My grandfather, a Methodist minister, gave me a book as a youngster called Defense of the Faith. I’m not sure, to this day, if he would think that was a mistake — or, if that is what he had in mind. His stern admonition was “this is pretty close, but, you must keep in mind — it was written by a Baptist.” So, it was with my grandfather.
Thoughout my life — whether I was preparing a homily, or a Sunday school lesson, or a sermon —one of the most satifying mental exercises and greatest joys I’ve ever gotten was researching a topic — following a citation — comparing different translations of text — searching with atlases, dictionaries and concordance — studying a variety of commentaries. There is no feeling like knowing — the ability of reading and research coupled by a desire to follow a thought through centuries of opinion and argument — taking you into a realm, few, if any, have gone; to have a desk arrayed before you with books heavy enough to keep doors open — is a thrill for a curious mind.
The delivery — spoken or written — of a found gem of truth — paled in comparison to the act of the discovery. This is where true defense of the faith lives.
It is an internal journey, but the delivery makes the circle complete. Something about hiding your light under a bushel fits in here. I will warn you now — based on my observations, my experience and my bias — rather than the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20, which modern day evangelists make grand (and loud) and beat you over the head with — I prefer I Peter 3:15.
What? — you didn’t think I was gonna spoon feed you, did you? Working out your salvation takes effort. Dust off your Bible — and check it out.
Now, I have reached a point in the journey — where all which matters — is giving a voice to some of those discoveries — but —in a quiet way, a truthful way, an honest way. For it is, as I have said many times, in the telling, your speaking “sounds” in your mind and you can tell it’s worth — or not.
This neat little image is called the Scutum Fedei. It is used by Christian Apologists to explain the Trinity.
Therefore, Spiritus Sanctum (the Holy Spirit) isn’t Filius (the Son). Filius isn’t Pater (the Father). Pater isn’t Spiritus Sanctum.
Spiritus Sanctum is Deus (God). Filius is Deus. Pater is Deus.
It’s like the traffic on a Boston rotary circle, only four times worse. The first time you read it — you get it. Everytime after that — is — like dodging traffic. Don’t hurt your brain — just stay with your first reading.
Here’s the point I’m driving at —
In John chapter 20 is the Gospel of St John’s version of the Great Commission (verse 23). One verse before, is an obscure — and powerful — verse; one I have never seen commentary on, or heard a preacher expound on.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
When I was growing up, my sister and I spent Sunday afternoons reading our Bibles. No games, no company, no television. It was what you did — period. The Good Book has been a friend to me for more than a half century. I can tell you for a stone cold fact. You can read a passage a thousand times — and never see it. I don’t care if you’re Billy Graham, the Pope or a simple country pastor. Only at the time of the “revealing” will it be seen.
There is an ancient tradition among scholarly Judaic teachers that goes something like this — The highest form of worship is to study the Torah, for that is what God himself does — study the Torah, every moment.
In verse 22, above, I have quoted from the King James Version (KJV). The word – them – is italized, because it isn’t in the original text. Also, the puctuation you see is a seventeenth century “best guess”. (The Biblical languages – Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic didn’t use punctuation). And, of course, the red letter words are the spoken words of Jesus — in the opinion of the translators of the Court of King James.
So — just what does this verse say? I believe it tells us, at least three things. The Holy Spirit comes as a gift. You can’t do anything to make it come (unless you want to invest deep meaning in the fact that the disciples assembled in a locked room in fear). As far as we can tell from this verse, it comes from only one source. And lastly, and most importantly, it comes, only, after Jesus breathes.
He breathes — and says — Receive ye the Holy Spirit!
Gives a whole new meaning.
My first inclination is to go and review the story of the Pentacost in the Acts of the Apostles — but I’m going to wrap this up for today.
The Sacred and The Profane
Inside the old school Methodists, there is a tenet to their belief called the “second sanctification”. This is something you aspire too, prepare yourself for & pray for — but, ultimately, this too, is a gift. I’ve never completely understood the concept. I could discourse about it for hours. But, I’ve never really completely understood it. Which tells me I’m not there yet.
And you know what — that’s okay. By no means, am I doing this because I am holier than tho. I’m not. I’m a sinner. But, I seek Him.
I will leave you with one more thought to consider — and it comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican church.
“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”