‘From Within the Center of our Being” (June 12, 2011)


detail of the Pentecost window, Westbrook chapel, Duke

Am I a God near by and not a God far off?”…. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23).

God posed a question through Jeremiah. Do you suppose that I am a God that is either in your pocket or so far away that I cannot see. A pet God on a leash or a Clock-winder God, omnipotent but unconcerned with the details? God seems to be saying through Jeremiah that he is both above and beyond all the unnumbered details, but also up close and involved. He can see the whole vistas of eternity and nations and yet focus on the microscopic.

It seems that we can find a way to marginalize God by making him such a part of our life that he is suppose to function as a genie to smooth out our problems or by making God so abstract that we can’t imagine how he could be interested in how we live.

Pentecost reminds us of God’s capacity to be radically present, because it describes that group of disciples “experiencing God.” God is still involved in our lives today in a similar way.

John 7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s inmost being shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Whoever is thirsty come to me.”

Remember the woman at the well. Jesus asked her for a drink of water. She put him off saying, “Do you know who I am? You a Jew asking me a Samaritan for a drink?”

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

John 4: 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Whoever thirsts. For what do we thirst? “As a deer panteth for the flowing streams, even so my soul thirsts for God.”

The other day I was wondering how my life would have been different if I had not believed there was a God. And a great sadness came over me. I imagined being in a different line of work. Perhaps I would have been a teacher. That would have been good. Maybe I would have still had a family, but it would have been different. It just seemed that the ceiling of meaning would not have been quite so high. My hopes would have been scaled back. When I looked at the stars, or considered life’s brevity, I might wonder about insignificance of life– but I would be missing that other part of the Psalm 8– Thou hast made humans a little lower than angels and crowned them with great responsibility.

Paul said that God made us in such a way that it is inevitable that we grope around like blind people trying to feel for him, even though he is close by all of us.

Thirst for meaning. Thirst for belonging. Thirst for truth. for significance.

Whoever thirsts- (who knows that her life has need that cannot be supplied except by a resource outside) let them come to me.

And coming to me let it be in trust. Let them entrust themselves to me. Let them enroll in my class and have confidence in my leadership. Go where I say go, do what I say do. And they shall find water of life bubbling up inside.

And they will find a life-source deep inside their soul, bubbling up from the very roots of who they are.”

I want to spend some time with that thought.

The thirst implies the need I have for something which is not part of me.

Humans can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, and only minutes without breath.

Jesus says I am the bread of life, whoever eats me will never die

Jesus says that trusting him we will receive the water of life.

Jesus came in upon the frightened disciples and breathed his very on breath into them that they might have the breath of God.

What we need from beyond, Jesus gives into the very center of our being.

God is a great mystery, but becomes real in our experience.

Maybe it is not too far fetched to say that one way of diagramming the Triune God is to say that God in all the beyondness is the object of obedience and wonder. We have record of his acts in the great movements of history, we read the word that he gave to prophets to speak in times of turmoil and danger, we apprehend something of his righteousness in the imperatives we feel about justice. God comes near in many ways, speaks in many ways. But to the extend that we know there is a distance between us and God, we speak of God as Father, creator.

It is easy for God in this sense to become the topic of debate and analysis and discussion. How did God create the world? What evidence or argument makes God plausible? How does God interact with historical forces or natural processes?

But God is always coming into things. Touching history to move it toward a different possibility. Exodus, promised land, exile and restoration. Ultimately coming in Jesus. God who comes into things is like a word spoken to us. What God says to us became flesh and dwelt in history in Jesus. Christians acknowledge that Jesus is the clue to God.

It is easy for God who is Jesus to become the topic of debate and historical research. Did he say this or that? What year did it happen? Can we know the place? What did he look like?

But today we celebrate that God comes not just among us but into our life. God comes so close as to be within us. We celebrate God the Spirit. And the Spirit is elusive, not surrendering to debate or research. The Spirit is known by experience.

God is simultaneously:

  • infinitely beyond,

  • in the center of history and matter,

  • and mysteriously experienced as Divine life in our life.

John V. Taylor, an English theologian and missionary, wrote one of the most amazing books I have read about the Holy Spirit. He titled it, The Go between God. And among the things he says is that when Scripture talks about the Spirit it always involves a sort of a plus mark.

