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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Pentecost- 06/12/11 Num. 11:16-29; Ps. 68; Acts 2:1-11; Jn. 14:15-31
Well, here we are, at Pentecost, the reason why Jesus came to us, to convey to us the power of the Holy Ghost to make all things new, so that we could become new creations in Christ, so that we could experience a re-creation, a re-building of our very being. So, let us explore the meaning of Pentecost, what happened to the body of frightened disciples to make them bold apostles?
In the Fall, two terrible things happen. First, we rebel, we disobey, we get into a conflict with our Creator and Sovereign. So we distance ourselves from Him to escape the condemnation of His word, His judgement on our behavior. We hide in the bushes. We begin to fear the Lord in an unhealthy way.
Then, secondly, in our distancing of ourselves from God, we, as it were, step off the Hand of God, we distance ourselves not only from His word, but from His creative power, the power of being, the ability which we can get only from Him to be real persons, to be our real selves. We put on fig leaves to protect ourselves from now feeling shameful at just being ourselves. We can no longer be real with each other or with God. We cannot live in the light of truth.
We thus cast ourselves into the world of the closed circle. We live now, as Isaiah 25:7 says, under "the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations." The shroud of death. "On the day you eat of it, you shall die..." God tells Adam. We become dead men walking. The shroud of separation between us and God, and between one another becomes the walls of our self-created tomb.
We lock ourselves into a shrinking circle of life, from which we have no way of unlocking ourselves. Leanne Payne, an early writer on inner healing, talks of "the hell of self", how we retreat into ourselves more and more, locking ourselves further and further into a disintegration and dissolution -- unless we repent and come to trust and obey God.
There is a "heaven of self" also, which is what God is restoring in our own human nature -- which we can access as we follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross, along the path of His life through incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost -- to the fullness of the life of the Holy Trinity.
That hell of self is the picture of life abroad for the majority of human beings. Most of them do not seem to recognize this truth, and pursue their false gods and goddesses, only dimly aware of the background rumble of approaching death. In the words of Jean Paul Sartre's play title, "No Exit". One has to add, of course, something that Sartre would not add: No Exit -- unless the Son of God intrudes into your closed world to lead you out. No exit without Jesus.
So, we have two choices. We will either build heaven with God and with one another, trusting and obeying God. Or we will build hell all by ourselves. It all depends on -- In what are we willing to invest ourselves -- in God or in the world without God? The way to invest yourself in God is to follow Jesus. Only He can lead us to the Father and send the Holy Spirit.
God began with Abraham to create a community of faith, a community which would become the storehouse of revelation from God to be passed on to future generations, and to become the human channel for the grace of God to rescue the human race. I have said before how redemption begins with the moral side of life, the word, the law, not the creation side of life, as at birth. The normal sequence of growing up is first birth, and then we learn the moral requirements after we are stabilized in our personhood, our sense of being a somebody.
But in redemption, the moral law intervenes first to establish an orderly cosmos out of the chaos, which is first necessary before communicating a renewed sense of being. It took about 15 centuries to move from the giving of the law to the gift of the Holy Spirit. It seems that it took the personal presence of the Son of God, the Incarnation, to bring about the gift of the Spirit as a possible commonly experienced fact of life.
We become, as St. Paul says, new creatures in Christ -- a kind of second creation, a restoration of our creaturehood. We return back onto the Hand of God where we receive that power of being, the ability to be ourselves in any possible circumstance.
And that is what enables us then to be actually and consistently obedient to the law of God. We not only know the law, we can do it.
About 30 years ago, I had been working on my car, installing a new coil, which is what creates the spark for the spark plugs. I was riding down our road on my bike thinking about that, and was jolted by the thought that -- "That's what the power of the Holy Spirit is like!" The coil for a car is a transformer, a device to transform the 12 volts from the car battery to a much higher voltage which will create a spark in the spark plug to ignite the gasoline.
If you took science classes in high school, you may recall an electrical experiment with batteries, wires, and an iron rod, like a nail. If you wind an insulated wire around the nail and connect the ends of the wire to an electric bulb or motor, nothing will happen. It is ineffective. But if you then wind another insulated wire around the first wire over the nail and attach the ends of that wire to the positive and negative poles of a battery, the light bulb will light, or the motor will run. The wires never touch each other, but the wire from the battery creates a magnetic field which induces a current into the first wire around the nail which lights the bulb or runs the motor.
