The Last Days and the Coming of the Holy Spirit

“Since Paul believed that the Last Days expected by the prophets had arrived with Christ’s resurrection, he saw the conversion of the Gentiles as the fulfilment of the prophetic promise (Rom. 9:25-6). But what did that imply? Some Christians argued that Gentiles should therefore obey the teaching set out in the law given to Israel: that was surely only logical.[…]But there was an alternative view, which was based on the Jewish belief that when the last days came there would be no further need for the law, because everyone would obey God: the law would, in effect, be written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31-4). Paul’s insistence that the Gentiles do not have to put themselves under the law is entirely consistent with this: the Spirit of God would guide them and show them what they should do. Proof that he was right to maintain this was, he believed, plain, since his gentile converts has already received the Spirit (Gal. 3:1-5), one of the signs of the ‘last days’. Having received the Spirit, there was no need for Gentiles to put themselves ‘under the law’. Far from being a step forward, that they would be a step back.” (Morna D. Hooker, Paul: Beginners Guide, pp 70-71)

Pentecost (2015)

The Gospel Lesson for the feast of Pentecost is John 7:37-52;8:12.  The first part of that lesson has Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

St Basil the Great (d. 379AD) comments:

“Who could be the river of God except the Holy Spirit, who comes into those worthy because of the faith of the believers in Christ?

He who believes in me,’ as the Scriptures says, “From within him there shall flow rivers.” ’ And again, ‘If anyone drinks of the water which I give, it will become in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life everlasting.’ This river, accordingly, makes all the city of God at once joyful, that is to say surely, the Church of those who hold to a heavenly manner of life. Or, every creature endowed with intelligence, from celestial powers even to human souls, must be understood as the city made joyful by the inflowing of the Holy Spirit.” (The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 302)

The Human Vocation: To Love Creation as God Does

Archbhishop Lazar (Puhalo) reminds us that salvation is not merely knowing the truth.  Neither salvation nor truth can be reduced to facts.  Jesus Christ is the truth.  This claim changes our understanding of the entire cosmos.  Truth is personal in that Jesus is the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.  Truth is relational in that our salvation is our relationship to Christ.

“Divine and saving truth for Orthodoxy is not a matter of historical or scientific facts but a matter of discerning the meaning of the human struggle to move from purification through illumination to glorification. Or, to put it another way, it is the story of our struggle as the people of God to restore our deep presence to God’s creation in a life of communion and co-suffering love.”

Archbishop Lazar goes on to say that the primary vocation of the Christian community “is to love God’s creation as God loves it.”   The incarnation tells us how important creation is to God.  To reduce salvation to a few facts or to knowing information is to deny God’s creation of being of any importance. 

“It deprives us of the world itself.[…]Orthodoxy is consistently critical of all forms of reductionism, all efforts by human beings to reduce the mystery of life to some comforting abstraction. The Scholastic and rationalistic philosophical systems of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are seen as participating in such reductionism because: (1) they deprive us of the proper field in which to appreciate the struggle of human beings for meaning; (2) they deprive us of the gift of Scripture as it unveils this struggle and speaks to us of the God of love, Who woos us to the fullness of life; and (3) they deprive us of an understanding of creation, in which we are not only a part of that creation but, also, through our priestly nature, are called to understand and sanctify it. Mankind has a unifying ministry to the cosmos which can only be fulfilled through that unselfish love which would constitute the proper use of his energies.” (The Evidence of Things Not Seen, pp 41-43)

The Resurrection and the Roman Empire

“The resurrection of Jesus, in the full bodily sense I have described, supplies the groundwork for this: it is the reaffirmation of the universe of space, time and matter, after not only sin and death but also pagan empire (the institutionalization of sin and death) have done their worst. The early Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as the action of the creator god to reaffirm the essential goodness of creation and, in an initial and representative act of new creation, to establish a bridgehead within the present world of space, time and matter (‘the present evil age’, as in Galatians 1:4) through which the whole new creation could now come to birth. Calling Jesus ‘son of god’ within this context of meaning, they constituted themselves by implication as a collection of rebel cells within Caesar’s empire, loyal to a different monarch, a different kyrios. Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, pp 729-730)

The Holy Trinity: Being in Love

When we love, the world appears as it truly is. Being-in-love-in relationship sustains it. According to the opening words of the book of Genesis, ‘In the beginning’ God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness.’ This is an odd expression given the revelation that ‘The Lord Your God is One Lord…..’ Later, after the birth, life, death and resurrected appearances of Jesus in the flesh to his disciples and others, the image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes more clearly into view, whose circular dance of eternal self-offering love is both communal and uniquely personal – one essence shared among three persons. God is three and God is one. How is this experienced?” (Stephen Muse, Being Bread, p 81)

How can we experience the Three and One  of God?    Our way of thinking which relies heavily on visual imagery has a difficult time of putting together the ideas of God’s oneness with God being Trinity.  Jeremy Begbie, a musician and Duke University theology professor writes a book, RESOUNDING TRUTH: CHRISTIAN WISDOM IN THE WORLD OF MUSIC, in which he purposes we conceive of God musically rather than visually.   He says we can understand threeness and oneness being together when we play a chord.  We play three notes which together make a chord.  Each note in itself may be beautiful and each note played on a piano fills the room.  Together they form a chord in which three notes harmoniously work together and form something none of them singularly can be.  It is another way to try to conceive of the Triune God.   See also my blog, “Seeing” with Our Ears is Believing.

The Spirit of True Wealth

SPIRITUALITY

“The sannyasi had reached the

outskirts of the village and settled

down under a tree for the night

when a villager came running up

to him and said, ‘The stone! The

stone! Give me the precious stone!’

