Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Easter

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

It is today the twenty-second of May and, to the best of our knowledge, the rapture of God's saints which a preacher had predicted to have been foretold, in complex and obscure numerological codes in the Scriptures, to have occurred on the twenty-first of May did not happen. I have no doubt that, while some who believed this prediction will be disillusioned, many will find a way to account for the failure of the rapture to occur. Perhaps, as the same preacher said after his previous failed prediction of the rapture to have occurred in 1994, he miscalculated the numbers. Perhaps, as with Nineveh's conversion at the preaching of Jonah, God withheld his coming wrath for a while longer, to give a wayward world more time to repent. There will no doubt by a litany of reasons available to those who were led astray by this preacher, and they will likely prove impervious to criticism or to doubt.

To much of the unbelieving world, this predicted rapture of God's saints was not an example of a peculiar aberration of Christian belief. It was not and will not be seen to show that one cannot just make the faith to be whatever we want it to be. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Christians past and present have never accepted that the "rapture" of which the preacher spoke is even part of God's revelation will not sway them. Rather, they are likely to see in this small group of Christians the very paradigm of what religious faith is like, namely, belief without any rational grounds in something fundamentally unreal, which belief is so irrational that it resists even the most evident proof of its falsity.

Now, the desire for a more empirically certain revelation, of a technique which admits to number crunching and demonstrable evidence even for the unbeliever, is a tempting one. Many Christians might find themselves wishing that perhaps, in his Scriptures and in his Incarnation, God might have been a tad more undeniable by the world. However much we may understand this desire, we must nonetheless reject it. After all, we affirm with St James that every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. We have received, in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, suffered, buried, and risen from the dead, not simply a signpost to a higher truth, but the very truth of God himself. More than that, in his merciful coming among us, dying for our sake, and rising from the dead, we who have been chosen in his grace and receive him in faith are not left untouched. We are rather begotten anew by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of His creature.

There, then, is the rub, the point at which we chafe and struggle. While we want to assert our own maturity, our own sophistication, our own depth of understanding, God, who will one day bring us to the fulness of life, has for now made of us only a beginning of what lies in store for us. As Christ told his apostles at the Last Supper, I have yet many things to say to you; but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth. Dead to sin, casting away all uncleanness and abundance of naughtiness in the death of baptism, and rising up from that watery tomb as born again from a womb to new and eternal life, we are, even those who have lived decades, a whole lifetime in the faith on earth, only experiencing the beginning of what God plans to make of us. The Spirit will, in his grace, make us conformed one day to the image of the Son, of Jesus Christ in his glory, but now is the time for us to be formed, day by day, year by year.

This, then, is the attitude of the Christian, that we be swift to hear but slow to speak and slow to anger. That we wait on the voice of the Spirit to us, not as though awaiting a new and clearer revelation, something that has not already been made known in Christ Jesus, but that we, made more conformed to him by the Spirit, may come to grow in knowledge and love, and what Christ has done will be for us less opaque, less distant, more gloriously apparent: For He shall not speak of Himself: but what things soever He shall hear he shall speak, and the things that are to come, He shall show you. To be a Christian, to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, is to enter into a lifetime of listening, to follow the Spirit's lead, hearing from the Spirit even as the Spirit listens to the Son and the Son to the Father. It is in our receptivity to the gift and knowledge that God wishes to impart, with the clarity and assurance that God wants to give, not in our assertion to unpack and decode hidden and arcane secrets from the Scriptures, that we will be made ready for the glorious return of the Lord.

With meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

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