It is through God the Spirit, he says, that God the Father is bound to God the Son. The Spirit makes the Father present to the Son at baptism. The Spirit pushes Jesus into the wilderness where he is tested and confirmed in his dependence on the Father.

Jesus reads for his first hometown sermon the Isaiah 61 passage “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound”

Just as the Spirit connects the Father and the Son, so the Spirit is God working in us to connect us to Jesus who then connects us to the Father. The Spirit, Jesus says, will give us strength and the Divine presence when we are facing difficulty:

Matthew 10: 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The Spirit comes along side us much as Jesus in becoming flesh dwelt with us.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

The Spirit takes up residence in us and has sealed us as God’s children “unto the day of redemption.”

Ephesians 1:13When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

The Spirit will teach us from within our memory and understanding.

John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

The Spirit searches our heart (Romans 8). The Spirit takes up our unfinished prayers when we do not know how to pray as we ought and completes them.

Romans 8: 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Though the Spirit becomes a seal on our hearts, we can try to muffle the Spirit; we by our un-Christlike ways can grieve the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

When Jesus liberates us from the power of sin and death, we have a choice of walking in the Spirit or falling back into old ways. It is still possible to try to live as if we are not God’s own child. But if we act as children it is by the power we receive from the Spirit, God in us.

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

When we pray for the Spirit we are praying to experience the reality and presence of God. To know God not as an idea, but as a loving personal presence in the very depths of our saved soul. We are asking for the power of God to transform us and liberate us in service.

The Spirit spills out and makes us a source of God’s presence to others because Christ is in us by the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus comes into the locked room Easter evening, he gives a threefold gift. He gives peace. The peace of knowing nothing can keep Jesus from us– our doors cannot shut him out, our sin are overcome by his mercy, and death has no more hold on the risen One.

Jesus gives life– He breathes his breath, the breath of God- into them. He breathes himself into them saying “Receive the Spirit”

And he gives them a mission “As I am sent, so send I you. To the same goal using the same methods, the same way of life, the same joy.

Luke tells it differently but the message is the same– something happened and God came to those who had trusted Jesus and they were filled with Christ’s love, peace, mission, and power to take up their life’s talents to the glory of God.

Our lived by the Spirit get taken up into the life of God

That doesn’t turn us into God or God into just part of us.

But there is an ecstatic blending possible. We ar in ourselves and in God simultaneously.

Speaking in tongues is not something I have ever done, nor a gift that I pray for. But It what I know about it suggests that it is about coming to a limit of what you can rationally say about God and then just stepping over that line so that what you say is really just a pouring out of soul’s deep feeling about God. It is where rational speech falls aside because it cannot hold the experience.

There is a music beyond music. A meaning beyond words. A love that is embraces without needing explanation, a power of connection just connects.

The moment when you see someone you love and your heart beats aster, and something deeper than joy, deeper than grief, swells up and you wordlessly embrace. Together you are more than just you and yet you never have been more you.

I remember seeing a woman in a fair long years ago astound a crowd by standing on a platform connected to a Van de Graaf generator, she picked up a flourescent bulb and it lit up between her hands.

Electricity the emcee said, had passed through her without harming her.

The Holy Spirit connects us to power of God which flows through us with a power that is not our own.

The go between God not only is the unity of the Father and the Son, and not only our way of experiencing unity with God the Father and God the Son.

The spirit also overcomes barriers between people of great differences.

There is nothing in the scriptures to suggest that God wants to wipe out differences. What God desires is that the differences become a symphony of mutually united creatures.

And so on Pentecost people of wildly different cultural backgrounds, traditions and languages are all able to hear the good news and miracle of miracles in their own language.

God wants to do something new in your life.

Broken Dreams

As children bring their broken toys

With tears for us to mend,

I brought my broken dreams to God,

Because He was my friend

But then instead of leaving Him

In peace to work alone,

I hung around and tried to help

With ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back again and cried

“How can you be so slow?”

“My child”, He said, “What could I do,

You never did let go.”

(Joan, The Entrance, NSW)

Trust your life to God and ask for his power, his life, his joy to spring out of the center of your deepest self blessing you and making you a gift.

COME, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,

and in our souls take up Thy rest;

come with Thy grace and heavenly aid

to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s