Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Life of God in Us

August 5, 2018: 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15 / Psalm 78 / Ephesians 4:17, 20–24 / John 6:24–35
The Life of God in Us

Saint Paul tells of an old self and and a new self. We’re all too familiar with the “old” and it’s not very good. God did not intend awful things; he created us to know and obey him, but he also gave us the dignity of choice. Long ago the choice was made to disobey God and choose by ourselves what is right and wrong. That is why something is horribly wrong in the world. We were not created to live without God.

But God did not abandon us. He could have left us to self-destruct. Instead, he became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. And when people killed Jesus in anger because his life revealed the evil of their own lives, God let it happen. Jesus took the evil, and even death itself, and absorbed it. Then he rose from the dead to show that God is bigger than evil and death, and God invites everyone to believe it.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says we are to believe in the one [the Father] sent. This is not mere mental assent––a mind game; it is an issue of spiritual ownership and control. And so Paul gives the Ephesians this exhortation: you must no longer live as the Gentiles [people who do not know God] do, in the futility of their thinking (4:17). There is a right and wrong way to live in this world. Trying to live life by our own understanding brings havoc; opening ourselves to God’s ways leads to life. We are called to live out of the truth we confess. Each week we declare together: I believe…. It’s not just words; it is something to embrace and live.

Through Jesus Christ and the regeneration of the Spirit, Christians have been given new life. Our old self––the old person we were––was crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). Paul tells the Corinthians: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2Cor 5:17). It is because Christians have a new self that we can be exhorted to put away the practices of the old life––a life lived by ignoring the reality of God’s truth.

Christian faith understands that the old life is death. The old life is rooted in Adam and the lie our first parents believed: that disregarding God can make us happy or give lasting comfort and security. That is the futile thinking (the futility of their thinking) of Paul’s opening words.

The alternative to futile thinking is to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Paul says this is based in righteousness and holiness of the truth. We do not know how to do this by ourselves; it takes wisdom––God’s wisdom that comes to us as Jesus lives in us.

How does this happen? First, it is a gift of God. God’s grace brings death to life. Our Faith starts there: believing that, in his love, God has chosen to do for us what could never do for ourselves. 

But life must be sustained. Life needs to grow. So we find that God provides this too, but we need to be open to God’s ongoing gifts of grace. This happens on what we might call two levels.

One is an ongoing attitude of faith. It is staying open to the Lord. It is doing disciplines like prayer, spiritual nurture, and obedience. This is what is usually called the personal part of faith.

But it’s not all up to us individually. Yes, Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with him, but he takes us beyond ourselves with graces that go beyond what we could ever do alone.

Christian Faith is not only “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Christian Faith is being adopted into the family of God. Christian Faith is being incorporated into the life of Jesus’ Body, the Church. And in the Church we are given graces––Sacraments––that go so far beyond what we can ever do by ourselves. This is the corporate part of faith. 

Jesus nurtures us with his very self. This has been astounding people from the time Jesus first proclaimed it:
Amen, amen I say to you… the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

The Holy Spirit brings us to new life so that we are not left to the ravages of life without God. The life of the Spirit in us helps us grow in understanding and new patterns of living. But we are not left to our own efforts––Jesus feeds us. In the Church we are given the grace of the Eucharist, the bread of heaven,  who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

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