St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Monday, May 20, 2013
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Weekly Bible Study
Preparing for Sunday, May 19, 2013 | The Day of Pentecost
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Background and general observations
Is it irony, grace, or both, that the only Sunday in the church year set aside to celebrate a church doctrine, Trinity Sunday, follows the major feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of timid disciples into emboldened leaders? Some might say that the day on which we celebrate disciples speaking in many different tongues and appearing to bystanders to be drunk at mid-day stands in sharp contrast to a day on which we celebrate the carefully crafted and sober doctrine of the Trinity. Of course, the Trinity is not so much the object of faith, as it is the explication of faith. The experience of God is ineffable and multifaceted. We hardly know what to say, but we feel compelled to say something. The doctrine of the Trinity is the central dogma of Christianity that, among other things, gave words and concepts for people in the second, third and fourth centuries to use in talking about something that strained the limits of language.
Throughout the centuries during which the Doctrine of the Trinity was being developed, numerous “Trinitarian” ideas were taught that were ultimately deemed to be heretical or unorthodox. Even after Trinitarian teaching was codified by the Council of Nicaea, many devout followers of “The Way” of Jesus held contrary ideas about the nature of God, and very often they paid for having these different ideas with their life. One cannot help but wonder, “What does it mean to obey Jesus’ commandment to ‘love one another’ when the person we are supposed to love has an idea or belief about the nature of God that is contrary to the official position?” Throughout much of Christian history, church officials have handled such dissenting beliefs by putting the errant believer to death. For many of us today, it is hard to see such executions as the Way of Jesus.
This brings us to the Scripture appointed for Trinity Sunday this year. “I still have many things to say to you,” Jesus tells his disciples before he leaves them, “but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth….” Christians came to believe that God the Son proceeds from God the Father, and that God the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father [and the Son]. In other words, the Spirit will continue to lead the disciples (will continue to lead us) in the same Way that Jesus has revealed to us. There is much more to this Way than Jesus can speak during his earthly ministry. This lesson invites us to ponder how the Holy Spirit continues to “teach” us and to “lead” us. And the appointment of this lesson on Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday set aside to celebrate an official doctrine of the church, might cause some to wonder if the role of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into more precise doctrines and dogmas, more precise words for ineffable truths; or, is the role of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a Way of Life and a way of being in community with one another that exemplifies the Way of Jesus?
1. The community out of which John’s Gospel arose could not possibly fathom many of the cultural, historical, and technological developments that have taken place over the last two thousand years. (Frankly, I could not have imagined so many developments over the past 25 years! Internet? iPad? Skype?...)
Some have sensed that the Holy Spirit has led Christians deeper into truth by abolishing biblically-sanctioned institutions such as slavery and the subjugation of women. Girls are now able to serve as acolytes in the Episcopal Church, and women can now serve on vestries. Women in the United States can now be ordained, and we even have a female Presiding Bishop now.
However, other Christians find the above contrary to God the Holy Spirit. Many other issues face Christians: stem cell research, artificial prolonging of life, homosexuality, religious pluralism…. How do you discern what is of the Holy Spirit and what is not? Is there a “litmus test” for good theology?
How can a community tell when it is being guided by the Holy Spirit vs. when it is being caught up in very human “group think”?
2. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Most parents can identify with Jesus’ dilemma: they wish they could tell their children more, but they know that their children will not understand certain things yet. Teachers know the same about their students.
Look back over the course of your life. What are some of the things the Holy Spirit has had to teach you over time, things that you simply were not able to bear when you were younger?
As you ponder how you’ve changed (or been led into deeper truth), how does that affect how you view your future?
3. How do you believe the Holy Spirit continues to lead people into truth? When have you sensed yourself being drawn more deeply into the mystery of God and your relationship with God?
Does the Holy Spirit use worship, music, sermons, Christian fellowship?
Does the Holy Spirit work through our relationships with the poor and marginalized, through our marriages and relationships with our children?
Does the Holy Spirit speak through art, poetry, novels and other fine arts?
How do you experience the Holy Spirit coming through to you most powerfully in your daily life?
4. What are some of the signs of a community that has been drawn or led by the Holy Spirit more deeply into all the truth?
What are some of the signs that the Holy Spirit has led a friendship or a marriage or a relationship with a child into all truth?
5. Not long ago, when I was going through a particularly stressful time, a couple of friends of mine who are contemplative missionaries overseas, and who knew something of my stress, called me to tell me that they were praying for me. Specifically, they said that they were placing me in the midst of the Rublev Trinity, one of the most famous of all Christian icons. The Rublev Trinity depicts the story of the three strangers who visited Abraham and Sarah. The three strangers are sometimes referred to as angels (“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2), and Rublev depicts them as the three persons of the Trinity.
My missionary friends pointed out that there was a space at the table with the three angelic visitors (or the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and when my friends were praying, they were placing me in their midst. I was enveloped in the loving embrace of God, they told me. Rest there.
Consider spending some time with this ancient icon. Ponder how there is a place for you at the table. Place yourself in the midst of this self-giving community of persons, this communion. And consider placing someone you love in this circle of love.
This way of praying is sometimes called “holy gazing.” You do not have to think of anything to say; you can simply be still and rest in the moment, as you feel yourself drawn into this holy space, through this icon or window into eternity.
What is your experience of this way of praying?
Image: The Trinity by Andrei Rublev
Study guides for the Spring Covenant Period
Pentecost, Year C
Study guides for the Winter Covenant Period
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