God's Word on Sunday: The Spirit keeps Church moving forward

  • May 1, 2020

Fifth Sunday of Easter May 10 (Year A) Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

The period of serene apostolic simplicity and unity did not last long.

As the community of Jesus’ followers increased, so did its tensions and problems. Every new group entering the community raised questions and pressed for accommodations. The Hellenists — probably Greek-speaking Jews from the diaspora — complained that their widows were being neglected in the food distribution.

Rather than heated denials and arguments, the harried apostles admitted that they were far too burdened. They could not wait on tables and preach the Word without one or both of those jobs suffering.

A simple division of labour was sufficient — six reliable men were found and installed in their new ministry. All ministries were important, but all served the spreading of the Word of God. Conversions increased and the work of Jesus continued to grow.

The Church has faced many challenges throughout its history, and has made many adaptations and changes in piety, structures, spirituality, theology and practice. That has been the strength of the Church — its flexibility and willingness to learn from experience and reinvent itself.

Whenever this gift of adaptability and resilience has been forgotten or resisted, the Church has suffered. Many an enemy of Christianity has written a gleeful death notice for the Church, only to be shocked at how quickly it rebounds and rises from the ashes.

We face challenges today, the latest being the crisis of the pandemic. The Church has been creative and willing to do what would have been thought impossible and even outrageous: worship, ministry and community by electronic means.

The Word of God has been proclaimed and we have continued to move forward, even if a bit slower. It is the Spirit that is our foundation and source of energy rather than structures or routine. Prayer and serving the Word — that is our mission and purpose, and all of our actions and decisions need to be made in that light.

The First Letter of Peter echoes this message even as it uses the imagery of physical buildings and temples. The community of believers is the temple, and Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and foundation. Peter reminds us that we are a royal priesthood, a chosen race and a holy nation. We need to take this a lot more seriously than we do and reflect on its implications for the life of the Church.

It does not say that we are better than anyone else, but that we all have a particular mission of service. That mission is to proclaim the mighty acts of God and bear witness by word and deed to what He has done for us and for all of humanity.

As Jesus prepared to depart for His return to the Father, He left His disciples with a revelation that we have not yet fully received or understood. He reassured them that there was plenty of room in His Father’s house and that they knew the way to get there.

He Himself was the way, the truth and the life. He was the way, in the sense that the pattern of His life — love, humility, obedience to God and service — was the path to God for all who followed it. He was the truth, because He revealed the true nature of God in His person — light and love. And He is the source of life — eternal life, living always in conscious awareness of God.

Jesus dwells in the Father and the Father in Him, and this is evident in all that Jesus was able to say and do. Jesus promised that those who abide always in Him — in thought, word and deed — would also dwell in the Father and the Father in them.

They would enjoy the same relationship that Jesus did with God the Father. Those who do so, Jesus added, will be able to do even greater things than He did.

This is a stunning affirmation and it indicates that Christian faith is far more than morality or “being good.” One does not require religious faith at all to be a good and moral person.

Jesus offers much more. He desires to make us transformed and God-filled people, capable of mediating a divine presence in the world.

It can only happen when self and ego are replaced by the Spirit of God, not as an occasional practice but a way of life.