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The Community of Faith-&-Revelation
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Easter IV - 05/22/11 Job 19:21-27a; Ps. 107:1-16; James 1:17-21; Jn. 16:5-15
We are well into the 40 days Jesus had with His disciples between the Resurrection and His Ascension back to the Father (coming up soon). He appears to have been going over again with His disciples the Scriptures which referred to Him and His coming, and of the mission He was to accomplish. It would have been a powerful Bible lesson to have been there with the disciples. One has to wonder what wrong trails we Christians have gone down over those intervening 20 centuries which might have been corrected had we been among the disciples at that time.
In the Gospel lesson Jesus is telling His disciples again that He will be departing, leaving them for the realms of heaven. "Now I go my way to Him that sent me..." But that does not mean that it is all over. It means quite the opposite -- that the promised new beginning is about to happen -- for which all that had preceded, including the Resurrection, had been preparation.
The main thrust of revelation up to this time has been focused on the law, the word of God, but with promises sprinkled throughout scriptural history that something radically new would be happening "on that day", "on the day of the Lord", which was never clearly defined as to time or the explicit nature of the event itself. But it would be whole new relation to God so that faith would spill over into the lives of others. The Jewish world of Jesus' time was abuzz with the expectation that something like this was about to happen. They connected it with the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One.
The disciples did not ask why Jesus had said such a thing about leaving them, but sorrow had filled their hearts. Jesus sees their distress and replies, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you."
It is this Comforter about whom we have been inquiring for some time, asking ourselves the meaning of Pentecost, and the charismatic kind of Christianity which won the hearts and minds of the Roman world, and far beyond.
How could the disciples have understood that it would be "expedient for them" that Jesus would depart? How could they possibly understand that it could be better for them that Jesus should leave?
Then Jesus makes a strange comment: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now..."
It may be that Jesus knew they would not understand His words, or that they would badly misinterpret them. He goes on:
"Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.
This Spirit of Truth will glorify Jesus by receiving what Jesus has, and showing that to the disciples. The Spirit of truth does not invent His own truth, but gives us that which the Father, the "deciding One", has spoken for us.
And then another astonishing statement, "All things that the Father hath are mine..." Jesus is claiming to be equal with the Father, that He and the Father share the same glory of the Godhead. That glory, that truth, is what this promised Spirit of truth will show to the disciples. The Father, through Jesus, and by the coming work of the Holy Spirit, wants to share His eternal glory with us, His creatures.
Can life get any better than that? God was showing His people how to pass on their faith.
In the Epistle from St. James, we read that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning..."
That does not mean that God is static, that He has no relationship to time, that He does not "do" things. It means rather that God is the same God through all of His doings and activities. He is eternal in that sense. God is the same being, the same individual person, through all possible change and time. No one else can say that. You and I cannot say that because there was a time when we were not, and could be a time when we might no longer be. We are not inherently eternal as is God -- He Who Is. We ride into eternity on His coattails -- on the power of the Holy Spirit. And we can pass that on to our family and friends.
St. James says, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth..., that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures." That "begat" is analogical, not literal, because Jesus is the only "begotten" Son of the Father, as we say in the creeds. There is, and can be, only one natural Son. All the rest of us are sons and daughters by adoption and grace.
We are a kind of "first fruits of His creatures", suggesting that we blossom and flower, we arrive at the Kingdom, before other aspects of the creation might arrive. We humans, the race of Adam, must repent of our sin and fall, be restored to our authority as caretakers of the cosmos, so that the order of the cosmos given by God can itself be again restored and passed on. Paul says in Romans 8:19, (RSV) "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God..." J. B. Phillips translates that, "...and all creation standing on tiptoe just to see the sons of God come into their own." Coming into our own means inheriting our rightful inheritance. We are destined for glory, not for demise or shame.
If you feel like complaining about the state of society, or the state of the world, get as fast as you can into the fullness of the Kingdom of God. For it is there alone that we have the authority and spiritual power under God to help set things back to right again, the ability to speak like a prophet with authority and power into the world. Jesus called and ministered to His disciples to produce just that result in them. So long as we tarry outside the Kingdom, we ourselves hold up the restoration of the world about us. Jesus expects His disciples to raise the dead, calm the storms, heal the sick. When we, Jesus' disciples, begin to be unified in that way, the world will have no reasonable choice but to acknowledge that Jesus has come from the Father. That is what has brought lost souls to God in every age.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God..." Those who are truly baptized by the Holy Spirit of God will not allow their own personal gripes and cantankerousness to interfere with the Spirit of God within them.
Job pleads with is friends, "Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends! for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you like God pursue me???.... Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed on a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were graven in the rock forever!"
Maybe inscribed in stone, God would read them and change Job's condition....
And then his direction and tone change abruptly -- "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that at last He will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
He could be talking only about God Himself. Despite the apparent contradictions in Job's relation to God, something in Job knows that God is just, and that God will not allow meaningless pain to proceed. It is a startling assertion in the midst of his quite justified outpouring of complaint.
The Book of Job boldly asks, "Why do bad things happen to good men?" In the end, God justifies Job, not his friends, suggesting that Job's insistence on a fair hearing with God was very much in line with God's own view of the matter. Learning how to interpret the ways of God to man is one of the primary abilities we need to do the passing on of our faith.
