(about the timing–so sorry! Apparently my inability to remember to push “attach” also extends to an inability to change posts from “draft” to “publish” sometimes. 😦 So…I’ve wrapped up three into one, since it’s the end of summer and time for us to finish this book and move into new things!)
The Holy Spirit
It’s true, mainline protestants often have a difficult time with the Holy Spirit. She’s the least nail-down-able of the three persons of the Trinity, the most elusive and mysterious, and sometimes the most uncomfortable. We’re pretty comfortable with God the Creator or Father or Mother. We’re even pretty comfortable with God the Son, both as an eternal being and as a human being. But when we get into this Spirit business, we start getting all shifty-eyed and nervous. Who is the Holy Spirit? What’s her role in the Trinity and in our lives? How come she’s not obvious like Jesus?
Well…the word “spirit” in Hebrew is ruach and it means breath, wind, or spirit. It’s a feminine noun, so use of “she” is perfectly appropriate. The Spirit can also be called the breath of God or the wind of God. In the first creation story (Genesis 1), a wind from God blows over the waters…in the second creation story (Genesis 2) and in Ezekiel 37 (for example) the breath of God is what turns a body from lifeless bones and dust into a living being–God’s breath is the animating force in creation. In the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit is seen as a dove. In the Pentecost story (Acts 2) the Spirit is visible in fire and audible in wind and in many languages. All of these are good images. The salient point here is that the Spirit of God is moving, active, within and between and around us, animating the creation and giving life. The Spirit leads (after Jesus’ baptism he’s led into the wilderness by the Spirit), empowers (Pentecost, other stories in Acts), and other such active verbs that are about our living a faithful life.
The Trinity is a complex doctrine that basically attempts to explain how we know God. The author gives an example of a person in different roles–mother, doctor, friend, etc. That analogy sort of works, and sort of doesn’t. The thing about the Trinity is that God is not wearing a mask or something, is not acting a part. All the aspects of God are present in all the other aspects. We may see one more prominently than another, but there is no separating the persons of the Trinity, and there’s nothing hiding behind a costume or a role. I like to use the image of AquaFresh toothpaste. Three colors, working together…all of them are toothpaste on their own, but they can never be separated into three separate streaks either. They’re distinct yet inseparable.
The Kingdom of God, as Jesus says, “is among you” or “here” or “near.” When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” hopefully we mean it! We don’t mean “bring us to your kingdom when we die” we mean “bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not about life after death, it’s about making the kingdom of God visible even here, even now.
What did you think of the discussion of Isaiah 65 as an explanation of Kingdom-of-God things? The author says that because of the description of God’s kingdom in this chapter (combined, of course, with Jesus’ insistence that the kingdom of God is among us), health insurance, prenatal care, Medicare, social security, fair mortgage rates, affordable housing, affordable healthy food, minimum wage, employee benefits, child nutrition, education, peacemaking–these are kingdom issues and therefore need to be addressed by people who choose to live in the kingdom of God. What are your thoughts?
The most important words in this chapter are “for those with eyes to see….” It’s possible to look at the world and see despair. Or just everyday average work. Or the kingdom of God breaking through. Which do you choose to see?
Do we believe in getting saved?
Well…yes and no. Yes, in that God’s saving grace has been at work since before the dawn of time and will continue to be at work long after we cease to walk the earth. Yes, in that God’s grace transforms lives of individuals and communities, and that grace saves us. No, in the sense that we have to do anything to earn it or receive it. Grace is a gift given to all–our choice is not even to receive it (one of the tenets of Reformed theology is “Irresistable Grace”), but to recognize it. Again, for those with eyes to see, grace is all around and within us. We can choose not to see, which will change the way we respond but will not change our status as recipients of grace.
This is one of the major differences between our theological tradition as Presbyterians and other traditions, even those that seem awfully close to us (like Methodists!). What do you think of this understanding of grace and salvation?
The most important part:
Christianity is not a set of doctrines. It is not a list of 10 things we have to believe.
Christianity is a way of life. It is about following Jesus, listening for God’s call, and living responsively with the Holy Spirit.
We often talk about other religions being different because they demand more in terms of how life is lived–Judaism has rules, Islam has 5 times a day prayer and more rules, etc. They are a way of living, not just a set of beliefs. The thing is: that’s what Christianity is too. In the post-enlightenment period it has become a way of thinking, but that’s not what it really means to follow Jesus. To be a disciple of the risen Lord is to live life in a different way.
So…how will you live as a disciple of Jesus, in the kingdom of God, today? tomorrow? going forward?