 

‘What stone?’ asked the sannyasi.

 

‘Last night the Lord Shiva appeared

to me in a dream,’ said the villager,

‘and told me that if I went to the

outskirts of the village at dusk

I should find a sannyasi who would

give me a precious stone that would

make me rich forever.’

 

The sannyasi rummaged in his bag and

pulled out a stone. ‘He probably

meant this one,’ he said, as he handed

the stone over to the villager. ‘I found

it on a forest path some days ago. You

can certainly have it.’

 

The man gazed at the stone in wonder.

It was a diamond, probably the largest

diamond in the whole world, for it was

as large as a person’s head.

 

He took the diamond and walked away.

All night he tossed about in bed,

unable to sleep. Next day at the

crack of dawn he woke the sannyasi

and said, ‘Give me the wealth that

makes it possible for you to give

this diamond away so easily.’ ”

 (Anthony De Mello, The Song of the Bird, pp 140-141)

Traveling with Cancer

As I compose this post, I’m in the hospital recovering from the lung resection surgery.   The malignant tumor and the lower right lobe of my lung were successfully removed.  Recovery from this surgery is, as I was amply warned before surgery, painful.  Pain meds help with the coping and managing of my  health care issues.  They also challenge my writing and typing skills.

While the May 19th operation, the lobectomy, was successful, the surgery also discovered that the cancer has already spread to my lymph nodes.  All 8 lymph nodes sent to pathology turned out to be cancerous.  The removal of the cancerous lobe has not gotten the cancer out of my body.  The cancer had progressed faster than was apparent from the various techno-scans done prior to surgery.  So the fight with cancer moves to a new level, one the cancer has chosen.

I went into surgery thinking I had Stage 1 cancer, but came out of surgery knowing that I already have Stage 3 lung cancer.  I will soon be going to an oncologist to discuss further treatment.  The prayers of so many friends and strangers helped me get through the surgery and have put me on the road to recovery from that surgery.

Despite the surgery successfully removing the malignant tumor, the larger goal of getting the cancer out of the body was not achieved.  Somehow the medical technology was not able to fully diagnose the extent of the problem.

None of this changes the basic fact: We all are always in God’s hands.  Sometimes he takes us places we don’t wish to go (John 21:18).  However, God always loves us and beckons us to join Him at the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Over the next months I will write from time to time about this sojourn and the new traveling companion who will be with me every step of the journey.  Life is a road with unexpected twists and unanticipated turns which do not allow you to see what is ahead.  We are to traverse on it anyway.  And for Christians, we are to do it with joy.

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The First Ecumenical Council

“Today, we are more likely to think of Christ only in divine terms: we know that he is God; what we have difficulty with is explaining how he is human as we are. Again, God and human beings are held apart; communion and fellowship have not been restored. But our confession, following the Fathers of Nicaea, is that through what he has done as a human being, we see the transcendent power of God at work. Most importantly, as we have been singing for many weeks now, it is by his death – an all-too-human act – that he destroys death, for he died willingly as a spotless self-offering for our sakes. It is not that because he is God he conquered death automatically, but that in the way he died a human death he shows himself to be God. He does this by freely giving himself to death, so showing that he is stronger than death, that death could not hold him, with the result that the tomb is empty; and so, by his elevation on the Cross, he has ascended into heaven, from where we await the descent of the Holy Spirit and the coming again of our Lord.”  (John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, pp 94-95)

Unity: God in Us

In John 17:1-13, Jesus prays for us, His disciples that we may all be one  –  Christ prayed that we His followers would have a unity of love as exists between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You . . . And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You gave me, that they may be one, even as we are one. . . . But now I am coming to You; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

St. Silouan the Athonite (d. 1938) poetically comments:

“The Lord said, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and ‘You are in me, and I in you.’ Our soul feels the Lord in us, and we cannot forget Him for a single moment. What mercy is this – that the Lord desires us to be in Him and in the Father!

But what have we done for You, Lord,

in what have we pleased You,

that You do wish to be in us, and for us to be in You?

We crucified You on the Cross with our sins,

yet do You still wish us to be with You?

O, how great is Your mercy! I see Your mercy spread over me.

I am deserving of hell and every torment,

yet do You give me the grace of the Holy Spirit.

And if you did vouchsafe to my sinful self

to know You by the Holy Spirit, then I beseech You,

O Lord, let all people come to know You.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p 332)

Sin and Blame

“It is God, who is merciful and grants everyone what he needs, who is building him up when he gives him more than he needs; in doing so he shows the abundance of his love for men and teaches him to give thanks. When he does not grant him what he needs, he makes him compensate for the thing he needs through the working of his mind and teaches him patience. Because it is our duty to attend to the supernatural aspect of all things, whether we suffer good or evil from anyone, we ought to look at (all things) supernaturally and give thanks for everything that happens to us, always taking the blame ourselves and saying, as the Fathers used to say, ‘If anything good happens to us it is God’s providence; if any bad, it is because of our sins.’ And truly everything we suffer is caused by our sins.

For the holy men of old, whatever they suffered, they suffered for God’s name, either to demonstrate their virtue and so to help everyone else, or to win greater reward from God. But we miserable fellows, how can we say this? Every one of us goes on sinning and suffering what we deserve. We have left the straight road of blaming ourselves and taken the crooked road of blaming our neighbor. Every one of us is very careful, on every occasion, to throw the blame on his brother and to strike him down with its weight. Every one of us is negligent and keeps none of the Commandments, and we demand in return that our neighbor keep them all.” (Dorotheos of Gaza – 6th Century, Discourses and Sayings: Desert Humor and Humility, p 144)