Saturday, June 03, 2017
June 4, Pentecost: Believing Is Receiving
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23 and 7:37-39
Let me tell you what we’re doing here today. We are receiving. We are receiving gifts, and the gifts are persons. In a few minutes we will be recognizing persons and their gifts—the particular gifts that each person brings and the peculiar gift that each person is. Sunday School children and catechumens are gifts to us just by being here. We receive them, we believe in them, and we celebrate them.
The opposite of “gifts are being received” is “casualties are being counted.” That’s the phrase I heard on Wednesday Morning on WNYC just after I had written those opening lines about receiving gifts. Casualties are being counted in Kabul. More than 80 dead. By Thursday it was 140. Casualties – a strange term, a casual term, suggesting how casual we are with death and violence, that we receive it and accept it and even celebrate it in America.
I don’t mean to rain on our parade. I bring up the contrast lest we too casually celebrate today: a charming recognition of our Sunday School students, a pleasing receiving of our catechumens. I invite you to believe it’s more than that. Our numbers are small compared to the casualties, and what we do is small compared to bombs and foreign policies, smaller than a mustard seed, but Our Lord told us the kingdom of heaven would be like this, so small as mustard seeds. I invite you to see the kingdom of heaven in the gifts of the children and the catechumens.
We have come to celebrate the first-fruits. Like in our first reading, all “the devout Jews from every nation under heaven” who gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, Shavuoth, the feast of the first-fruits. To the temple they brought their gifts of early grain (for us it would be asparagus and fiddle-heads), the earnest of the greater harvest still to come.
Our Sunday School children are first-fruits manifestly, their lives still before them, with richer gifts to come, gifts we can just begin to see in them, beginning to unfold and then bear greater fruit. Our catechumens are offering first-fruits today, their estimations of their several callings, their individual vocations, their personal missions. O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom you have made them all.
So we’re doing some believing here, our receiving is believing. Believing is a rich and complex thing that we do. Let me take a moment to review this sermon series on believing. Back in Lent, with Nicodemus, I said that believing is rebirth. Then with the woman at the well I said believing is drinking. With the raising of Lazarus I said believing is disturbing, and with doubting Thomas, believing is not seeing. With the walk to Emmaus, believing is welcoming, then with the epistle of Peter, that believing is suffering-in-action, and last from the talk of Jesus with his disciples, that believing is living-on-the-boundary. Today I’m saying that believing is receiving.
We expect to think of believing as more like achieving, like achieving certainty, certainty versus doubt, or certainty versus confusion. Of course there is some achieving in belief, but achieving belief tends towards ideology and superiority, and judging others who don’t believe as you do. On the other hand, believing as receiving sounds passive and submissive.
But not if it’s also living-on-the-boundary and suffering-in-action and welcoming and disturbing. Not if it’s drinking, and breathing, and receiving the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit inside you who is doing the believing, and who by doing that is giving life to your soul and your body. It is the Holy Spirit mixing it up with your own soul who energizes your soul to believe.
What do you receive when you believe? You receive a story about God in the world, that God so loves the world. This story conflicts with other stories that you know, or is in tension with them, but it also makes sense of other stories you’ve been living with. When you receive this story as the larger epic in which to insert the story of your own life, you are believing it.
You receive the forgiveness of sins. You receive the power to forgive sins. Forgiving sins is a small and active miracle. Retaining sins is easy, it is no trick. But to forgive sins requires believing in a future that has no proof, an outcome still at risk, a result hoped-for, not gained. Forgiving sins takes believing in miracles. You do it for others when you believe that you yourself are the receptor of this miracle, that you recognize that you yourself are being forgiven, that you are receiving the forgiveness of sins and passing it along. And when you forgive someone, you receive the power of that forgiveness back on you as the power of new life and joy in you.
You receive the story, you receive the miracle of forgiveness, and more than that, you receive God in you. You receive the presence of God in your life, not just out there alongside but inside you—that’s the audacious Christian claim.
You receive the Holy Spirit, who is not just one-third of God but fully God, mostly deeply God, the soul of God, God’s inner flame, the self of the Father and the soul of the Son, resting upon you. This Christian claim strikes me as more extravagant than walking on water. If we consider our humdrum ordinary lives, to claim that we are inhabited by this great God seems either preposterous or meaningless.
We’ve been conditioned by pentecostalism and evangelicalism to think of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit individualistically. But in the Bible and in historical theology it is always more communal. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not for myself alone, but only as I am in fellowship with you. Think of the Creed, how as soon as we say we believe in the Holy Spirit we move right on to the church and the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins.
It is our fellowship and our sharing that God inhabits. Of course! Because the fire inside the Holy Spirit is the flame of love, and love seeks always the other. The Holy Spirit dwells in us as we are members of one body, sharing our gifts for the common good. You receive the Holy Spirit personally insofar as you are in community, and in community for the redemption of the world. For the casualties.
So your believing moves from receiving to becoming. Believing is becoming. Like water becoming wine. You have heard it said that your body is mostly water. So Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to water within you, living water, pure water. But when Jesus turns the water into wine, there is no such thing as pure wine. Every wine is a different mixture, from its own variety of grape and its particular soil. I’m saying that the pure water of the Holy Spirit within you becomes the particular varietal of your peculiar life. In the slow fermentation of your believing the purity of the Spirit becomes the manifold diversity of all your lives.
Today we have new wine, in the children whom we celebrate. The catechumens have been aging for a while, and we receive them too. We share the same cup, we breathe each other’s air, we receive each other and we become the communion of saints, the Holy Catholic Church, the habitation of the Holy Spirit. We believe what God loves in us, and we become the love of God.
Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.