God’s revelation of himself and the conversion experience

February 14, 2012

Last Sunday, the third before Lent, is the time that many who follow the old lectionary (1945) have to hit “resent” and move from Epiphany season and direct our attention toward Good Friday and Easter. If you are a little bewildered, that’s OK. The schedule of readings in this system (unlike the 1662 BCP) does not follow the civil calendar but adheres to the liturgical year. Since Easter falls on a different date every year, the readings have to “click” to a new direction right before Christmas and again several weeks before Easter. Confused? Sorry.

At this time of year, we begin the scheduled Bible readings that begin in creation and take us to the first Passover. In the New Testament context, the Gospels start afresh leading to the events of Holy Week. All of this is very logical and reminds the reader of the great works of salvation and the doctrines of the church. The readings of Morning and Evening Prayer come from Genesis 1, Mark 6, Galatians, and Amos. Except for Amos, they all have something to say about how God shows himself.

Actually, that is wrong. Amos is about how God reveals his judgment. The Lord roars in displeasure because of man’s violence and fraud. God demands justice, which is also a deep yearning of the human heart. Let us begin this superficial review at the very beginning.

The Genesis account introduces God as creator. He is not far away, but the spirit (or “wind”) of God is blowing on face of the waters. God defeats all other claimants to his exclusive kingship of the cosmos. God creates mankind out of the earth in his image and likeness. Most importantly, God has an intimate face-to-face relationship with our first parents. He gives them priestly work in a beautiful garden and, until the temptation and fall, they are not afraid to be in his presence in the complete transparency of nakedness.(Let’s just leave the question of whether Adam is a historical figure for another day!)

Our Christian hope is to be brought back into a restored creation where we will enjoy the intended personal, intimate, face-to-face relationship with God. This is the anticipated resurrection of the dead which is addressed in the words of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.

When God evicted Adam and Eve from their blissful home, human beings were not left to make their own way without some support. When God did not respect Cain’s offering, he counseled him about the proper attitude one must bring to divine worship. We tend to read Gen. 4 as a hard chewing out, but it might be more useful to hear God’s discussion with Cain as sober fatherly advice. Of course, Cain was afflicted with the disease of human pride, so he hatched a plot against his brother, Abel.

God walked with Enoch and spoke freely with Noah. Like Adam, they were not terrified by the divine presence (except for the instance of departing from God’s instruction in the garden). Moses went climbing up into the thick clouds to meet with his friend. God loves people and wants to know them personally. God’s love for humankind is so deep that he came into the realm of flesh and blood to become one of us.

This is were we begin the readings from Mark 6:7. Jesus sends the disciples out two-by-two and they return after we learn the fate of John the Baptizer. The reader is almost led to presume that Jesus goes away with his friends for a time of reflection while mourning the loss of his cousin. This is all in the midst of an intensive ministry of healing and preaching. Jesus calmed the sea and he walked on the water. He fed the four thousand and five thousand on separate occasions. He points that out to the disciples who are quibbling over not having brought any bread along. Are their hearts hardened? (Mk 8:17-21). Our human blindness to the reality of God’s workings is represented in Jesus healing of the blind man. It takes two tries, and the cultural darkness is so intense that the Lord tells the man he just healed to go directly home and not enter the town.

Paul’s encounter with Jesus is altogether different, as we read in Galatians. He tells us, ” I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). A few weeks ago, we observed the Conversion of St. Paul, the Damascus Road Experience. Most of us will not be blinded and knocked off a horse, but we must wonder if God speaks in our lives.

There are no blazing explosions for you and me, and when God speaks, it is often without words. When the Second Person of the Trinity visited the apostles as a regular human being, they were often slow to catch on. Even when Jesus personally explained the parables, there was the obstacle of human pride, presumptions, and experience. In other words, there is a certain hardness of heart. The solution, of course, is just don’t do it. Right?

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
(Psalm 95:7-11 ESV)

Maybe there is more to it. What is this about “if you hear his voice?” Is it possible for God to speak and not be heard? Perhaps that depends on how many distractions get our attention. If one does not believe that God speaks and is directly involved in the lives of his children, then it seems to make sense that his messages might go unnoticed.

There is in Mark’s account the feeding of four thousand followed immediately by the Pharisees demanding to see a sign from heaven. Isn’t that a lot of nerve? What more of a sign could they possibly want? That is certainly putting God to the test, and that kind of attitude excludes one from entering God’s rest.

So how is the human heart to be softened? You might start with prayer and that might include a bit of listening. That’s right. Quiet. Read God’s word and let it sink in. Find out what God says to all mankind and become attuned to the doors that open and close in ordinary life events. Anybody who wants to enter into God’s rest must be able to slow down and deal with the spiritual things.

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