Friday, May 20, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Easter

James 1:17-21 * John 16:5-14

“EVERY good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” writes Saint James in today’s Epistle. 

These words are more than a profoundly beautiful piece of prose; these words speak of the unchanging and unchangeable will of God. In God is no variableness, and not only no turning, but not even a shadow of it. “God is not a man that he should lie, neither a son of man that he should repent.” God wills, God speaks and He acts. But never does He react. The revelation that God has given of Himself in scripture has been given through language that can speak to the human mind, and as such that language is inherently iconographic. The limitations of the human mind cannot comprehend God, and so we are given words about God that must come short of a full description. We read of Divine mercy, or we read of Divine wrath, and we picture these things in human terms; we imagine how the mercy or wrath of men comes across. Such things come across as emotion, as reactions which must, by their nature, be both variableness and a shadow of turning. For that is how we experience such things.                                   
But where man comes closest to God, and where His image is most clearly perceived in the very nature of what we are, is the highest of the virtues, namely charity. This is that love that never fails, that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. With or without the element of reaction, always with the constancy of feeling but never dependent on the whims of emotion, this love motivates us to labor for the people most dependent on our untiring efforts. Even anger does not erase this love, because it is deeper than any passing emotion. Saint John told us that “God is Love.” So, the words “no variableness neither shadow of turning” naturally move into the next phrase in today’s Epistle of James: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” The love of God for us, the love of the Father that begat us, never depended on how He felt at the time, how He reacted, on whim, fancy or any changeable thing.
......That God is Impassible, not subject to the changes and reactions of emotion, is the guarantee of our sure and certain hope. His will for us runs deeper; it is the true Love itself; love that takes human nature into the Godhead, so that Jesus Christ is that one Person both fully God and fully man, who suffers and dies for our sins. The old problem of whether or not God could have suffered on the cross is answered for us by saying that Jesus Christ suffered for us, and that He did so as One Person in two complete natures. And, in that depth that is love, stronger because it is deeper and higher, beneath and above all we know of mere emotion with its changing whims and reaction, we see the will of God carried out. In Christ we die to sin, and in Christ we rise to new life, born again because we are begotten from above by the Word of Truth.        
The will of God is not capricious. For a mere human being, the will is subject to what side of bed he rises from in the morning. God’s will, however, does not change, unlike the unstable will of a man who, upon getting bored, undergoes a change of tastes; or who, upon being taken by emotion at a given moment, changes his mind. In the news a few years ago, I heard of a family suing some well-known sex symbol celebrity, because a rich man had married her and had rewritten his will. If I heard it correctly, the rightful heirs, that is, the children, were left desolate because the rich man had, in what passion he could muster or in what vanity had taken him, married a woman several decades his junior; and his children no longer could expect his promise, which was the expectation of their rightful inheritance.                        
Unstable behavior takes place among sinful men; but our Father in heaven cannot be moved to forget us. He will not break His promise. We are in Christ; we are never forgotten. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: 

“But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” -Isa. 49: 14-16

Understand that when we speak of Divine mercy or of Divine wrath, we are not speaking of some reaction in God. God remains constant. Whether we experience mercy or wrath depends upon where we decide to stand, what side of that unmovable line he has laid down in His commandments. His love for us will not be satisfied, however, with our laxity. He demands that we grow in holiness and virtue because that is part of His will for us in Christ. He knows what he wants to make of us, the kind of people we are meant to be. Whatever Hell is, that place of darkness and the loss of all hope, about which our Lord Jesus Christ warned us many times over, it is not a place we might enter due to God’s reactions. It is a place we may enter by choosing to stand on the wrong side of His love, the side where we shut out His will for us in favor of any wilful sin. God does not change, and so, if we refuse to turn from our sins, we will be lost. For God cannot compromise: it is against His very nature. God does not negotiate or bargain. He does, however, forgive when we turn to Him.     
In today’s Gospel we see that Jesus said, about the coming of the Holy Ghost- that event we will remember shortly on Pentecost:

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”       

Look at these things closely. The world remains in sin because it refuses to believe in Jesus Christ. This is put in very personal terms. The choice to be given over to sin and death is the refusal to believe in this one Man: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Why? Because, He alone is the remedy for sin and death. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)                       
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness by Christ’s ascension into Heaven. He must sit on the throne of God with the Father; as long as the world is fallen and sinful, His presence here as the Incarnate God was extraordinary, something that the world could not long endure. Until the world is made new by His coming, His presence remains hidden and mysterious. His ascension to the throne of His Father vindicates His righteousness, even though the world treated Him as a sinner and a criminal.       
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. The cross appeared to be the condemnation of Jesus; but it turned out instead to be the condemnation of the whole order of sin and death. Christ bore the wrath of God, and this was in fact the mercy of God at work. The one who was cast out and defeated was the Devil, the serpent’s head bruised when the Man, the Seed of the Woman – the Son of  the Virgin, suffered a bruise to His heel (Gen 3:15, John 19:26). The entire system of sin and death was judged. The prince of this world was cast out. Now, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that its evil ruler, the prince of darkness, has been condemned.       
How does the Holy Spirit convict the world? He works through the Church. So the Lord continues, in today’s Gospel, with these words: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” Indeed He has guided the Apostolic Church into all truth.      
It began with the writing of the New Testament, by bringing to mind after His resurrection and ascension the words of Jesus, including His words they could not hear before He had risen again and sent the Holy Spirit. It began with the teaching we find in the four Gospels, and in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, in Epistles by the Apostles, Saints Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude. His guidance took hold as they understood what Jesus had done in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. And, the same Holy Spirit remained in the Church throughout long early years of persecution; He was still with the Church when she emerged from persecution in 313 AD. He was with the successors of the Apostles who met in Ecumenical Council during the first millennium, giving them grace to remain faithful to the Word of God for all people for all time.       
This ministry of the Church, to speak with the voice of the Holy Spirit to the world, is the will of the Father who has begotten us to new life in the Person of His Son, Who guides and empowers us by His Holy Spirit, sending down every good gift and every perfect gift. In Him is no variableness neither shadow of turning.

No comments: