Dominion over all creation carries responsibility and honor

Trinity As we continue our study of the lessons for the First Sunday after Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday, we turn now to Psalm 8 which reads as follows:

What is man that you should be mindful of him?

The son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;

you adorn him with glory and honor;

You give him mastery over the works of your hands;

you put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen,

even the wild beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,

and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

Essentially the psalmist is laying the claim of the superiority of humankind over the rest of creation. It is already accepted, according to Genesis 1:26-28, that humans are created in the image of God, meaning, among other things, they have creative ability – to continue God’s creation process – and also have dominion on earth. Furthermore, according to Genesis 2:7 God “breathed into his (the human’s) nostrils the breath of life…” There is something very special in the creation of humankind.

Obviously, there is huge responsibility here, and there is also the “hope of sharing the glory of God”, according to Romans 5:2 (The Epistle Reading for the day).

Having dominion over God’s creation cannot be compatible with exploitation or misuse of it. Similarly, injustice is incompatible with Wisdom “rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Proverbs 8:31).

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers are enabled to be good stewards of God’s creation and ultimately share with Christ in God’s glory. As the Collect pleads, “Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”.

 

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Be alert and pay attention to experience God’s Presence

St. Catherine MonasteryAs Christians observe the Day of Pentecost on Sunday, May 19, it is in commemoration of that first Pentecost in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. That Pentecost was transformed from its agricultural background into an experiential event of the Holy Spirit, in the same way that the Jewish Shavuot is a transformation from an agricultural holiday into one of revelation.

Thus, the Day of Pentecost, is all about Revelation.

Christians pray – in the Collect – that the Holy Spirit be “shed throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel (and) reach to the ends of the earth”. For Christians, the Gospel is the revelation of God in the same way that the Torah is for Jews. Similarly, in the alternate Collect Christians pray that the Holy Spirit guide us into “right judgment in all things”; and that is praying for revelation.

So, God if fully revealed in Jesus Christ – or the Gospel – according to Christian theology, and as we have pointed out, Jews received God’s revelation in the Torah which is commemorated in the festival of Shavuot. Still, the question that lingers on is this: Are we then fully experiencing God’s revelation?

Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9 gives a good lesson in answer to the question. It teaches that when God spoke on Mt Sinai, the Jews heard the voice from the south, so they all rushed to the south. When they got there, they heard the voice from the east; they rushed there, but then it came from the west and when they got there, it came from the north. Then it was from heaven above, and from under the earth. In short, the Jews rushed in all directions to hear God’s voice.

I wonder if anything has changed today, except that we are ever more rushed and preoccupied. Not only are we not finding God because of our busy-ness, distraction and restlessness, but we may not even hear God’s voice. How can we hear when there is so much noise?

This is the third element in our quest for God’s Presence: Be alert; Pay attention.

 

What we notice is more important than what we see

8udine-isaiah-coalThe story of the three young women in Cleveland who were missing for a decade and now found, makes a good illustration of our second part of our “Experiencing God” discussion. This is what is amazing: a). the three were actually living in the same neighborhood from which they disappeared; b). neighbors saw things around the house where the three were “hidden” and still they were not discovered. In other words, they were “hidden in plain sight”.

The story within the story is that “what we notice is more important than what we see”.

Think of Mark’s account of the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida  (Mark 8:22-26). First, Jesus spat on the man’s eyes, put his hands on him and asked if he could see anything. Sure enough, the man saw people, “like trees walking around”. Then, once more, Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes, and there, his sight was restored. He could then see people, like people walking around.

If – and I stress, if – we want to experience God daily, we will need to be, daily, on the second stage of the illustration from the blind man in Bethsaida. We will need to notice, to be aware, to recognize. Notice how God works in the world. Not only in times of  tragedy and natural disasters – when, as pointed out earlier, we tend to seek God more intentionally – but in every situation. Notice God’s Presence in the people we encounter daily; not only those who are “godly”or like us, but also those we would not want to be associated with.

Most importantly, if we seek to experience God’ s Presence daily, we will need to notice how God works in us. I have commented on this on several points previously stressing the importance of “our stories” or life experiences. Often we see these “like trees walking around” and miss to experience God’s Presence.

