It’s interesting that in Romans Paul talks about finding peace and hope and grace, but then goes on to link it so strongly with suffering. We know that he speaks from experience when he says that suffering produces endurance and builds character. I guess that’s what we might expect him to say. Perhaps it’s more surprising to find that he thinks suffering and adversity also produce hope which prevents us from being disappointed when things go wrong. Instead he says that God’s love, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, makes suffering and danger bearable.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Romans 8.14-17, Acts 2.1-21
It’s interesting that Luke tells us so much about the fears dangers which the early Christians faced. He begins the story of how the first disciples responded to the resurrection by telling us that they were so frightened and demoralised that even when they were with Jesus they still felt doubtful and afraid. Yet Luke quickly follows that account with the transformative events of the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were suddenly emboldened and empowered.
If we look closely at the language he uses we will see that it was actually a very alarming experience. There are violent sounds which fill the house where the disciples are gathered, there’s a sense of light and heat, there’s bewilderment and perplexity as strange sounds come out of their mouths, and even when Peter tries to restore calm - with a reasoned explanation of what’s happening - he still says some pretty alarming things.
This is, he says, is the End Time predicted by the Prophet Joel. Peter warns of portents in the sky - blood and fire and smoky mist. That’s all you need in a crisis, isn’t it? Someone shouting that the end is nigh!
But, Joel’s End Time is only frightening if you’ve not been put right with God. If, on the other hand, you do have God’s Spirit with you, you can afford to laugh in the face of danger. And it will be a liberating time, especially for those whose voices are normally not heard so clearly - young people, women every bit as much as men, the elderly, even slaves will find that they have just as much chance of being blessed by God as anyone else. So this is not so much a frightening vision of the End Time, despite its graphic warning about the sun being eclipsed by a blood red moon; rather it’s an unsettling and challenging vision.
Are we ready, Peter seems to be saying, to be challenged and unsettled, to hear new voices speaking out on God’s behalf? And in Romans Chapter 8 Paul takes up this same idea of the Spirit liberating us from fear and making us all God’s children - set free from slavery to the doubts, pre-occupations and anxieties that normally hold us back. Are we ready, both as individuals and as a church community, to accept this starting level of freedom and empowerment? Are we ready to shake of fear and doubt and embrace challenge and change?
God’s Spirit is only waiting for us to say that we are ready to be made heirs of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, before giving us all the privileges and blessings enjoyed by God’s adopted children. But before we hurry to answer ‘Yes!’, we should note that there is - of course - a catch! The inheritance we receive as followers of Jesus is a share in the sufferings and dangers that he faced. So he inheritance offered by the Spirit is only for those who are ready to be risk-takers.
Receiving the gifts of the Spirit brings us back to the challenges which Justin Welby talked about. It’s about being open to radical new ways of living, risky and dangerous ways even, believing that the pressures and opportunities which will come as a result may give us just the push that we need to live as God’s children.