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APRIL 27, 2008: SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
I Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

The authors of today's first and third readings believe the role of the Holy Spirit in our everyday life of faith is more significant than some of us modern Christians acknowledge.

Our I Peter author mentions something that applies to all of us. "It is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil." The writer presumes all people have to suffer. No one escapes pain. His concern is that the newly baptized whom he's addressing will suffer for their "good conduct in Christ;" that the pain they'll endure will come not just because they're human, but because they're imitating Jesus' dying and rising.

One of the questions which bothered Jesus' earliest followers was, "How do I know what Jesus wants me to suffer? How do I decide what's good and what's bad?"

Of course, as we saw last week, we're to make Jesus' value system our value system. What he thought important, we're to think important. But in the day by day circumstances of life, how can we be certain about which specific thing or person the risen Jesus wants us to concern ourselves. What should we put in the center of our vision and what should we relegate to the periphery?

That's where early Christians believed the Holy Spirit comes in. The Spirit helps guide Jesus' people to where Jesus expects them to be.

John's Jesus dedicates a lot of his Last Supper discourse to the Spirit. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be with you."

John simply believes no one can be a true disciple of Jesus unless he or she gives themselves over to the Spirit within them. Having been raised to call on the Holy Spirit only during and before school exams, this Father-sent force played only a small role in my life after my formal education ended.

In some sense, Luke informs us in our second reading that I wasn't alone in living a low or non-Spirit life. "When the apostles in Jerusalem heard Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."

Among other things, this narrative tells us that our present baptismal formula - "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" - wasn't universally employed in the earliest church. But it also points up the fact that some Christians simply don't use all the help Jesus provides us in order to fully carry on his ministry. In some sense, we feel like the orphans Jesus mentions in our gospel pericope. Though the church's structures and dogmas provide us great security, they aren't able to provide us the Spirit-filled security Jesus planned for us to experience. No matter how perfect the structures or perceptive the dogmas, there's something missing.

The I Peter writer knows this. That's why he ends today's passage with a comment about Jesus' dying and rising. "Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit." No matter how deeply we delve into our faith, if we refuse to fall back on the Spirit for daily guidance, we're really not alive in that faith.