Sermon for Pentecost: Spirit, Correct Us

Spirit, Correct Us

Pentecost; May 20, 2018

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

There's a lot of brilliant theology in these words of Jesus, but I find myself stuck on one sentence: "And when the Spirit comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned" (16:8-11).

Say what? On the face of it, that doesn't make sense. It's the sort of thing that either stops you short and you struggle and struggle to puzzle it out, or you just breeze right over it and go to the next thing. So I decided to puzzle it out.

First, I have to start with a word: "prove." I studied mathematics and logic and I used to teach logic, and so when I hear the word "prove" I think logical argumentation. Here are the premises, here is the evidence, here is the conclusion. Wrong. The word (for you Greek geeks, it's elegcho) has more to do with bringing you face to face with your sin and showing how wrong you are. It's not so much logical argument as it is, well, that moment when your spouse says, "Honey, we need to talk" or your boss says, "Please come to my office; we have a performance issue to discuss" or God looks you in the eye and says, "Remember that line, 'Thou shalt not'? I meant it."

So Jesus says he would send the Spirit to bring the world face to face with how wrong we are about sin and righteousness and judgment. Logical argument is a lot easier to deal with than the Holy Spirit's voice in my ear saying, "You're wrong, you know."

So, the world needs the Spirit to correct us. Our Old Testament reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14) gives me an idea: God told the Prophet to "prophesy to the breath" or "prophesy to the Spirit" (they're the same word), so how about you and I prophesy to the Spirit? Spirit, correct us. Show us what we're wrong about and turn us around.

Spirit, correct us about sin. We still persist in acting as though "sin" has to do with sex and chocolate, but Jesus says we're wrong about that. He says the problem is not believing in him. Spirit, we want to believe in Jesus. At our best, we want to trust his word, we want to obey him. We want to love our neighbors as ourselves, for example, but sometimes our neighbors are scary. Or they have weird customs. Correct us, Spirit. When we're tempted to justify ourselves - "I'm not a sinner; I'm a pretty good guy" - then turn our eyes back to the face of Jesus and give us grace to believe in him. Spirit, correct us about sin.

Spirit, correct us about righteousness. We still think that to be righteous is to be too holy for other people to be able to stand us. Or maybe we call someone "righteous" who puts on a particularly good rock concert. Jesus says we're wrong about that; he says the issue is that he's going to the Father and we won't see him anymore. Huh? About all I can puzzle out is that people look at the Cross and see him on it and think, "Well, so much for him. He ends his days as a criminal." But the Cross is the way to the Father; by his awful death on the Cross, Jesus returns to God and Jesus opens the way for the world to return to God. Spirit, you can correct us from thinking that righteousness is the list of all the great things that we do, so we will praise the One who opens the way to God through his Cross. Spirit, correct us about righteousness.

Spirit, correct us about judgment. Sure, the Cross is the State's means of capital punishment against offenders. The preacher who said he wouldn't hang a cross in the front of his church because that's the same thing as hanging an electric chair was right; although in Nebraska we would hang a hypodermic needle. But the Cross doesn't judge Jesus; does it, Spirit? The Cross judges the devil, the Cross judges any ruler in this world more concerned with his or her own power than with the ways of God, the Cross judges us when we do not keep faith with Jesus. Spirit, correct us about judgment.

Spirit, correct us: correct us who are gathered here this morning; correct those of our number who are not with us this morning for any reason; correct the world. Spirit, correct us about sin and righteousness and judgment. Correct us, Spirit: without you, we are lost; with you we live.

RobertA. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska 

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