The Love Of God That Has Been

Poured Out Into Our Hearts

Through The Holy Spirit

The signature of heaven is community, is ‘peoplehood’. It’s a communion beautifully shown in our sanctuary banner at Pentecost.

Not often recognised, the Apostle Paul’s teaching is deeply incarnational. The Gospel message, he sees, must have concrete embodiment, which he calls “churches.” Jesus’ first vision of church is so simple we miss it: “two or three gathered in my name”  and “I am with you”. This is just as strong a statement of presence as in the bread and wine of communion!

Then again Jesus insists that the message is to be communicated not by the lone evangelist – he sends the disciples out “two by two”. The individual alone is not a fitting communicator of the core message! During St Paul’s lifetime, the Christian church was not an institution or a centrally organized set of common practices and beliefs, yet. It was a living organism that communicated the Gospel primarily through relationships.

This fits with Paul’s understanding of Christ as what some might call ‘an energy field’, a set of relationships inside of which we can live with integrity. Today’s support groups (e.g. Cafod and Borderlands) and recovery groups are good examples of these relationships.

Paul’s brilliant metaphor for this living, organic, concrete embodiment is “the Body of Christ”: “Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit, because all those parts make up a single body, so it is with Christ” .

At the heart of this body, providing the energy that enlivens the whole community (although each in different ways) is “the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).

This Spirit is itself the foundational energy of the universe, the Ground of All Being, described in the first lines of the Bible. Union is not just spiritual poetry, but the very concrete work of God. It’s how God makes love to what God created.

Paul writes that it’s precisely “in your togetherness that you are Christ’s Body”. By remaining — against all trials and resistance — inside this luminous web of relationship, this resonating state of love, we experience a very honest and healthy notion of salvation. As the Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says, “If you’re trying to do it alone and apart, it’s not salvation at all, but very well disguised self-interest”!

Paul’s communities are the ‘audiovisual aids’ that he could point to to give credibility to his message, inside a debauched empire where human dignity was never upheld as inherent. To people who asked, “Why should we believe there’s a new or different life possible?” Paul could say, “Look at these people. They’re different. This is a different social order.”

In Christ, “there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. This is not just a religious idea, but a socioeconomic message that began to change the world — and still can.

For Jesus, such teachings as forgiveness, healing, and justice work are the only real evidence of a new and shared life. If we don’t see this happening in churches and spiritual communities, religion is “all in the head” and largely an illusion.

Peacemaking, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not some kind of ticket to heaven later. They are the price of peoplehood — the signature of heaven —now.

M Sidoli

 

 

 

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