Moment's Reflection May 11, 2022by Dr. Dan Jones on May 11, 2022
“Wait there for the promise of the Father.” -Acts 1:4
We were talking as a group of Christians about all the other times and places we’d heard the passage. Many of us remembered sermons, Sunday school lessons. Some of even remembered experiences outside the Church where we’d be invited to learn about the passage, the gospel story, about the disciples along the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13ff).
And yet, when it came to thinking whether or not we truly had in us the wisdom embedded in the Gospel account—that God finds us where we are and abides with us until we know him—some of us paused. One in the group said that she believed it was possible to have lots of information about something and not really understand the meaning of it. That night, we made a distinction between knowledge and wisdom, information and lived experience.
I’ve told enough stories from the pulpit for you to know that among other things, I highly value continuing education. I know a thing or two about Scripture. And yet, I’ve learned there’s a difference between knowing a thing or two about Scripture and having the wisdom, born of faithful experience, to rightly understand the Living Christ about whom the Scriptures testify.
In his book on The Lord’s Supper (Remembrance, Communion, Hope), J. Todd Billings begins by making a wager. We were created to be in relationship with God, he says. This is our inborn desire. To satiate this inborn desire, we engage in what Billings calls “thick practices” of spiritual discipline such as Bible reading, preaching, prayer, the sacraments. And yet, none of these “thick practices” alone guarantees that we’ll experience the living God. Something more than our inborn desire and effort is needed.
Billings quotes Jonathan Edwards in his A Treatise Concerning Spiritual Affections, to say any wisdom we own, any deeply spiritual, life-changing experience we have of God is dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s giving of a “sixth sense”—a capacity beyond our own ability to perceive the enlivening presence of God. As Edwards argues, and Billings contends, we are compelled to draw near to the presence of God in spiritual practice. But those practices cannot bring us fully into God’s presence without the gift of perception which only the Spirit gives. In practice, this means that while we come to the Table each Sunday to be in Communion with Christ, it is only by the work of the Spirit that our coming to the Table becomes actual experience of the Living Christ. Otherwise, we’d simply gather to eat wafers and drink juice.
In a few weeks, June 5th, we’ll celebrate Pentecost Sunday—the day the Holy Spirit descends upon us. With humility we’ll wait expectantly for this gift knowing truth that Nicodemus once learned: that it’s possible to be theologian, a rabbi, and still not know God. -Dan, Pentecost 2022
Click here for the rest of this month's newsletter