See, notice, recognize, be aware: This is how to experience God’ Presence daily. :

Experiencing God’s Presence transforms

The Olive Tree in the Garden of GethsemaneThe other two motifs in the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter are light and glory, or praise.

Psalm 67 opens up with the petition: “May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us”. Where there is light, God’s ways are known (verses 1-2). Indeed, in Rev. 21:10, 22-22:5, because God’s Presence is with God’s people, “…there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…” Light opposes darkness and where God’s Presence is, there is no darkness.

Verses 3 and 5 are refrains of the same invocation: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you”. It is the same idea in Acts 16:15 where Lydia hosts Paul and his companions following her transformational experience in baptism.. Like Paul, she becomes God’s servant for the missionary work in Philippi.

Something happens when we experience God’s Presence – transformation takes place. Indeed that is what Rev. 21:26 means by the promise: “People will bring into it (the Presence of God) the glory and the honor of the nations”. New dynamics come into play, life-giving qualities replacing destructive tendencies.

At this point I would like to add a cautionary note: My previous account of my personal experiences in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Basilica of Agony, is precisely that; a personal experience. Not everybody who might have been in Jerusalem at that time, or any other time, experienced exactly what I did. We encounter and experience God in many different ways.

What is common is that every experience is a chance to encounter God and every experience is transformational. These experiences are our stories, to transform us and to transform others. For that to happen the stories need to be told.

There are, of course, problems and even errors if we would appropriate every biblical narrative as our own story. (I have discussed this in my hub-pages). Biblical stories inform us into learning from our own personal stories and into experiencing God’s Presence. We need to constantly remind ourselves that God cannot and should not be contained in a box.

Wholeness comes from experiencing God’s Presence

Baptism in the JordanExperiencing God in BaptismAs we continue this discussion of God’s Presence in everyday life, or experiencing God’s Presence daily, we can find good illustrations in the lectionary lessons for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

In John 14:23-29 Jesus promises those who love him are also beloved of God and “we will come to them and make our home with them”. Not only that. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”. God’s people will experience God’s Presence.

There is even more illustration in Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 where “the temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb”. In biblical times, the temple was the meeting place where people experienced the Presence of God in a very tangible way. “The glory of God” in 21:23 is the Shekhinah  which brings to mind the experience of Isaiah in chapter 6 where he had a vision of God sitting on a throne while he was in the temple.

Then there are the three motifs of river or water, light, glory or praise.

In Acts 16:9-15 Paul and his companions went to the river in Philippi.  There, Lydia was baptized – and presumably the other women with her. Even though the text says Lydia was “a worshiper of God”, in baptism she experienced the Presence of God in a transformational way. In Rev. 22:1  there is the vision of “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…”.

The biblical association of water and life cannot be over-emphasized. The geography of the land testifies to the life-giving attributes of water. Where there is water there is abundant life – for humans, animals, plants and indeed, for creation as a whole. Where there is God’s Presence there is wholeness.

Next, we will look at the other motifs, light and glory (or praise).

“Gethsemane moments” bring God’s Presence closer

GethsemaneInside the Basilica of AgonyHaZeytim, Garden of GethsemaneWhen Jesus taught his disciples about praying he said, “…go into your room, close the door and pray to God who is unseen” (Mtt. 6:6). He too practiced that because he often withdrew from the crowds to a private place to pray. While some understand “your room” in a spiritual sense, it is, nevertheless, to be understood physically.

My most memorable and inspiring moments when I lived in Jerusalem were those times of solitude in the Garden of Gethsemane. Whether I was sitting under the shade of one of the two thousand year old olive trees or simply on a rock, or on a pew in the Basilica of Agony, I could feel surrounded by the presence of God.

I mentioned previously that most people seek God’s presence in times of sorrow or difficulties, and I am one of them. Often those were the times that sent me to Gethsemane, and there I felt completely loved, reassured and at peace. I felt rejuvenated and reinvigorated. Even today, when I bring my memory back to those moments, I still experience the Presence of God in a very special way.

That was my special experience; and everyone has or has had a special experience. I have also mentioned in previous posts that every life experience has a purpose, and the purpose is transformation. Actually, transformation is an encounter with God; the connection with the authentic and inner self ,or the soul.

Find or create that room that can serve as a reminder of your “Gethsemane moments” or the Garden of Gethsemane itself and experience God’s Presence.