Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pentecost Sunday, Shaftesbury

I think that most of us know the feeling of having tried to do something that is beyond our ability. There are some things that are only beyond our ability at the moment, so that the first time I tried to ride a bicycle it was beyond my ability, and I fell down. But that's the kind of thing, the kind of inability, that we can overcome -we can acquire an ability we don't yet have. But there are some things that are simply beyond our power, full stop. For example, I am unable to fly, and it doesn't matter how hard I practice flapping my arms I will never be able to fly -it is simply beyond human ability.

Today, on Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit. And it is His role to enable us to do what we are unable to do without Him. And there are two ways we can think of this: here on earth; and in heaven.

Here on earth, there are many things that we should be able to do, but we are unable to do because of our fallen human nature -because we have inherited original sin, and are inclined to sin. So, patience should be something that comes naturally to us, to me. I should be able to have my eyes set on goal before me, and happily and lovingly and patiently endure whatever it takes to get there. But, in my fallen human nature, patience does not come easily to me, I do not happily endure things. However, this is only beyond my ability at the moment: with the Holy Spirit, I can gradually acquire this ability. The Holy Spirit is rightly called "another helper" by the Lord Jesus. And He is also called "the sanctifier” because He is the one who makes us holy. And this is how the Holy Spirit helps us here on earth.

What about in heaven? Well, it may not have occurred to you, or maybe it has occurred to you: but even if we get to heaven there is at least one thing that we will be unable to do: we will be unable to comprehend God, and thus unable to adequately love Him. Even in heaven, our intellects will be small and limited, while God is infinite, and we cannot comprehend Him. Only God can adequately comprehend God. Only God can adequately love God.
What we NEED if we are to know God as He knows Himself is to actually have God Himself dwelling IN us, and this “indwelling” is the role appropriated to the Holy Spirit: His dwelling in us causes us to exceed our natural capacities:
In Heaven, the role of ‘idea’ we will have of God is the role appropriated to the Son, the “Word” of God (Jn 1:1), the “image” of the Father (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).
But the role of loving, of ‘love’ personified, is another of the roles appropriated to the Holy Spirit.
So, even in heaven, we will need the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” to help us do what we cannot do alone.

To say that differently: Those of you who remember the old Penny Catechism will remember that you were taught as a child that the reason we were created is "to know Him and love Him". What you were almost certainly not taught as a child was that you were and are inherently unable to do the thing that you were created to do! This is what theologians mean when they talk about our "supernatural" calling -we are called to do something beyond our ability, beyond our nature, something SUPER-natural. We are called to do what we can only do with the help of the Holy Spirit. This will apply in heaven, and it applies here on Earth. And our need for the Holy Spirit in heaven is the model of our need for Him here on Earth.

In heaven, we will know God by seeing Him in what is called the Beatific Vision, but we will only become able to see this immense vision by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. Similarly, on earth, I know God, but not by my own power: I know God through faith, faith which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And knowing God in faith, knowing God by that response of to His self-revelation in Christ Jesus, I am now able to love Him.
All of this is worth knowing because it is a model of how we need to Holy Spirit in ALL kinds of things.

So how should I feel when I realise that I am unable to do something? How should I feel when I realise I am unable to do something that I know I need to do? If I believe in the Holy Spirit, then I should not feel despair. Rather, each time I have this realisation, I should recognise that this is just another example of the fact that I'm called to BE something that is beyond my power and had to DO something that is beyond my power. But by the gift of Him, the Holy Spirit, I am able to do what alone I cannot do.

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