You’ll see why in a minute, but in preparation for this sermon I stumbled upon some “true courtroom stories,” essentially short stories of lawyers saying the darnedest things. A couple of my favorites:
The lawyer is cross examining a witness, and says,
Q: Do you know how far pregnant you are now?
A: I’ll be three months on March 12th.
Q: Apparently then, the date of conception was around January 12th?
Q: What were you doing at that time?
A lawyer was questioning a man about how familiar he was with his hometown, and it didn’t go so well. Lawyer: Have you lived in this town all your life? The Man: Not yet.
And finally, during the trial of a man charged with attempted murder:
Q: What happened then?
A: He told me, he says, “I have to kill you because you can identify me.”
Q: Did he kill you?
I tell you all of this because the word often translated as “Counselor” in John 14:26 is the Greek word Parakletos, which literally means “the one called alongside.” This Counselor is the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Now a Paraclete, any paraclete, was not described as a counselor like a psychotherapist is a counselor, but rather like the counselor who stood along side the accused person in court—an attorney, a lawyer, a counselor in that sense. Rene Girard, the almost Christian anthropologist, described the Holy Ghost as a defense paraclete, the defense lawyer, and set up the Holy Ghost as paraclete against the Diablos, the prosecuting attorney, the accuser, whose name is Lucifer. When you think about the ramifications of such a battle, kinda makes you wish I just kept telling lawyers jokes, doesn’t it?
So I don’t think it’s wrong to wonder why you might need a ghostly lawyer, and why Jesus would be so intent on providing us one. First off, because Jesus knew our fellow man would, at times, treat His people badly. “Be on your guard against men,” Jesus tells us, “they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Here it is: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” In times of trouble, when the diablos and his messengers accuse us, when we get in trouble for doing all the right things, God Himself will speak on our behalf to our accusers. That’s really an amazing thing.
I had lunch with Bishop Councell on Wednesday, and we were talking about this very thing; we were talking about how to talk about it, how to communicate how completely outside of normal such a thing should seem to us, and therefore how amazing, and how amazingly personal, God is. And then at the retreat I was on last week for the diocesan Congregational Development Committee, Father Chris Rodriguez preached a sermon on the Blessed Apostle Peter’s command that we “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” When Peter says “to give an account,” the Greek he wrote in carries the implication of one being put on the stand; in other words, when someone asks you about your faith, it’s like someone called you as a witness in court, and you must then be ready to answer the question, to tell the questioner why you have bet your life on Jesus being the Son of the living God. Later during the retreat we went around the room, nine or ten of us giving our accounts, telling the story about how Jesus changed our lives. It’s important to be able to do that for the sake of evangelism, of course, but also for our own good; remembering and dwelling on how Jesus has saved us from sin, saved us from lives half lived, how He saved us from ourselves, remembering all of that can refresh us and allow Jesus to change us further.
There’s a lot of legal language in the Bible, a lot of accounts being given. Peter wrote that we should be ready to give an account to each other and then when we reach the throne, to give an account of our lives to God. Paul was always having to give an account of what happened to him on that road to Damascus, all of the Apostles were constantly being dragged in to the authorities both Jewish and Roman, and the question was always the same: Who is this Jesus and why do you keep bugging us about Him? If you wonder how you would answer that question, you’re not alone, and soon we will be helping each other to tell our stories. But even the best formulated and rehearsed story is nothing compared to the actual words of God flowing through us, so do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. It will probably take a hundred more lunches with the bishop for me to figure out how to communicate to you properly the magnitude of such a thing, but for now, I’ll just say it’s amazing.