Archive for May, 2015

PSALM 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
    have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
    he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Throughout Asia early in the first millennium BCE a revolution occurred in the way that Divine Reality was understood and represented. Without dismissing the unique elements across the distinct cultures, we see in them all a common discovery of the Divine as transcending the local confines of geography and tradition.

Yahweh (God’s name that must not be spoken but only referenced as “the Lord”) in Israel, Brahman in India, and the Tao in China were all regional designations for the One beyond all. Whether God was outside the world as its creator (Israel), beneath the world as its ground (India), or within the world as its balancing center (China), this revolution in religious understanding brought both benefit and trouble in its wake.

Positively, the transcendence of God projected the path of human spiritual evolution to a level beyond the narrow horizons of local religion. With the whole world now in view, the expansive visions of the prophets (in Israel) and the mystics (farther east) could embrace the entire earth and its collective future. Negatively this meant that old certainties were needing to be abandoned or at least modified in light of the new revelation. We can never predict what God will do next!

ACTS 10:44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

For Peter and the rest, this inclusion of the Gentiles in the universal community of the gospel was not the decision of some “warm tug” at the heart. Rather it was an act of fidelity to what was unmistakably the work of the Holy Spirit, alive in the world outside the Christian circle as thus far defined. Such fidelity must be recognized as a genuine aspect of love, filling out and expanding our usual notions that tend in more sentimental directions.

Love isn’t always a feel-good experience. There are times when the unifying energy of love exerts great stress on our self-definitions, stretching and sometimes breaking them open in its powerful advance. Our experience in such moments is far from pleasant, and can even be downright terrifying. If God wants to open you up and you want above all to hold it together, then God will appear more demonic than benign, more “wrathful” than benevolent.

That is precisely when it serves you well to know the deeper ways of God.

ACTS 10:44-48

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

In the story of the early Church, the Holy Spirit is clearly the primary character. Whatever is done or said by the apostles, the miracles of healing, conversion, and growth are humbly attributed to the activity and blessing of the Holy Spirit, with the apostles serving only as its agents or brokers.

As far as strategy was concerned, these early Christians watched for clues and invitations in what God was doing in the world around them. When the Holy Spirit had already moved upon the Gentiles, inspiring them each to praise and profess God in his or her native tongue, the only thing Peter and the other apostles could do was try to catch up to what God was doing.

Peter’s exhortation that these Spirit-filled Gentiles be baptized was in its day a revolutionary idea, for it transgressed on a boundary-line between “insiders” and “outsiders” (circumcised and uncircumcised). His boldness has not been a consistent mark of the Church through the centuries, however, where definitions of piety and Christian orthodoxy have frequently (and ironically) condemned the activity of the Holy Spirit outside its jurisdiction as scandalous and heretical.