“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
On Pentecost, the first prophecy Peter quoted was from Joel, and in it we heard these words: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
These words can be somewhat troubling, and seem to support the charismatic interpretation of Christianity. That is, there seems to be support for the idea that when someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, the sign of receiving Him is a cocktail of supernatural occurrences, like speaking in tongues, or seeing visions, or having special dreams from God, or predicting the future.
But the Scriptural evidence doesn’t support this interpretation.
First, Peter quoted this passage to explain the supernatural occurrence that happened on Pentecost, which was the apostles speaking “the wonderful works of God” in the languages of the visitors to Jerusalem. And when Peter preached, we saw an example of what preaching the “wonderful works of God” looked like. We reviewed this yesterday. It looks like an Old Testament reading, Psalms, the Creed, and preaching repentance unto baptism; followed by catechesis in apostolic doctrine, Holy Communion, and the prayers.
Well, that sounds like the boring old liturgy! Hardly the thrill of all sorts of supernatural spiritual gifts.
Second, the manner with which Peter’s sermon panned out in lieu of “Your sons and daughters shall prophecy” parallels how St. John defined prophecy: “[The] testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” That is exactly what Peter did as He was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: he embraced a pattern of words and actions very similar to liturgical worship centered on Jesus Christ.
Third, and this deals with the “see visions and dream dreams” bit, but we need to recall the work of the Holy Spirit. This also intersects with today’s passage for meditation, that Jesus and the Father will come and make their home with us. What is the Holy Spirit’s task? To take what belongs to Jesus and give it to us by way of declaration. It’s to bear witness to heavenly things and communicate them through earthly witnesses.
Unwittingly in the past several weeks I’ve used a phrase I’ve been a bit nervous about, referring to the Holy Spirit’s work as filling our faith with a palpable vision, or how the Eucharist changes our vision. I’ve been nervous about the word “vision” because of its charismatic and New Agey implications.
I no longer should feel nervous about that. “Your young men will see visions.” Of course they will! What, after all, is the work of the Holy Spirit again? To create a new creation in us rooted in the right hand of the Father. How can that not change our vision? Is it not a vision when we see the host and cup, and witness the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Is it not a vision when we see a baptismal font, and witness a crystalline river of life flowing from the throne of God? It it not a vision when we see a world with all its hardship and evils, and witness Jesus’ authority over all things leading everything to good?
That is what the vision that is the book of Revelation is. And it’s something each of us has as well. We don’t go to church to eat bad bread, bad wine, hang out with at times bad people, and listen to bad speeches. We go there because our vision is filled with what the Holy Spirit infuses into these earthly forms, Christ’s body and blood, saints, and God’s Word.
Heretics throughout the history of the Church have used the “prophecies, visions, and dreams” promise of Pentecost to justify all sorts of nonsense. It justified the allegorical approach of the Alexandrians and Gnostics; it justified the various charismatic movements, like Montanism and its modern incarnations; it justifies modern church growth gurus who love their “vision” statements, who use “visioning” in a more corporatist sense.
All this visioning is rooted in me coming up with some idea independent of the Holy Spirit’s work. And what is the Holy Spirit’s work? To bear witness to the heavenly reality of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand – and all this implies for us – and communicate this to us by way of declaration, that is, by His Word. Not to come up with new things that have nothing to do with Jesus, but more often have to do with my own work.
How’s this for a vision statement: “Our Church gathers around God’s right hand because Jesus Christ, in Himself, has lifted our humanity into a restored fellowship with the Father, and in the Eucharist we have a testament to this vision – it being the very body and blood of the one sitting at God’s right hand – and it revolutionizes our very vision of the whole world, even as the Holy Spirit drives away the darkness in our hearts – as He’s been doing from the beginning – so that we see nothing but goodness and light in our vision.”
It’s not quite as catchy as “Empowering the vision to transform relationships intentionally in a missional context, we do life together through authentic community.” But hey, it actually means something.
At any rate, today’s passage for meditation might make the simplest foundation for the vision: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
The Father and the Son will bring the heavenly reality into us, and we will truly be the temple of the Holy Spirit. That certainly will change our vision of things.