This Sunday in the LCC lectionary, the second in the Pre-Lenten season, is dedicated to the Holy Spirit as sanctifier. As we approach Lent, it is a fine time to consider what parts of our lives are not expressing the radiant grace of the Spirit, and to open ourselves more deeply to her activity. John Calvin said, “The whole life of Christians ought to be an exercise in piety, for they are called to holiness.” (Institutes III, xix, 2) Despite the rather starchy word “piety,” I think we can all understand the Spirit charging everything – our bodies, our relationships, our economic activity, our politics, our recreation, and so on – with a magnetic pull toward the True North of our being, the life of God.
Having all the proper beliefs and right religious behaviors (church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday, if you live in Nashville) can mean very little in the absence of a transformed life. John Wesley once remarked, “You can be as orthodox as the Devil, and just as wicked.” In the gospel this week, from Mark 12, a scribe asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds that we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. The scribe notes, with Jesus’ approval, that such love is “more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
If our lives are centered in that overflowing, self-giving Love which is the Triune God, the Spirit’s holy-making power begins to be exercised through the particularities of our individual existence. As we are each unique, “there are diversities of operations but it is the same God who worketh all in all.” (1 Cor 12) We should not be identical to one another, as Christians or as priests, but rather we are each called to develop the gifts which have been given to us, for the good of all. No one else can make our contribution.
In his lectures on the gospel of Mark, Mario Schoenmaker talks about discovering that some of his priests could not preach: “woeful, terrible, some of them shouldn’t be allowed outside their own front doors.” Likewise, some were horrible liturgists. “They have lead feet – wherever they tread, everything collapses.” But this not a problem, as the priests were not ordained to preach or to celebrate liturgy, but simply “to do what God wants them to do,” whatever that may be. (quotes from Deliberations on St Mark, 55:5)
During this coming week, may the Spirit work in each of us, that we live in more faithful love from “a heart that opens and flows in a certain direction, a direction which God has implanted in [us] .” (ibid.)
A blessed Sexagesima to you all… (Doesn’t that sound terribly racy, as the name for a Sunday? 🙂 )