Saturday, May 14, 2016
May 15, Pentecost: We Will Be Satisfied
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, Romans 8:14-17, John 14:8-17, 25-27
Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” What did he mean? Why did he say that? Satisfied with you, Jesus? Satisfied with your work, satisfied with religion, satisfied with life? How big a question is it, for us too—that if Jesus can just show us God the Father, that will suffice? For how long? For all of your life? Through thick and thin, that this one vision will sustain you?
Are you satisfied with your life? More or less? I know that I am not fully satisfied. Not that I lack anything, not that I’m not incredibly privileged and blessed. Not that it troubles me anymore, like it used to. My lack of satisfaction is more positive than negative, it’s more like hope, or longing, it is kind of wistful. This lack of satisfaction does not detract from my life, it adds to it.
You are not meant to be satisfied. At least not with the here and now. You are designed for something more, you are meant for transcendence, and you are bound, as long as you live, to feel your incompletion.
Our besetting sin is to get satisfaction from substitutes. They can occupy you but not satisfy you. This leads to all kinds of evil, and we corrupt good things by wanting too much from them. Yes, “Love calls us to the things of this world,” but they cannot fully satisfy.
A few of you remember Gladys Rodriguez, an elegant elderly member here who passed away some years ago. She gave me this quotation from a Spanish mystic she was reading, St. John of the Cross: “Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta, sólo Dios basta.” “Whoever holds to God lacks nothing, only God satisfies.” Is that what Philip is asking for? The final satisfaction, the ultimate satisfaction, that having it, makes everything else satisfactory? “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Philip is presented as a critic. Not so much a doubter as a skeptic. His Greek name suggests he came from a liberal family. He’s a bit the outsider, even after Pentecost. Not that liberal Jews were not devout believers, we need not doubt his real devotion, but like many devout believers he seems to want more. Do you want more?
Not that you doubt God, not that you don’t love God, but you want to be closer. Maybe you want that special, electric, intimate contact with God that shakes you so you can’t forget it. If you could just see God once, just once would be enough. Would this help you among your friends who are skeptical of religion or agnostic or atheist? You could say, “Yes, I have seen God, quite satisfactorily, so you could too!”
If God would just do that for us it would make it easier to be a Christian nowadays. Why doesn’t God just show Godself, and convince the skeptics and the atheists? And while we’re at it, why doesn’t God let the whole world see God as the Father—the Father of Jesus, which implies the Trinity, and that would certainly simplify the whole world religions thing and the Jewish-Christian-Muslim thing, not to mention a lot of Middle-eastern politics.
But no, let’s just say we agree with St. John of the Cross, and we accept that we are meant to be unsatisfied except for God. Fine, but then, please, can we see a little more of God the Father? Well, apparently according to Jesus, that’s not God’s way. According to Jesus the way to see the Father is by contemplating Jesus. You see Jesus, you see the Father.
But isn’t that like seeing a picture of the Grand Canyon instead of the Grand Canyon itself? Or maybe it’s like: Who is the true Beethoven, the one you could meet on the street or the one you can hear in his symphonies? So contemplating Jesus is the satisfactory way, in this life, of seeing God.
But there’s still a problem. Jesus can be just as far away as his Father is. He left us so long ago when he ascended into heaven. So that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, who came in Jesus’ place, and there is a promise in the belief that the Holy Spirit is just as much God in its own right as the Father and Son are in theirs. We can see God in the Holy Spirit. Right here and now. We can see God in the Holy Spirit, when we learn to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.
But the way it happens, since Pentecost, is that God no longer stands distinct from us but enters into us. God no longer speaks apart from us but speaks through our own voices. As at Pentecost. We see God in the community of God. In our various looks and colors and skins and sexualities and dialects and voices and our stories. In our suffering with God, and in our sense of glory.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is why God doesn’t talk to us today like God talked to people back in Bible times. Well, even in Bible times God didn’t say very much; if you add it all up you get just a few hours of talk, over four thousand years, which is about six seconds a year. You can’t say much in six seconds. Actually, God is much more talkative today, but in the mode of the Holy Spirit. Which means God talks through us, like how Beethoven talks through an orchestra. You cannot separate the sound of God from the sound of our voices, but together it is there.
Some things God has to say just once for all, that are lasting and stand firm, those words are in the Bible, the history of Israel and the story of Jesus and his apostles. But those same things God wants to pronounce in new ways and in new tones with new insights and applications and adaptations for different cultures and continents and languages, and that’s how God talks today, through us, through the community which is the church. That’s the point of the miracle of Pentecost. God is still speaking. God’s here after all.
Does that satisfy? Is that enough? Is that intimate enough? Is that direct enough? I think it is, but not when you stand there on your own, in all your pride and strength, as a critic in the fortress of your mind. From that standpoint you just can’t see God. But when you come in need of mercy, and in gratitude for mercy, and in gratitude for mercy every day, not only from the world—mercy from the trees and the birds and the ground you walk on, mercy from people who love you, your children, your spouse, your friends, but also mercy from God, when you look for mercy you can see God.
And then when you see God, you will want to praise God. Last Monday, at our elders meeting, we had our usual closing prayers, and we asked for God to bless our work, and bless our congregation, as usual, and then, unusually, one of our elders prayed this: “Because we want to praise you, God, and we praise you.” And I thought, Oh yes! that is our ultimate motivation, for doing church, for being Christians, for practicing mercy, in order to praise God.
That’s why you came here today, not only to be encouraged, inspired, and comforted, but to put yourself within the praise of God.
You know, that has to be our ultimate and most important motivation for the renovation of our sanctuary. No matter what else it offers in terms of mission and hospitality, we finally have to do it for the praise of God. Why are you doing all this work on the building? To praise God. Teaching Sunday School? To praise God. Why are you doing all this work for the Respite Shelter? To praise God. Praising God is recognizing God, and praising God is seeing God for who God is. When put yourself in the middle of praise, you get two things back, you get God, and you get yourself, and in that moment you are satisfied.
The story of Pentecost is a double one. There’s the big story, the global story, the story of God coming down into world history, the Holy Spirit recreating the world, of which the first-fruit is the church. The Holy Spirit is the Creator, the Lord and Giver of Life. There’s also the personal story, a more private story, of the Holy Spirit entering into your own heart. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Comforter. God’s love in your heart connects you to God’s love in the world, this love divine, all loves excelling.
So you respond in praise, as in Psalm 104: I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being. May these words of mine please God; I will rejoice in the Lord. Bless the Lord, O my soul, Hallelujah.
Copyright © 2016, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.