God does something like that to us. We, by ourselves, have little or no power to change things in the world. Try as we might, we cannot produce a consistent and enduring good and just and loving society. We often succeed no better than did the Hebrews. But with God as our battery, the power of the Holy Spirit induces power into our lives -- like the battery attached to the coil induces electrical power into the wire attached to the light bulb, even though the wires never touch. We become effective in the world in ways that no human being can do without that power of God. We and God remain our separate selves (we do not become God, as eastern religions say) but God induces effective spiritual and moral power into our lives.
God gave us the moral law long before we were able to consistently obey it. But when He gave us His Holy Spirit, as the disciples received on the Day of Pentecost, suddenly they were alive with energy and wisdom to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ all over the Mediterranean world and beyond.
The union of the law of God and the power of God creates a moral unity among the people of God which energizes our lives and unifies us in ways that the world cannot accomplish.
Jesus prayed in John 17 that the disciples would become one, just as the Son and the Father were one. A part of that oneness was the moral consensus which was created in the Christian community. They agreed on the meaning of right and wrong. They agreed on what was evil and what was good. They had also an intellectual consensus -- which we call orthodoxy. They had a common creed. That moral and intellectual agreement now had the power of effective action behind it, the power of a committed community which was able to withstand the abuses of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They would not back down, they would not shut up about their Savior, they would not betray Jesus to save their lives. And they did that with grace and love. Astonishing.
Both the law of God and the Holy Spirit unify us. The wedding of the two at Pentecost creates that powerful community -- which will witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. There is no force in heaven or on earth which can stop that community from giving its testimony to the living God.
The words of Jesus at the Ascension to the disciples that they would receive power to be witnesses came literally and effectively -- true.
Pentecost was the enabling, freeing the human race from the washout and wipeout of the Fall, the draining of spiritual power to be real persons -- all caused by rebellion and the consequent distancing of ourselves from God and the closed circle of the cosmos.
The human race can now again be undergirded by the law wedded to the grace of God. Right here on earth we can ourselves ascend in heart and mind: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."
The Ascension of Christ blasted a hole through the closed circle so that the Holy Spirit could now come down to empower us, putting our spiritual feet back on the Hand of God, the Rock on which we are to build our houses. We can, in heart and mind, stand on that holy ground for our stability right before the throne of God where we clearly hear His word to us.
That is the meaning of being "in the world but not of it". We here on earth are spiritually of God, not of the world. God created a sacramental world in which the physical is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual, so we are supposed to be in the world, we are supposed to be engaged with people and circumstances in the world. We are to be the caretakers of the world for God, including all aspects of it (family, church, education, commerce, government, the military, all of it), bringing the world under the law and grace of God.
It is the so-called "worldly" who are not able to be fully "in" the world. That is not an accurate name or description for them. Those who are not dependent upon God will be dependent upon the undependable, shifting, unpredictable world. So they are always on the defensive, always have walls up, fig leaves, bushes to hide behind from the acid effects of the world without God.
To be fully in the world, you have to "of" God. To be an adult in the world, you have to be a child "of" God. Only those who are of God can be fully in the real and substantial world, the world of relationships, which leads to the Kingdom of heaven. So the worldly who think they are really "in" the world and think that Christians, as they sometimes say, "are so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good...." are deluding themselves.
Well, some Christians are indeed "so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use", but that is because they are confused about the nature of the Kingdom, and have at some level rejected the earthy sacramental nature of the Kingdom. Those who think, for example, that Christians ought not to be engaged in politics or social welfare may be making that mistake. But the sometimes great errors of Christians in politics or social welfare do not justify abandoning the world of God for the supposed "heavenly" realm. "The kingdom of heaven is among you", as Jesus pointed out.
Sin always leads to retreat from the real world, i.e., personal relationships. The real world is not the physical world. The physical world is only the stage upon which the real world of souls is to play out its life. Without personal relationships, the physical world is of no meaning at all. None. It is vacant and empty.
And so likewise vacant and empty become the lives of those who cut themselves off from the requirements of God for personal relationship -- the Decalogue and the Two Great Commandments. The commandments are about our relationship with God and each other. The law of God gives us the meaning and purpose of our lives. The power of the Holy Spirit gives us the ability successfully to live out that purpose with God and one another.
So, what is my point? The whole life of Jesus upon earth was designed to create out of a fallen people - a people who could once again be "of" God and therefore fully in the world as the caretakers of the world and of one another. The coming of the Holy Spirit completes God's provision for that to happen.
The Cross and Resurrection dealt with the moral issues, guilt, repentance, paying the price for salvation for the world. Jesus defeated Satan in the lives of those disciples, drawing them through their own death to self. The resurrection was the explosion which set off a chain reaction -- the Ascension and Pentecost -- all of which are summed up in the life of the Trinity which we are to live-- and which we will celebrate next Sunday with Bishop Grote.
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