There Are Only Enlightened Actions
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 7, 2015
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (7:37-52; 8:12)
Today I want to preach about Pentecost using the Gospel reading for the Feast.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” This is what Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit before Pentecost. The author of John adds that the Spirit had not yet been given. We must not think that the Holy Spirit was not in the world before Pentecost. That would be silly. Pentecost is a theophany, a revelation not of something new, but of something True: that is, God is here.
At every theophany from the creation to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appears in ungraspable forms: wind, fire, smoke, earthquake. Even the famous dove at the Lord’s baptism is not a tangible, winged creature. He descended “in the likeness of a dove.” This is how the writer describes in words a mystical experience that cannot be described.
It is impossible to cling to any of these forms. You cannot hold wind, or smoke, or fire, or the movement of the earth. The Holy Spirit is free, like the wind. As Jesus says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” And he adds, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." We are to become free, just like the Spirit. To be free, we must let go of our attachments.
Jesus told Mary Magdalene in the garden, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” That is to say, don’t attach yourself to my physical form. Let go. There is a revelation coming that you do not know now. It is invisible and intangible, something to which it is impossible to be attached. This, of course, she did not understand. How could she and the others live apart from the Lord’s physical presence?
Jesus is God in physical form, the one who is the perfect image of God and of what it means to be human. He shows us in form what and who God is. This is the exterior Christ. You might think that would be enough, but no. He told his apostles that it was better that he go away so that he could send the Holy Spirit. This is in keeping with his great humility. He came into the world in utter humility and he leaves it in the same way, making way for the age of the Spirit inaugurated in the theophany of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit has no form and for this reason it is impossible to make an icon of the him. The wind, fire, smoke and even the “likeness of a dove” are manifestations, symbols and metaphors of his presence, not images of his person. Jesus said, “A spirit has not form as you see that I have.” The only possible icon of the Holy Spirit is a saint…is us.
And then came Pentecost, the great theophany Jesus had alluded to many times. He strongly suggested in several other pivotal passages that we should look forward to a reorientation from form to spirit, from the outward Christ to the indwelling Spirit - from form to spirit, from mind to heart, from earthly things to heavenly things. The dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 is one of those places. Another is the exchange with the Samaritan Woman when he told her that those who drink from his living water would themselves become like springs “welling up to eternal life.” Then he directly told his incredulous apostles that it would be better that he go away so that he could send the Holy Spirit. What leader says such things? Only One who was not in the least interested in earthly kingdoms, power and control.
The Lord’s teaching comes full circle at Pentecost. He taught in the beginning that the kingdom of heaven is within and now, at Pentecost, he shows us what that means. “Out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water,” speaking of a unity so complete that his very life becomes ours. We become sources of life-giving, eternal water. “Greater works than I have done, you will do,” Christ declares.
So, now, the truth is known. The wind of the Spirit blows freely through us, around us and in us. What is essential now is our awakening to this truth and our practice of this truth. In this respect, St. Paul tells us what being aware looks like.
He writes, “Put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” To put on compassion, we must practice compassion. To put on kindness, we must practice kindness. To put on gentleness and patience, we must practice gentleness and patience. We can, if we will, nurture in ourselves the qualities of God. We can develop within ourselves more lovingkindness, more peace, more humility, more patience by setting aside just a few moments each day to meditate on these beautiful divine qualities. The more we do, the more we will grow in them – the stronger they will become within us. And then we must practice and practice and practice, choosing to be selfless and beautiful in all that we do. This is what it means to “put on Christ.”
If we want to live lives filled with the Spirit of God, we must live lives centered on the Spirit. This is the meaning of synergy. “We are,” St. Paul writes, “co-workers with Christ.” “We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” he adds. It does not just happen! We must deliberately and consciously and continuously choose this way of life. We must let go, turn within, bring the light of love into the depths of our own darkness, so that we become illumined from within and then what we do, say and think will increasingly become illuminating. Remember, there are no enlightened people, there are only enlightened actions.