The psalmist in Psalm 107 describes a life lived in the contradictions of a fallen world -- not so boldly contradictory as that of Job.... But there are enemies from which to be delivered, there are people of God scattered to the winds to be gathered again into one flock, there are those who have sinfully gone astray, who find themselves therefore in desperate conditions, whom God brings down with none to help them -- all of whom God seeks to bring back into His flock. All this, says the Psalmist, is reason to "praise the Lord for His goodness, and declare the wonders that He does for the children of men..."
But these very stories tell of the difficulty in obedience to God, that we seem to live a life of contradiction, something within draws us back to our sin, like a dog returning to his own vomit.
And life itself inflicts us with contradictory situations which seem to admit of no morally pure response. The law has been given, the people know what they are supposed to do, but we continually find ourselves unable to obey the law, drifting off once again into the deep pits of the dark and fallen world.
All that is about to be changed by what Jesus has done, becoming incarnate in the midst of our fallenness, ministering to the disciples, producing in them a dependency and obedience which will win through their own death-to-self to the coming gift of the Holy Spirit, the "other half" of the law, the necessary complement to the law. The new thing is the undergirding power of the Holy Spirit which gives us our stability of being so that we can be able to obey the law.
The Resurrection of Jesus has wrongly been taken by many Christians as the final event of the salvation process, with everything after that as nice, but not essential. The disciples did not think that to be so. The resurrection was necessary to what was to happen, but it was not the final chapter of the story. If it had ended there, the mission would not have yet been accomplished.
Jesus, the Son of God, the Self-revelation of God, became incarnate so thatthis "something else" could happen. He became incarnate so that God could become more imaginable, so thatthat which had been predicted, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the Spirit of God could be spread abroad among all men, not only among a few chosen prophets who could speak for God in their own time.
God was aiming at the whole of His people becoming filled with the Holy Spirit, so that every child of God could have that same closeness to God, that same access to the Spirit and word of God that the prophets had had.
But that could happen only if there could be created a community which itself was the repository of the presence of God on earth.
God began with Abraham to create that community, a community which could pass on the knowledge and deep relationship with God, a community of Godly families, a Godly Church, and Godly civil government, a community from top to bottom with an understanding of holiness and Godliness. It took another 400 years from Abraham until the law could be given. Apparently God had to work slowly with that community of Hebrews, to the point where leaders such as Moses, Joshua, and others could create sufficient followership as well as leadership, slowly leading toward that full and mature community of revelation.
The crucial issue is: How does a spiritual community pass on its spiritual treasures to the next generation? How do those new born children (still only children of their own parents, not yet children of God) become sons and daughters of God Himself?
The Hebrews kept backsliding because they did not know how to pass on their revelation from God to their next generations. They themselves had to be led, over and over, out of the deep pit into which the human race falls. The development in the Babylonian Exile of the synagogue system, the local Torah scrolls, and other ways of educating the people was a leap forward. Just ordinary things, such as how we raise our children, how we maintain our own loyalty to God in the face of the persistently corrosive and eroding forces of our culture, are determinative to passing on our faith to the next generation. The destruction of the community of faith is only one generation away. The community of faith can backslide in one generation.
Is it not clear that the Enemy has been, as Jesus said, wiser than we Christians? We Christians have typically all but abandoned Godly family life. We have allowed the world, the flesh, and the devil to dismantle Biblical culture and heritage so that we are currently losing, on average, about 85% of our children to secularism and paganism. That is child abuse. That is not the way to bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth. It is not the way that the will of God shall be done -- on earth as it is in heaven. It is rather the way to being mocked and derided as "irrelevant" to progress and culture.
We Christians today must learn all over again how to live an honestly sacramental spiritual life -- in which the material world, the physical world of time and space, is governed and led by the spiritual world -- not vice-versa.
That disastrous demise of Christian culture can be tracked over the last several centuries, much of which we have discussed. But the power of God has not diminished, the arm of God to touch our lives has not shortened. And we can recover our inner spiritual strength and holiness which alone can substantially change the world around us
It was "expedient" for the disciples, not the end of the story, that Jesus should leave them -- so that the promised Holy Spirit could descend into their hearts and minds, setting them on fire for the Lord. That was the whole point of Jesus' coming in the first place -- to bring the community of faith to that maturity and strength and stability so that they could pass on their faith to the next generations, so that they could grow because of their testimony in both word and deed to the living God.
They had not only a testimony to the world around them, "out there", but they even more importantly had a powerful testimony and witness to their own children. They knew how to evangelize their children and their extended families. That made them an irresistible cultural force, which eventually won the Roman empire.
That is our task in the West today, to recover how to pass on our faith, not only to those pagan and secular folks "out there", but even more importantly, to our own children and families. If we home schooled or Christian-schooled our children, we would be passing on our Christian worldview and Christian faith, not to some 15% of our children, but to probably over 90% of our children. That alone would dramatically shift the spiritual momentum of Western culture.
Father in heaven, you have created a heaven which is a family, a relationship, a belonging together. Restore to us, Your people, the ability to live in that relationship with such spiritual power that Your life will spill over from our relationships into the world around us, bringing our families and friends into that marvelous holy communion and holy community which is described in your Book -- In the name of Your Son, Jesus, who lived, died, rose again, and ascended back to heaven so that we might have that life eternal. Amen.
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