In his letter to the Philippians (3:8) St. Paul wrote, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” I quoted this passage three weeks ago in a sermon I preached at my church’s Wednesday evening service not knowing how those words would come back to me when my house almost burned down.
Tuesday evening, while I was out, my house caught fire. My landlord/roommate called me right after he heard and I jumped into my girlfriend’s car and she drove me home. When I arrived there the fire was out and the investigators were walking around trying to determine what caused it. I know that the verse is speaking of losing all for the sake of Christ, and my house fire was not an act of persecution or something I chose to lay aside, but I have, pretty much, lost almost everything I own.
The day after the fire I was scheduled to preach the sermon at my church’s Wednesday evening service and I spoke about the story of Jesus and the blind man in John chapter nine. In the story Jesus not only restores the man’s physical eyes but also restores his spiritual eyes leading the man to fall to his knees and worship. Often times it is very hard to see God when incredibly terrible things happen and we need our eyes to be healed in order to see God.
Whether it is bad news from the doctor or experiencing loss, if we look we will be able to see something of God in it. For me I see God in the outpouring of support from my friends and church community. I see God in the fact that until the insurance company decides what’s what I have several different places I can live. I also see God in the fact that I have lost entertainment devices. It is all too easy to play Skyrim or watch Netflix on my Xbox 360 than to pray. It is sometimes far too easy to choose to watch a Blu-Ray than to read the Gospels. Now I have no such distractions. This latter point was reinforced in my mind when one of the few things I was able to salvage from my room was my prayer rope.
This does not mean that I’m sailing above it all unaffected by what happened, far from it, but when the sadness comes and when it starts to build I have something in the middle of the sorrow that I can hold on to. It may seem like nothing but to me it’s as clear as a light shining in a darkened room. Also, if you think of it, please remember my roommate and I in your prayers (especially him as the house is his).
Lately I have been reading through St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ book The Life in Christ as part of my daily devotional reading. Its an amazing book and it is divided into sections that make it easy to use as a devotional much like The Imitation of Christ. However, I like this book much better than Thomas a Kempis’ influential classic. In the reading today St. Nicholas was expounding on baptism as a door or an entryway that Christ himself did for us in order to cleanse us from sin and to seal us with the Holy Spirit.
One thing St. Nicholas mentions that struck me was a connection I had never made before in regards to walking in the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16 St. Paul writes, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh (NET) and in Romans 8:14 he writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (NET).” I grew up in an independent charismatic tradition that believed “walking or living in/by the Spirit” meant empowered by the Spirit in the sense of not only being given the spiritual resources to crucify the flesh but also demonstrations of power and supernatural experiences. A premium was placed on the experiences and power to the detriment of the hard work of crucifying the flesh. This is incredibly interesting to me as the Pentecostal tradition that spawned independent charismatic churches taught that one had to experience entire sanctification before one could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues. In the reading this morning he made a link between “walking in the Spirit” and the holy Mysteries (Baptism and the Eucharist) which is a link foreign to my charismatic upbringing.
According to St. Cabasilas, when we partake of the Mysteries the life of God fills us and this dims everything else in us that is of the flesh and replaces the “beauty” of the world with his brightness. He then writes that this divine life overcomes the desires of the flesh enabling or accomplishing walking in the Spirit. This is a marked difference from one having spiritual experiences, feeling God’s tangible presence or “flowing in the gifts.” If he is right, and I think he probably is, then walking in the Spirit is a sacramentally powered gift of God’s grace which necessitates our continual coming to the table to receive it over and over again until the parousia. It is worth noting that there is no initial act of total sanctification one needs to receive before one can experience the illumining and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the thought of St. Cabasilas because the Spirit is given and is sealed in Baptism. Granted most charismatics would reject that idea as well but since they do not have a robust understanding of eucharistic illumination the work of the Spirit will continue to be focused on the externals of what they believe life in the Spirit should look like in the hope that this external experience will somehow enable perpetual death to self.