Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

- I Cor. 12:3

We must consider two venues when we think of this basic confession of Christian Faith.

  1. Confessing Jesus as the Lord within the Church:

We make this very confession in this specific portion of the Creed:

“…Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man…”

The Jewish people had once known the ineffable Name of God which is represented by four Hebrew letters that correspond to our Latin alphabet with the letters YHVH (יהוה). This is the Name that is in the original Hebrew text every time that you find the word LORD rendered with every letter in the higher case, in the KJV and other English translations that follow ancient Jewish and Christian tradition. The prophet Jeremiah had said that, upon their return from Babylon, this Name would no longer be pronounced by any man of Judah. The tradition of the Jewish people was to use the word Adonai whenever reading the Holy Name of God out loud in scripture, that name YHVH. The Hebrew word Adonai, which means “the Lord,” would be substituted by a Jewish reader, and this remains the standard Jewish practice to this very day. The First century Christians who relied on the Greek translation called the Septuagint (generally rendered LXX in books) were accustomed to finding this Name of God translated as Kyrios (Κύριος), the Greek word for “Lord.” So, when we say that Jesus is the Lord, we are saying that this man who walked the earth, lived, died and rose again is Himself to be identified with the God of Israel who made heaven and earth. We are saying that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We are confessing the Incarnation. On that day when the Apostle Peter said to Jesus, “thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the Lord answered him, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father in heaven.” If you know, and can say with all your heart, that Jesus is the Lord, you are saying that He is one with the Father. You are saying, therefore, that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” You are saying that God the Son has taken human nature into His Divine Person, our created nature into his uncreated Being. You are saying that He has assumed what is alien to Him, our humanity, as the One who is wholly other from every created thing, to forever transform human nature by making us partakers of the Divine Nature, as is written by the Apostle Peter (II Peter 1:4). This is why you cannot say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost. Oh, someone can say the words, perhaps, without conviction. But, to speak of the Incarnation with faith, you must have the Holy Spirit within you making Christ known to you, the blessed revelation that was given to St. Peter: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He and the Father are One.

  1. Confessing Jesus as the Lord before the world.

This is more difficult. To the ears of a Roman Magistrate such a confession was a crime punishable by death. The Empire had one Lord (Κύριος), and that was Caesar. Furthermore, Christians were taught to obey and honor all earthly authorities (Romans 13:1f), including Caesar, but (and here is the rub) only as far as the informed Christian conscience allows. The Church was taught to obey and honor his title, but not his ultimate title, his claim to total authority over the human conscience as formed by the word of God. Caesar was believed to be the lord and god of his empire, and for a Christian to avoid the sentence of death, once charged with the crime of Christianity, he had to renounce Jesus (apparently, calling Him accursed in the region around Corinth), and then make an offering of incense to the image of Caesar, as the image of the lord and god of the whole world. It is implied by Saint Paul’s words, in this Epistle, that certain lapsed believers sought to be allowed back quickly into the fellowship of the Church by claiming that the Holy Spirit had guided them to renounce Jesus in this manner, and save their lives. Saint Paul addresses this by teaching that such a notion is impossible, not setting aside the possibility of forgiveness, but firmly correcting an unacceptable excuse and wrong idea.

Here in the modern Western world we cannot identify easily with the ancient Christians, who at any moment could face denunciation to the authorities, or even have their gatherings raided. However, in other lands Christians live with the power of a tyrannical state, that Beast from the Book of Revelation that has suffered a mortal wound and yet lingers on in the world before its inevitable death, the power of the state demanding to be acknowledged as lord and god by trampling the human conscience. The twentieth century saw more martyrs than all previous centuries combined, and we see no change in the world even now except for the fall of one state, the Soviet Union. How poor an excuse it is, therefore, if under a threat no more serious than social pressure, we who live in freedom fail to live up to the dictates of an informed conscience, failing to declare by word and deed that Jesus is the Lord.

Of course, it is also true that human pride is given no room by the courageous examples of the martyrs; for Saint Paul tells us that if we are faced with death it is only by the Holy Spirit that we have the power to confess that Jesus is the Lord. C.S. Lewis once wrote: Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” And, this virtue requires the Holy Spirit giving us grace to say, “Jesus is the Lord.”

Knowing Christ and making Him known has everything to do with the Epistle reading we have heard, as well as with the Gospel for today. It is, in fact, what binds them together, what makes both passages connect with each other. The Old Testament phrases, “the things that belong to your peace” and “the day of your visitation” are full of rich meaning in light of the greater glory revealed in Christ. The Epistle for today is speaking of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that reside in the Body of Christ, the Church; and the Gospel for today is speaking about “the day of visitation” in which God’s presence in the earth requires a response of repentance, of faith and obedience from every human being. Remember that Christ said to His Apostles, in the same night in which He was betrayed and about to go to the cross, that when the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will come, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. It is through you, the Body of Christ His Church, that the Holy Spirit is active in the world (John 16:7-11).

You can say, with genuine conviction, that “Jesus is the Lord.” Upon your Confirmation through apostolic hands, the Holy Spirit came upon you and into you with gifts beyond your understanding. Whenever Saint Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as he does in this Epistle reading, the list is different. He gives a list in Romans chapter 12, and in Ephesians chapter 4, and so on. Each list differs from the others. But, they all draw from the list given by the prophet Isaiah, falling into one of the categories from the 11th chapter of the prophet’s book. In that chapter Isaiah writes of “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” And, within these seven categories are endless gifts, each supernatural, each a grace in itself, each something that is both alive and beyond human power. These are the gifts given to you, the Body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is in you, and His gifts are so many and varied that often you may be unaware of His working through you. This is where the ministry of the clergy is not, emphatically not, meant as a substitute for the rest of the Body of Christ in a given time and place. Rather, it is partly for your edification, the fine-tuning and cultivation and organizing of the gifts that already have been placed within you, that God establishes the ordained ministry within his holy Church. You do not get off the hook, you are not being put out of a job, and you do not get to retire and put your feet up, just because you have deacons, priests and a bishop. Most true believers, of course, do not want to retire from our shared mission.

All of the Old Testament language in today’s Gospel, about the things that make for your peace, about the day of visitation, speaks about Christ sending His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to be a living presence and witness in the earth through His Church. That is, you, the Body of Christ in a specific time and place. You can say that Jesus is the Lord with all your heart. And, you have gifts that you have not even imagined, gifts which already are in you that may become discovered, strengthened and even perfected. For this is the time of visitation, when the things that make for their peace, peace with God, must be proclaimed and presented to those yet dead in trespasses and sins, and to those failing and faltering in their faith. We all have our work cut out for us; it is only for us to discover and fine-tune the gifts of the Holy Spirit so as to put them to use.

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