and makes the right requests and motions and pleas on our behalf. Left to our own defenses, we ask for all the wrong things. We have a fool for a client who has no courtroom etiquette, no legal training…no clue and no chance. "I believe I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me in the one true faith."
My fellow redeemed in Christ: Your Lord's words are every bit as true today as they were when He first spoke them. As our divine advocate and defense attorney, Jesus Christ still intercedes for us with the Father. The justly deserved verdict of death is commuted to life—eternal life in heaven—precisely because our defense presents His own wounds of the crucifixion as exhibits A, B, and C. Because of His wounds we are declared innocent. We are justified.
This Good News should mean something! That's where the Holy Spirit and sanctification comes in to play. This is where good and God-pleasing works rightly come into the equation. As those who firmly believe that we are saved by Christ alone—completely, no strings attached—our faith, which has been enlivened by the Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament, can't help but respond. That's what true sanctification is. It's not a prescription or an agenda. It's a natural reflex-response to the Good News of our justification in Christ.
This is what Peter was getting at in the Epistle lesson for this morning when he talked about always being prepared to make a defense for the hope—the faith—that is in you. "Those who hear you, hear me and the One who sent Me." Knowing what you know about sin, death, Christ, and His all-redeeming death and resurrection, how can you not speak up in the face of sinful error? Take heart. You are not alone in your defense. When you faithfully speak up and defend the Truth of Christ—the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth—who will the world hear? They will hear the divine defense team talking. They will hear Christ in you and through you. They will hear the Holy Spirit, who works in that life-saving Word of the Gospel. That's not to say that many still won't think that they're hearing a fool, but it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. They're opinions don't affect your salvation.
As we end for the day, my prayer for you is that, as redeemed children of God, you do not remain silent in your lives outside the confines of this sanctuary. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to bury your head in the ground like an ostrich and turn a blind eye to all the sin around you. However, if you choose to exercise this right, what does that say about your faith in your divine defense? The fruits of your faith do show, for better and for worse.
This is why I don't give you a "honey-do list" with the false notion that the Holy Spirit will somehow help you check off the items on the list so you can be a "better, more holy person." Instead, I end today by faithfully pointing you to the reality of Almighty God tirelessly at work for you in defense of your life. I end by simply pointing you to Christ Jesus, who works and preserves life-saving faith in us through the working of His Holy Spirit in His life-giving Word and Sacraments. This is where life begins. This is where I direct your attention. God help us all to see, to hear, and to believe.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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