Some time ago, a university chaplain had an opportunity to meet with a group of law students – folks who were preparing to be attorneys. They had requested the chaplain to speak on the subject, “On being a lawyer AND a Christian at the same time.”
OK – some of you are already snickering at that subject. You are probably thinking, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” A Christian lawyer??? Yet despite the urban myths that say otherwise, and the countless jokes that would have us believe otherwise, many attorneys take their Christian faith, the law and Christian ethics quite seriously – think Barbara Cox, Linda Gibson and Charles Kessel in our own congregation. Still, I have to admit that I have been guilty of laughing at those lawyer jokes:
When the 30-year-old lawyer died he said to St. Peter, “How can you do this to me? – a heart attack at my age? I’m only 30”. Replied St. Peter: “Oh? When we looked at your total hours billed, we figured you were at least 95!” I laugh because those jokes are a welcome respite from all those preacher jokes: Did you hear the one about the pastor, the priest and the rabbi….?
The chaplain wrote that he was quite touched by these young law students who were pursuing a law career. They were concerned about their fears of going into the practice of law. Maybe they were wondering as to what would happen to their character. They said they recognized the public perception about lawyers was not always positive. Perhaps their fears are a testimonial as to what is perceived by most as to what the legal profession has become since “Perry Mason” – or at least as to how it is portrayed by the media, or on television programs and the movies. Or, maybe their fears were a testimonial to what they understood as our society’s ambivalent feelings about the law, justice, and our legal system.
However, I am sure that there are people here today who could testify, that if you are in trouble with the law … if you find yourself in a situation where it’s your word against that of the police or someone else who has an issue with you, or if you see your name or hear your name read from the court docket, with words like “the People of the United States vs. your name” in some legal action … suddenly a good, competent, experienced attorney looks pretty good!
It is a frightening thing to stand before the bar of justice as the accused and be forced to defend yourself. What do you say? What legal precedent should you invoke to defend yourself? Please Mr. or Ms. Attorney, help me through this legal quagmire!
As one woman who served on jury duty shared with her spouse, “I learned one thing this week – if you are ever called before the court, you’d better get a good lawyer.” “I saw people who lost their cases, not on the lack of merit of their cases, but purely because they had a lousy attorney.” “I also saw people get more than they deserved because they had a skillful attorney who skillfully argued their case.”
We believe that the art of rhetoric, the art of using language skillfully and persuasively, arose in ancient Greece during a time when there were lots of disputes over property rights and therefore lots of cases brought before the courts. People then hired skilled speakers to argue their cases in court. Philosophers began the studying language and how language works; thus was born the science and art of rhetoric. So it seems, the profession of law was born in a time when people needed others to stand in court and argue their case. They needed an ADVOCATE who would present the best possible arguments, the right words, and the right appeal to the good judgments of the court.
“Why did you decide to go to law school?” a woman asked a new acquaintance. She asked that after she found out that he had left a lucrative job in sales, gone back to school, earned enough credits to get his undergraduate degree, then applied and was accepted at law school. “Well, I read John Grisham’s book, The Street Lawyer,” he answered. “In that book, a young lawyer on his way up in a prestigious law firm is jolted off course by a strange encounter with a homeless person.” “The homeless person threatens the young lawyer with death, but the whole experience causes the young man to rearrange his priorities.” “He changes the prospects of the accumulation of great wealth to become a street lawyer- a lawyer whose only practice is to help homeless people.”
The portrayal of an attorney out for the good of others might remind us of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We all get a kind of inner thrill when hearing stories of those lawyers who speak for the voiceless; those advocates who speak for those who are silent in the midst of their despair, who need someone to address issues of justice for them.
In today’s Pentecost gospel from John, Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples after three years of ministry and teaching with them. Jesus has now entered Jerusalem for what he knows will be a time when his disciples will betray and
abandon him – a time of his arrest, trial and his execution. He is therefore attempting to prepare the disciples for his impending absence from them. He says he is going to “leave them” so that he might “send them” an even better, more effective presence. He promises to send them an “advocate.” In other words, he promises to send them an attorney – for who is a lawyer but an advocate? Thus, we believers are the recipients of a Higher Court-appointed attorney – the best that Jesus could provide.
We speak of Christ as King, teacher, Savior and Lord. But today – at Pentecost – at our festival celebrating the Holy Spirit, the gospel of John encourages us to speak of the Holy Spirit as advocate – as OUR advocate. Elsewhere, in the first letter of the Epistle of John, the scripture says, “If anyone does sin (and who of us doesn’t), we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” I John 2:1).
We can ‘only image’ … we can only imagine what it will be like to one day stand before the throne of God as is promised in our scriptures. There we will be holding our lives in our hands – all that we have said and done over the course of our given years; the battles we have fought and won over the years, the battles we have lost; the frank, truthful admission, before God’s court of promised mercy, when and where we have failed…. What will we say to God in defense of ourselves?
