Readings: Acts 17:22-18:4; John 14: 15-26
Introduction to the Reading from Acts
This passage of Scripture was a speech by Paul to the Areopagus. The Areopagus was a Council which operated in Athens from about the 5th century BC. It had many functions among which one was to act as a kind of Supreme Court. It was located in the Acropolis buildings the most famous of which was the Parthenon. When we were in Athens a few years ago we searched out the site of the Areopagus and on some rocks at the foot of the Acropolis we found a plaque with Paul`s speech upon it. It appears that Paul was a kind of guest speaker before the Council.
After Paul addressed the Areopagus Paul took the short journey to Corinth. We did the same and were impressed by a guide who pointed out that it was only in Corinth, when Paul returned to his trade of a leather worker and worked among the people, that the Christian faith was heard and started to grow. From Athens to Corinth is only about 8 kilometres but as far as the Church was concerned they could have been a world apart. The distance to Canberra from here is much greater but I would suggest that the effect would be much the same if we sent someone to address the National Press Club.
Paul`s speech at the Areopagus was oratory at its best but it had little effect. It was only as he spoke about and lived out the life of faith and love in Corinth that he really started to impact the society in which he lived.
So let`s now listen to Paul`s speech to the Areopagus
Introduction to the Reading from John
What we have just heard are some comments on the role of so called Holy Spirit, and it never ceases to amaze me how complicated we can make a straight forward statement. Given, of course, the fact that the world of the first century placed great emphasis on so called `spirits`, this passage deals with the question of what is the nature of the Spirit of Jesus that lives on today and what is its purpose and function.
The first aspect of the Spirit referred to here is that of an advocate, The Greek word Paraclete, has been variously translated as `comforter`, `helper` , `encourager`, but the dominant meaning is legal in nature: one who stands alongside, and acts for another in a Court of Law. What is the function of such an advocate? It is to bear witness to the truth. The Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of Truth. As the text puts it `the Holy Spirit will remind you of all that I have told you.` The Spirit of Jesus stands alongside us so that the truth may be revealed.
I hope you will forgive a personal example here. As most of you know I am a lawyer by trade and this is primarily because of a friend, Ron Wilson. When I decided to become a Minister I was in the final year of my six years of study and Ron suggested that I should finish it off and get myself admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor because, as he put it, ` it might be useful`. How right he was and how glad I have been that I took his advice. In the days when there was no aboriginal legal service and legal aid, I was able to stand in the courts and say, ` May it please the Court I appear for the Defendant.` Sure I was no gun lawyer but I could at least stand alongside and assist where I could.
One such occasion happened when I was running a Lay Training Centre at York in the 1960s. I received a phone call from what was then called the `The Department of Aboriginal Affairs` asking if I could help them with a case where they suspected an aboriginal guy was going to suffer an injustice. The alleged circumstances were that the aboriginal guy had robbed an old guy who was on his way home from the pub. To cut a long story short, I was able to prove that the aboriginal guy was in jail at the time of the alleged offence, and that the so called victim had drunk away his wages and made up the story when his wife questioned him. The Magistrate was indignant with the Police and when he rightly blasted them, they said they would appeal the decision. I muttered under my breath ` Be my guest!` and the Magistrate evidently heard and said, `And mine too`. They never did of course.
It didn`t of course always end that way and many were the occasions when the ones I stood beside went to jail - but they at least had an advocate beside them to bear witness to the truth and let the court know of some of the issues involved.
Any wonder then that I have high regard this passage of scripture. To stand alongside another and bear witness to the truth is a privilege that has led some of us into the oddest of situations in all kinds of odd places in the world - standing alongside the refugee, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the victims of man`s inhumanity to man has been for many of us one of the greatest privileges we have known.
May the spirit of truth long bear witness to the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.