Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Holy Spirit in the Four Gospels

I have found myself wondering how much we understand the Holy Spirit, and so beginning at Pentecost this year have started a study of that. This week I am looking at what we learn of the Holy Spirit from the Gospels. 

In Matthew, the Holy Spirit is shown first as the cause of Mary's conception of Jesus. Next we see the Holy Spirit in connection with John the Baptist. John says that one who will come after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and then we see the Spirit of God descending on Jesus at his baptism. Then  Jesus states that he casts out demons by the Spirit of God. That in turn leads directly to the warning about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The application of the term blasphemy shows the Holy Spirit is regarded as divine. And at the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we see a spirit that is a creative and cleansing power, poured out first on Jesus and then through him to the apostles and others. 

While in general Mark has fewer references to the Holy Spirit than Matthew, he does include some references that Matthew does not. He mentions that King David spoke by the Holy Spirit, touching on the wisdom and discernment so often associated with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. And he mentions that when the apostles are put on trial for their faith, they should not premeditate their responses but say what the Holy Spirit would give them in the moment. Again, this is in keeping with the "spirit of wisdom" familiar from the Old Testament. 

In Luke, the first mention of the Holy Spirit comes from the angel Gabriel, who speaks of John the Baptist (not yet conceived) being filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. As with Matthew, Luke also mentions the Holy Spirit as the cause of Mary's conception of Jesus. We see Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, speak by the Holy Spirit; so do Zechariah and later, at the Temple, Simeon. Simeon had also received a promise revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah. Again, as with other gospels, we see the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism. Likewise we see the warning against blasphemy, and the encouragement that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say when they were brought to trial. In Luke, again we see the Holy Spirit's connections to baptism and to creative power, along with connections to words of empowerment, prophecy, and wisdom. 

In John, we again see the connection to baptism, but from there the Gospel of John adds some references we have not seen in other places. We hear that the Holy Spirit was not yet given to the apostles during Jesus' ministry "because Jesus was not yet glorified." We see Jesus saying that the apostles would receive the Holy Spirit to teach them all things and to bring to their memories what he had taught them. Finally, we see Jesus breathing on them and saying to receive the Holy Spirit. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Spirit of God: Old Testament references

Today Christians in the Western traditions celebrate Pentecost, when God poured his Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem, visibly seen as tongues of flame. John the Baptist had prophesied that after him comes someone who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The earliest Christians were all Jewish by faith, covenant, culture, and family. While this Pentecost started a larger understanding of the Spirit of God, I wanted to see what the earliest Christians would have understood from the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit. 

By far the most common reference I found to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament involves the spirit wisdom. This reaches as far back as providing Joseph wisdom for providing for Egypt through the long famine (Genesis 41:38). The God's spirit of wisdom and understanding -- at times also a spirit of knowledge -- was referenced for workmanship and craftsmanship, leadership, and justice. God's spirit is referenced for might and protection against enemies in battle. It also leads to righteousness, aids in grace, and guides prayer. The Spirit brings peace and restoration, creation and renewal, and especially renewal of heart and the human spirit. The spirit of God is a spirit of blessing. 

The appearance of fire in connection with the spirit at this Pentecost is not entirely new. Some Old Testament passages speak of the Spirit of God in connection with fire. Sometimes the fire is connected with justice or purification, and sometimes with inner light to search the soul (Isaiah 4:4, Proverbs 20:27)

The Spirit of the Lord was said to have spoken through the prophets, and through them brought good news to the poor. This includes the well-known prophecy where the Spirit of the Lord causes one to speak good news to the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and release to the prisoners. 

In the prophet Isaiah's description of the Spirit of God, he calls it the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and that the one with the spirit of the Lord has joy in the presence of the Lord. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.13 (part 1) - The root of temptation lies within us

So long as we live in the world, being without trouble and temptation is impossible. So it is written in Job, Troubled is the life of man on earth. So each of us should be concerned about his own temptations and be vigilant in prayer, so that the devil finds no place deceive; who never sleeps, but circles around seeking his prey. No one is so holy and perfect that he never has temptations, and to be fully free of them is not possible. 

However, there are temptations that are very useful, even though they afflict us seriously; for through them we are humbled, purified, and instructed. All the saints passed and progressed through many trials and temptations. Those who did not endure were held back by them and failed. There is no station in life so sacred, no place so secret, that there are no temptations and adversities.

There is no man completely free from temptations, no matter how long he has lived, because the cause of temptation is within us. We are born with disordered desires. As soon as one trial or temptation fades, another takes its place, and there is always something that we need to endure patiently. This is because we have lost the good of happiness. Many seek to flee from temptations and fall more seriously into them. We cannot win the fight by running away, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies.

The one who resists the outward part of the temptations but does not pull up the root, that one will find that temptations return more quickly and rage more fiercely. By small steps, through patience and endurance, with God's help you will conquer better than with your own hardness and self-willed persistence. Often accept council and consolation in temptation, and with someone who is tempted do not act harshly, but comfort and strengthen him as you would have done to yourself. 

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.13 (first part, it's a long chapter to translate in one sitting). 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Thomas A Kempis 1.15 - Works of charity / love

There is no worldly good, there is no person, for which we should do anything that is evil. To serve those in need, a good work must sometimes be postponed or be changed for a better one. In this, a good work is not destroyed, but transformed into something better. If a work does not come from the heart, the external work does not benefit anyone, but if anything is done from the heart, however small and disregarded it might be, it brings forth good fruit. God considers more from what an action comes, rather than how much he does. 

He does much who loves much. He does much who does a good thing. He does well who serves to the community rather than his own interest. Often something looks like generosity which is more worldly, because worldly inclinations, self-will, hope of repayment, and feelings of the will are rarely absent.

He who has true and perfect love does not seek his own in any matter, but desires only God's glory in everything that is done. He envies none, because he desires no selfish joy, nor does he want to rejoice in himself, but in God above all he wishes to find his blessing. He attributes good to none but God alone, from whom all things come, and in whom finally all the Holy Ones rest in joyful satisfaction. Oh, he who has a spark of true charity would sense that all earthly things are empty.

Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, 1.15. 

Translation focused on contemporary English and preservation of rhetorical force and art