Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mother Valori's article for the Shelby Star: God's Love Descending

…and when Jesus…had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, like a dove…

There are four things to notice about this very short bit from the Gospel of Luke. First, Jesus had been baptized. Why would the one who was without sin need to be baptized? Well, it wasn’t for him as much as for us. Like so many other times in the stories about Jesus in Scripture, the revelation was intended for those who were witnessing the event.

Second, Jesus was praying. Still in the company of those with whom he had just been baptized, his faith community, you might say, Jesus modeled inviting God’s action into his life and into the world by praying…communally and privately. All four of the gospel writers often describe Jesus praying alone or corporately at the temple.

Third, heaven was opened (or more literally – ripped open, it was a cataclysmic moment). The boundary between heaven and earth was torn apart, ushering in great change. And God’s Holy Spirit became present in such a way that everyone who was there could see it and know it. By using the phrase, in bodily form, Luke was making plain the point that this thing that was happening was REALLY happening. (Jerome Commentary, 687.) People could SEE it, even if they couldn’t quite understand or describe it.

And Fourth: God is not a bird, nor did God look like a bird that day. When Luke says that God descended in bodily form like a dove, he’s not trying to describe WHAT was happening, but HOW it was happening. As the boundary between heaven and earth was being ripped open, the Spirit of God descended softly, gently (like a dove would) on Jesus, revealing the great change being ushered in by God. Suddenly, this man, Jesus, whom everyone knew up until then as Mary’s son, the cousin of John the Baptizer, was understood to be the beloved Son of God, the light of God’s love radiating in the darkness, the One sent to bring salvation to the whole world.

We, like Jesus, are transformed by our baptism into beloved daughters and sons of God, into lights radiating in the darkness in our world. And this is the covenant to which we, God’s children, are called by our baptism.

The covenant we make in our baptism is our response to the covenant made first by God: As we read in Isaiah: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness… I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

This was the ministry Jesus claimed and his ministry was characterized by humility and hospitality, mercy and forgiveness, and reconciliation. He broke bread with Gentiles and sinners, women, and others who were outcast in his culture. Boldly proclaiming a new revelation of God’s mercy and forgiveness, Jesus freed people from the bondage of their sins, or from the bondage of those who sinned against them, and expanded the boundaries of God’s kingdom to include the least and the lost, the outcast… the outsider.

Sometimes, living out God’s covenantal call can cause some discomfort. It can definitely cause insecurity, even fear, about what we should do next. But being faithful means being willing to pray, together and privately, to listen for the voice from heaven which will guide us as God ushers change into our world.

Being faithful means resisting the temptation to determine how things ought to go, and instead, making space in our lives (and our life in community) for the Spirit of God to descend upon us softly, gently, like a dove, so that we can be transformed by God’s love, and radiate that love into our world according to God’s will.

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