1 May 2016
“I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the almighty and the lamb.” (Rev. 21:22)
In the name …
Last week Comcast offered free HBO to its subscribers with the hopes that once the free week was over people would be enticed to sign-up for the whole package. I’m too cheap for that, and really not all that interested in even more television. But with free HBO I did watch the movie The Theory of Everything. It’s the life story of Dr. Stephen Hawking. He’s a world renowned cosmologist. He’s the man in the wheelchair with the synthesized voice, and he’s so famous that he’s even made guest appearances on the Big Bang Theory as one of Sheldon’s heroes. When he was a graduate student at Cambridge University in England, the professor handed out to a small table of students ten math questions. From what I garner from the movie, when you get to this level of education and genius, the questions shared are not even completely understood by the professor sharing them. The professor is looking for previously unnoticed insights into how to try and solve these problems, not necessarily the actual answers themselves. It’s the process and the potential that’s important.
This is what we spent an hour talking about this past week at Bible study group, this idea of moving forward in the faith, of spiritual progress, of God calling us forward toward some as yet undefined goal. This idea is not at the fringe of our faith. It is foundational. So much so that it even applies to Jesus Himself, as strange as this may sound. In one of the more difficult statements found in the New Testament, John’s Jesus says, “‘… the Father is greater than I.’” (14:28) When you run across a statement that is this controversial, and it has been almost since the time it was written, that means it’s purpose is even more important than its controversy. The statement implies that Jesus continues to progress toward the Father as He works through the mission and ministry of His life on earth. Progress and spiritual movement are so entwined with faith that they’re even found in Jesus of Nazareth.
In this same passage, Jesus then reveals that once He ascends and returns to the Father in heaven, spiritual development will continue through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit among believers and within each believer. Only John calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate. He’s emphasizing the Spirit’s role as our continual teacher and supporter. In today’s reading we hear that the Spirit will forever “remind” the faithful of Jesus’ gospel. (14:26) But Jesus will go still further when He says, “‘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.’” (16:12-13) In other words, revelation continues always as we are prepared to receive it. Moving forward, spiritual development is at the heart of our faith. We are always being called by God to come closer to the goal that only He knows.
Think about Stephen Hawking and his genius as he sat down to answer those math questions, questions that even his professor did not completely grasp. It was Hawking’s intelligence, but more importantly his insight that impressed the professor, not so much his answers but his method. Is there a similarity between this story and ours as people of faith? Have we forgotten or downplayed our calling to be challenged by what we believe? Isn’t that why Jesus leaves us with the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the presence of God who leads us forward when we prove ready? In the New Testament faith was more like a verb. It was a persistent attachment to Christ; it was the act of holding on and following where He led. Nowadays we more often think of faith as “the faith,” as a series of catechism questions we learn and give our assent to. Faith in this sense comes down to basically agreeing with somebody else’s answers. Faith in the New Testament sense is to follow wherever Christ and the Spirit still lead. Isn’t it more exciting to think about faith as where we’re supposed to go instead of only memorizing where others have already been? Maybe when we start to emphasize more seriously the journey, the progression of faith, we can bring back more of that old excitement of faith.
This doesn’t deny the past and it doesn’t downplay where we are in the present. A forward-looking faith builds on all of this. Think back to this morning’s reading from the Book of Revelation. The prophet sees a vision of a new Jerusalem coming down from the heavens. This spectacular city of God is marked by twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of Israel and also twelve foundations inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles. The past is not forgotten; the past is built upon. But then the prophet adds a new detail. Earlier in his story there was a temple in this heavenly Jerusalem (11:19), but when the city of God comes down to earth for us to dwell in, all of a sudden the temple disappears. And this difference is explained in the words of the prophet: “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the almighty and the lamb.”
This church-building is the holy place where we come together as the people of God to feel the nearness of God, to put aside the noise and the distractions of our ordinary days and experiences, but the prophet’s vision of where we are going to is that no such separated place will be necessary because God will be everywhere present among us. The entirety of our world will be the new temple of God. That’s not where we are, but that’s part of what the prophet says we’re working toward: God every-where in our world, everywhere in our lives. There’s still a long way to go to reach that new Jerusalem, but instead of being overwhelmed by that fact, we are supposed to be challenged by it. Hawking was excited by the prospect of discovery, of not yet knowing something, and tantalized by the prospect of coming up with the answer. Maybe we can learn something from him about faith, about the journey, the challenge and the hope of spiritual discovery. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit as our Advocate. Let’s use Him as such. Let’s continue to follow where God leads. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo