Monday, May 16, 2016

The Spirit is Future Present – 22 May 2016 – Holy Trinity

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity gives us not only the workings of the Holy Three but a powerful inner-reliance within them that forms an image of community. All of this can sound either too practical (they each have a job) or too complicated (three is one?).

God the Creator can be too distant (the Watchmaker god who gets the ball rolling and then departs) or too comfortable (there’s not much that is controversial in acknowledging the universe must have a Source).

God the Spirit can be too easily manipulated (we can say God “told me” through the working of the Spirit what I wanted to hear) or so ever-present and pervasive that it loses the particularity of emanating from God the Son (i.e., the Spirit is in every faith).

God the Face––in Christ Jesus––of Creator/Spirit can be either too neatly drawn (Jesus’ sense of what is right and just is in line with mine) or too scary (he’s asking me to grow and change so that I embrace a larger world than I want).  

Preachers might summon the language of mystery today so that what seems to be too difficult to talk about (lest it become boringly understandable or ungraspably academic) becomes absolutely necessary to faith.

The Church and the lectionary give us this day every year to sum up, as it were, ways to think about our confession of faith: I believe in the God the Father… Son… and Holy Spirit. This is a great opportunity to get down to it!

John 16:12-15

Most significantly, we hear from Jesus’ farewell speech to the disciples, promising that a “Spirit of truth” will come to guide the disciples into the future.

Why did Jesus think his followers needed this kind of divine presence? Why not simply tell them: “You have my words, my sacramental body and blood, you have me with you always.” . . .  Even the two-voice God language is too complex for most of us, since God as a (single) “higher power” is what really matters. Why were Jesus' words and sacramental presence not enough of God for the church to hang onto?

Here's a revealing analogy. A contemporary religious community founded about forty years ago by a revered teacher faced this problem. He was their leader, teacher, saint. So they recorded ten thousand hours of his teachings, and after his death kept his living quarters unchanged as a shrine. When new members joined, they were escorted to the room, and could listen to the tapes. Why bother with the Spirit, if the original founder can still be available in this way? . . . .

One answer might be: geographical, physical mobility in one case, but not the other. The [contemporary religious] community stayed in Philadelphia, the house and room providing immediate access to the past when the leader lived there. By contrast, the earliest Christians were forced to flee; they scattered and moved around and most of them lost that immediate link with the literal places where Jesus had been. Of course, a homeless founder helped this dynamic: there was no “Jesus’ own bedroom” to show new converts! But a more significant aspect is that the Spirit, already has a direct connection to the future. . . prevent[ing] the community from only remembering, preserving, returning to a glorified sacred past. The Spirit promises a future with its own worth, its own challenges and novelties. Yet the promise is also that this future will not be Jesus-less, nor disconnected intrinsically from the mighty events recorded in the gospel. The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and the Father, and shares this with those to come. . . .

Did Christians begin and remain a kind of “Jesus cult” in just this sense, fixated on one individual founder? In a way, yes. But the Spirit's role is to keep them and us from getting stuck in this past. We have no forced choice between past and future. Someone in the Community of the Beloved Disciple must have grumbled, “Jesus wouldn't have wanted us to move to Ephesus,” but someone else could always invoke the Spirit's guidance. The test isn't “Would Jesus have wanted this?” but “Is the Spirit guiding us here? Does God have a future for us in Ephesus, revealed through the Spirit?” No search of the sayings could answer that. – Lucy Bregman

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Let the poetry of this passage, rich in concrete touchstones (water, mountains, earth, heavens, skies, sea…), expand the image of what undergirds all of creation by naming it Wisdom. Before all that ever was, Wisdom was born––another name for the One God.

Romans 5:1-5

The litany of Paul’s list of character traits that build upon one another becomes a kind of ladder to greater and greater capacities that strengthen us in this life of struggle. Paul’s words encourage us to look at the gifts that accrue to those who suffer: endurance, character, hope, and finally the experience that “does not disappoint us” which is joy.

Joy comes from participating in the life of the Trinity, the life of the world. Early theologians spoke of the Trinity being like a fountain with love spilling over from Father to Son to Spirit. Here’s another possibility for that fountain:

Imagine a “Trinity fountain” in which the. . . water moves from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Spirit—but mysteriously reciprocally returns to the Father from the Son, and to the Son from the Spirit, and from the Spirit to the Father. . . a perfect, tri-personal relationship of love communication and covenant faithfulness. . . – Michael A. Van Horn

This is a description of perichoresis, a dance of the Three, to which we are all invited.

Lucy Bregman, professor of religion at Temple University, Philadelphia, has published several books on death and dying and, most recently, The Ecology of Spirituality: Practice and Virtues in a Post-Religious Age (Baylor Univ. Pr.).

Michael A. Van Horn was, at the time of this contribution to Homily Service, assistant professor of theology at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, and a pastor within the Evangelical Covenant tradition.
Homily Service 40, no. 7 (2007): 3-14.

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