First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost

William Loader

Pentecost:  15 May  Romans 8:14-17

Paul has just gone to great lengths to explain that the only way to release human beings from the dreadful condition of moral paralysis where they affirm what is good but don't do it (Romans 7:6-25) is to hear the liberating news that God meets us with generosity and grace (8:1-4). That generosity sets aside condemnation and offers forgiveness and a new relationship (8:1-2), which in turn frees us to be what we were made to be and do what the Law rightly demands but also much more than that (8:3-4). Elsewhere Paul talks of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), at the head of which is love. When the Spirit is able to flow into and through our lives we will end up doing far more than what the Law stipulates as good. On its own the ideals of the Law just makes us feel inadequate, but when we see the being of God as generous love rather than standover demand, then we become able to live and to love as never before.

Having made this point in Romans 7 and in 8:1-4, Paul proceeds in 8:5-11 to describe the life which lives from the love which the Spirit brings and reproduces through us as the essence of Christian living. It is also the meaning of sharing the resurrection life of Christ and gives us also hope for the future (8:11). The alternative is to close ourselves off from this opportunity for dynamic living and to choose death, the so-called life "according to the flesh", that is, according to human constructs of meaning and purpose which leave out God and love. The fact that Paul has to emphasise these differences in 8:5-13 indicates that it is a matter of keeping a dynamic process going. It is not about something static, as if becoming Christian, making a decision, or repenting are in themselves all that matter.

So 8:14 offers us a criterion. Those who are led and moved by this Spirit of God are God's children. Paul is not thinking of an abstract spirituality or an ecstatic one. He is thinking of the kind of loving which more than fulfils the Law, the kind of goodness which we once affirmed but were so bad at fulfilling. So he is speaking about those who allow themselves to engage in the process of letting God liberate them and and help them to be liberating people. They are not people tied up in knots through commitment to keep commandments. They are free from that. Theirs is not a lifestyle based on fear about what might happen to them if they do not keep the Law (8:15). Rather they are people who have received the Spirit of God into their lives and know themselves to be in a loving relationship. Paul draws here on very early tradition reaching right back to Jesus, himself, who addressed God very personally as "father", "Abba". Just such a relationship of love is a possibility for us all.

It is in awareness that this process going on in us which gives us the confidence to know that we really are in that kind of relationship. We see the fruit. Our spirit and the Spirit of God increasingly jell, giving us all the assurance we need. The security is not in our level of achievement or in some gifts or guaranteed status we might claim, but on the relation we have, for we relate to one who loves us and will not stop doing so. That is the evidence or witness we now have and the only evidence which counts (8:16).

Such living is full of promise, because in it we are joined to Christ and also to God (8:17). Away from fear and anxiety we turn to a relationship where our hopes and our security are totally bound up with Christ's own future - indeed God's future. If people long for an inheritance, ours is nothing other that what Christ had as an inheritance. We are joint heirs with Christ. The inheritance is not a place or a gift or a reward, but God and God's glory. And God's glory is not golden shiny streets, but God's own being. The glow and glory of God is what we celebrate in God. Paul is saying: our hope is nothing other than to share in that life.

This could sound like a spiritual strategy to get away from life and people and ascend up into God, a kind of self-indulgent spirituality of withdrawal and self-fulfilment which sees its goal as absence from reality. On the contrary Paul's God is the generous God who reaches out and lives in and by compassion. That is part of the essence of the glory. The radiating light is radiating love. That is the glory. So engaging in that life will not be withdrawal, but the opposite. It will takes us out into life on the coat tails of the God who goes before us. We will be converted to loving - and that, as Paul says, may even lead us through paths of suffering. Love wants to go that far. That, for Paul is the life of the Spirit, not eccentricities and success - only and always love - at all costs.

First Reading (or Epistle Alternative) Pentecost: 15 May  Acts 2:1-21
Gospel: Pentecost: 15 May John 14:8-17

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