Several years ago, when the then President of the United States was being investigated for his improprieties and misdeeds, more than one person asked: “How would you like fifty million dollars to be spent in investigating your life? Who could stand up under such an investigation – under such scrutiny? And once your secret misdeeds and mismanaged acts were uncovered, by what argument would you defend yourself? If God already knows everything we have done, every word spoken in anger, every deed done in darkness, every sin that we so quickly forget suddenly remembered, then what hope would we have standing before the throne of God? How could we ever find the words to explain? Would we even dare try? Who could defend us; who would plead our case for us? Is rhetoric our strong suit? Are we good with words? Is public speaking under pressure our strength? Do we really know what it is to be charged as “guilty,” and have to stand, exposed and embarrassed to defend oneself? Surely, it would be more than just tough! Surely, the process itself would be tantamount to hell itself.
Jesus says he is going to send us an advocate. He departs, but true to his word, he sends One to us who becomes our argument, our defense, our defender, our spokesperson before God. When we stand before God – when our life is held up
for divine scrutiny – we are ALL going to need an advocate; we are ALL going to need someone to argue our case. Because in the face of what we have done, or FAILED TO DO, we will ALL surely be struck speechless.
An urban congregation had a clothes closet and a food pantry for the needy. People in need came by the church two mornings a week looking for help. There was a businessman in that congregation, a man who had spent his life in an upper-level management position in a large corporation. Without warning, things at the company changed and he was let go. They called it “early retirement”, but he called it “put out early to pasture.” He became depressed and sullen. A number of people in the congregation were worried about him.
Out of concern for him, the pastor and the chairman of the mission committee asked him to help out a couple of mornings a week at the church’s clothes closet. He was reluctant at first. Maybe he thought this was quite a come-down for one who had previously been in a high position of authority. But he eventually consented.
While working in the clothes closet, he met a woman – a single mother of three – trying to make ends meet in her small family on her meager wages as a domestic worker. She happened to tell him about her problems with the electric company. She had paid her bill a day late, but the company still turned off her electricity, and now they wanted the unbelievably huge sum – for her – of fifty dollars to reconnect her power. What was she to do? She had called the electric company a half dozen times, she said, but no one would help her. All they would say was “a rule is a rule.”
The retired executive said he would call for her. When he inquired into her bill, he was shocked at the way he was treated. He demanded to talk to the manager, who just happened to be a friend of many years. The manager agreed to help the women with her problem and within two hours her power was restored without the required $50.
This lead to another poor person asking him to call a loan company about a problem she had with a loan and the way they were harassing her. He did, and again he got action. Thus a new area of ministry opened up for this man. In giving, he received. He learned what a gift it is to be able to talk on the phone, to cut through all the red tape, and to speak up on behalf of others.
these people the help they needed.
“I never knew what it is like to be unable to figure out all the levels of red tape and organizational smokescreens,” he said. “Having spent my life in business, I knew how to cut through all the garbage. I knew how to go to the top and get
these people the help they needed.” He had become an ADVOCATE for the poor – someone to plead their case before the powerful. Dare we say that the Holy Spirit – the Advocate that Jesus sent – was at work with him in that process too?
Carl E. Braaten in Stewards of the Mysteries of God writes about taking a study seminar and traveling to mainland China back in the early 90’s. “We had heard, of course, the reports about the misery of Christianity under the cultural revolution.” “But what came home, as we heard the personal stories of the surviving martyrs, was an overwhelming sense of the power of the Holy Spirit in what we had thought was the modern graveyard of Christianity.” “During the cultural revolution, every last church in China was shut down, every visible sign of Christianity was destroyed; Bibles were burned, and leaders were sent down to the labor camps.”
“Now, here we found ourselves in the midst of the rebirth of Christian faith and life and worship in city after city – in houses of worship absolutely jammed … the Holy Spirit is active everywhere . . . (the Spirit) blows where and when he wills, and he is the Spirit of “a God who knew the way out of the grave.” Thus, the Holy Spirit has been and is the Advocate in China, speaking, defending the faith, arguing the case for Christianity … and is being convincingly heard by millions of new believers.
Jesus said that he is going to leave us. Thus he is not physically present to us as his current disciples, as he was before. But he will not leave us desolate. He will keep sending us the Holy Spirit, the near presence of God. The advocate will stand beside us, speak up for us, plea our case, take up our cause. Because the Holy Spirit shares in the life of Jesus, the Spirit already knows our need, and finds words that articulate our groaning. We are not alone – we are never alone. We don’t have to speak up for ourselves before the throne of God, or argue our case in the courts of the Almighty.
We have a Higher, court-appointed attorney – an advocate. We have OUR Advocate, the best that Jesus could provide. Just imagine – the Holy Spirit is interceding on our behalf. Thanks be to God! Amen.