On Facebook this week someone posted a note from Johnny Cash. In his own hand he had written: “I’m learning to meditate. Meditate: the listening half of prayer. It’s neat.”
I loved it. Not what I’d expect from Johnny Cash.
For me one of the most important verse in the whole Bible is the 22nd verse of the 20th Chapter of the Gospel of John. It reads: “Then he breathed on them, saying ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!” In the verse which precedes it Jesus says: “Peace be with you’, and then says, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” First it is an anointing, then a commissioning. The verse which follows it lays an awesome responsibility on each of us for it says: “If you forgive any man’s sins, they stand forgiven; if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.”
The Gospel reading for today, Pentecost Sunday, is from the 14th Chapter of John. It includes the promise of this anointing of the followers of Jesus and by extension us to continue the spirit empowered ministry of God’s work in the world as begun by Jesus. You can hardly separate these twenty verses from the flow of John 13:31 through the end of the 17th Chapter. These are the very tender farewell conversations Jesus has with his closest followers bracketed by Judas leaving the gathering as night falls and Jesus’ own departure to the garden of Gethsemane to await is arrest, trial and execution.
Roger Cotton, an Assemblies of God Old Testament professor writes that the Hebrew word for the verb to anoint is the root of messiah, which means “anointed one.” Anointing was used as a symbolic act for officially designating and setting apart a person for a certain public leadership function in the community. Ancient Israel anointed three kinds of leaders: Priests, Kings and Prophets. A major difference between Israel and the other nations was that when God had someone anointed or authorized for leadership God also provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do the job.
1st John 2:20 reads “You…are among the anointed; this is the gift of the Holy One, and by it you all have knowledge”. And the 27th verse reads: “But as for you, the anointing which you received from him stays with you; you need no other teacher, but learn all you need to know from his anointing, which is real and no illusion. As he taught you, then, dwell in him.” Paul, in 2nd Corinthians 1: writes: “…and if you and we belong to Christ, guaranteed as his and anointed, it is all God’s doing; it is God also who has set his seal upon us, and as a pledge of what is to come has given the Spirit to dwell in our hearts.” According to Roger Cotton all Christians are anointed and thus are authorized and empowered agents of God. We all have direct access to God and God’s truth; we have the Spirit within who will lead us into all truth, in Christ and enable us to be His witnesses.
Thus, the anointing is not something that comes and goes. What changes is the experience of the demonstration of the results of God’s anointing by the Holy Spirit through an individual, according to the need and God’s purposes in a situation. But the biblical concept of anointing is that all Christians are anointed, meaning all are authorized and empowered agents of God. All have the Spirit within and thus the power of God can be released through any of us at any time that God’s chooses and to the extent that the person is yielding.
Eckhart Tolle, a Christian Scientist, reminds us that anything is possible — for anyone. But he wasn’t talking about living a life of leisure filled with expensive cars, beach homes, and extravagant vacations, but an experience brimming with the kind of spiritual insights that not only make this life worth living but decidedly more fulfilling. The problem is, whenever you say “spiritual insight” there’s often the assumption that you’re talking about something too ethereal to be practical or too elusive to be achieved in this lifetime. Tolle said: “Some people awaken spiritually without ever coming into contact with any meditation technique or any spiritual teaching. They may waken simply because they can’t stand the suffering anymore.” He cited examples of those who have either been told that they have a short time to live or have been given an exceptionally long prison sentence. In both cases, any thought of a future has been effectively dashed, forcing these individuals into what Tolle describes as “an intense awareness” that there is only the present moment with “no more future to escape into mentally.” And what’s the result? A lot less suffering: “That is the real spiritual awakening, when something emerges from within you that is deeper than who you thought you were. So, the person is still there, but one could almost say that something more powerful shines through the person.”
The good news, according to Mr. Tolle, is that in order to experience this awakening, “you don’t have to wait for the diagnosis by the doctor or to be put in prison… nor do you have to do 30,000 hours of meditation or live in an ashram for 20 years. Once you get a glimpse of it you can invite it into your daily life.”
But where do these insights come from? Is it simply a matter of wishful thinking? Or is it perhaps something more reliable, more effective than that? “Jesus said ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you,'” observed Mr. Tolle, implying that this health-inducing understanding may be lot closer than we thought: And then Jesus said — when they asked him, ‘Where is the kingdom of heaven and when is it going to come?’ — he said, ‘The kingdom of heaven does not come with signs to be perceived. You cannot say, ah, it’s over here or look, it’s over there, for I tell you the kingdom of heaven is within you.'”
How nice it is to be reminded that the proverbial “kingdom of heaven” we’ve been hearing about for at least two millennia — this “dimension of spaciousness” or what I might characterize as the understanding of our true spiritual identity — is “within you.” Within us all. Here and now. He adds: I suppose all that remains is the willingness — and the humility — to put this insight into practice.
Now I thought that was pretty great, to find a Christian Science practitioner and an Assembly of God seminary professor saying very much the same thing.
So here is the promise:
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.