Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Pentecost?

That word, “Why”, is one of the most critical in human language. The other questions which give us learning, the Who, What, Where, When, and How of things instill in us knowledge, but Why instills in us wisdom. Many answers to the question of Why are not scientific answers: they cannot be measured, computed, nor easily duplicated by some scientific experiments. “Why’s” get to the heart of most matters: not “What” was done, but Why.

Sadly, I don’t think most men ask Why very often. Some don’t even think Why is important: It is What things are that seem important --- I can measure them; and see: That’s what they are. Why is a question which is often asked of God, Someone who many men now fail to ask, in part I think, because they fear the answer, or would like to believe that they mis-understood God’s answer because it is not something they would want. But here I am wandering (again) and I haven’t even got past the first word of my title, but this meditation is to be about Pentecost, and specifically: “Why Pentecost?”

I admit that until recently, I didn’t really have an answer to that question. Pentecost was one of those things I just accepted on faith. Oh, not the What of Pentecost, since the coming of the Holy Spirit was seen not only physically by the apostles, but also seen in their actions: these were changed men. I accepted the “What Happened” at Pentecost based on historical records, in the Scriptures and elsewhere. But the Why of Pentecost never made sense to me, and specifically Jesus’ words: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you (Jn 16:7). Why did Jesus have to go away? I never quite understood: Why. Until I read these words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on those confusing words:

After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. That was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit.

As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshipped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, “Abba, Father,” make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

The Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell.

With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage. Very true, then, was our Savior’s saying that it was to their advantage for him to return to heaven.

I have often written here and thought much on the reason for my life, the “Why” of my existence. In short, I exist to grow in holiness, so that I can become more like God, to become more as He intended me to be, so that I one day might be united with Him. I so often read Scriptures and think: “There! There is the example of Jesus which I should try to imitate. He is a man, and so am I, and I can imitate His actions.” And this is a true and worthy thing, but it is not the wisdom of the matter, for it is only the “What” of my actions: What I am to do, but not the Why. The Why of my actions is so that I might grow in holiness, and ultimately be united with Him in heaven.

The apostles saw Jesus as I see Him so often in Scripture. He is True God, and true man. But as long as the apostles saw Him as I do, true man, they were tempted to imitate Him on just an earthly plane. Without the Why, without holiness, they were committing to follow a man’s actions. Any man could follow Jesus’ actions and be acclaimed by other men as a very “good” person. And, in truth, there are many men who do this today, for exactly that reason: to be acclaimed by other men. But if we act Why Jesus did, honor by other men means nothing; that would not be Why we act. As men, we must choose to grow in holiness, and our actions are merely outward exhibits of our inward choice.

In truth, Jesus gave up His earthly life when He died. He stayed a while in His glorified earthly body to further instruct His followers, but He said He had to go, and the Spirit would come. It was the Spirit which would and SHOULD motivate them in the future, to grow beyond this earthly life, to grow in holiness, and to prepare for life eternal. Following Jesus as men was not good enough; they had to grow to follow Him as God, follow Him with the will of the Father guiding their lives. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you.

Jesus while still here as man freely gave up His earthly life, so that His heavenly life could come. It is imperative that we choose to do the same. Following the actions of the man, Jesus, is not enough; we must follow the actions of the God Jesus, and the Spirit comes to us to make that possible. Why Pentecost? To help us change our focus from earthly things to heavenly things.

Those who live according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, those who live according to the spirit, on those of the spirit. (Romans 8:5)

That makes sense to me.

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