Archive for the ‘Thirty-Sixth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The mystical theology of the Fourth Gospel provides a valuable corrective to our normal tendency of thinking of God as some external being, up and away from the level of everyday ordinary experience. While there certainly is in this tradition an acknowledgment of divine otherness – that is to say, an awareness of God as neither reducible to the world nor essentially knowable by the categories of the mind – it is understood in terms of mystery, not distance and location.

This appreciation of the essential mystery of God, along with the sense of God as transcending local conditions of space, time, and language, was the New Testament expression of the revolution that had begun nearly a thousand years before.

In this tradition of early mystical Christianity, “Father” was a reference metaphor for the divine reality that underlies, creates, and encompasses existence itself. To abide in the Father as Jesus did, and to abide in the love of Jesus as his disciples were invited to do, was more than merely being in relationship with God.

To abide in God is to dwell in the divine life, to find rest for the soul, and to receive one’s existence in freshness and gratitude with every breath and pulse. Such an organic connection and deep identity of the believer with the Holy Spirit opens an unsuspected Aladdin cave of the spiritual life. There, deep within the wealth of grace and peace, we find strength and meaning and lasting joy.

JOHN 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

All this talk of commandments makes it seem like we’re back in the First Testament with its strong accent on the Law and human obedience. Weren’t we set free from all this? Time and again, libertarian sects of one form or another have arisen from the slough of guilt (under management of the institutional church) with the proclamation that we are free of all rules, obligations, and constraints.

Without conscience, charismatic leaders have brainwashed their followers and not infrequently directed them to their destruction. Are Christians free from the law? As is typical when we are wanting a “yes” or “no” answer, we find the truth to be nested in a paradox – both “yes” and “no.”

Yes, we are free from the Law insofar as the teeth of the Law are conventionally found in its schedule of threatened (and feared) penalties for the transgressor. Perfect love, as it says in the Letter of 1 John, casts out all fear. Therefore, living by love we are set free from fear. Our motivation is no longer self-serving (to avoid pain and punishment) but self-transcending in sacrifice to the greater good.

The commandments that Jesus left to his disciples were all for the expressed purpose of promoting the value and cause of love – in the Christian circle, certainly, but also (especially) in the broad and harvest-ready field of the world. Of course, love itself cannot be commanded, since to be genuine it must be freely chosen.

In the early Christian community love was experienced as the generous self-giving of God, incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth and now indwelling those who live in his name.

1 JOHN 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Not with water only but with the water and the blood. In the seventh verse we read that “there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” Something of a trinity, don’t you see.

We might interpret these three as representing the three essential transformations that Jesus underwent in his hero adventure as world savior. As we all enter this world, we pass through the water. The membrane that holds us in the amniotic fluid of our mother’s womb suddenly breaks, and out we rush with the tide. Jesus, too, was “born of a woman,” as Paul acknowledges.

Having heard the call of God in his life, Jesus went on to commit himself to the divine purpose – so completely that he died on the cross for the sake of the gospel and in solidarity with the suffering multitudes of the world. There’s the blood. And when, in that moment we cannot describe in mere literal meanings, the disciples experienced the spirit of Jesus in their midst and later within them each, Jesus was transformed yet a third time.

First as one of us, then as one with us, and finally as one in us.

1 JOHN 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Is this some sectarian fantasy of domination at work here: to “conquer the world”? If we didn’t know what the writer means by “the world,” we might think so. In the tradition of John (Gospel, Letters, Apocalypse) the world refers not to the planet but to the institutional system of human society. This is the “world” mentioned in the opening hymn of John’s Gospel, to whom the Word came but without recognition or acceptance.

Out of great love for “the world,” God gave his only begotten son for its salvation. Where we are right now, however, is still immersed in the dark resistance of the world to the liberty and joy of our final fulfillment.

How do we then “conquer the world”? Not through force, for that is the world’s way. Not by seduction or slippery persuasion, for that too is how the world captivates its prey. And finally, not by convincing arguments or doctrinal conversions, seeing as how the world is itself a revolving carousel of dogmatic proofs and trendy philosophies. No, we “conquer the world” through our own inward transformation and being “born of God.”

The author explains this as an event of faith, as the moment we see into the truth of who Jesus was and is, and believe so fully in him that we risk meaning, sanity, and existence itself in personal surrender to the God beyond, beneath, and at the heart of all things. Such release into God requires our release of the world (and its attachments), which becomes our liberation from the world and our victory over the world.

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.