Please notice the Circle of the Church Year diagram below. The Church Year begins with the first Sunday of Advent; it’s at about 11:00 on the diagram. From Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to the Ascension, everything in our story is a preparation for Pentecost – the day the Holy Spirit was poured into humanity. Even the Old Testament looked forward to this moment: “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), and “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2), and many more.
Fascinating to me: Following Pentecost we call it “Ordinary Time.” Why fascinating? Because, on the one hand, there’s nothing “ordinary” about it. It’s life infused with the Spirit of the living God. But on the other hand, our faith imagines that this, that is, life infused with the Spirit, will be “ordinary” or “the norm.”
Now, what’s the “normal” Christian life?
Life led —
guided, empowered, consoled, encouraged, etc. by the Holy Spirit.
Life not driven —
by anxiety, performance, goals, fear, shame, blame, anger, competition, revenge, etc.
Does this mean the Spirit led life does not have goals, ambitions, the pursuit of excellence, competition, and the like? Not at all!
Rather, the Spirit led life is nothing but a courageous, daring, bold, singularly focused pursuit of perfection in Christ. Everything about the Spirit led life is directed toward one purpose, one goal, one ambition, one desire: To be perfected in Christ. Moreover, though on the one hand this is a bold, daring life, on the other hand it is the most normal life there is: To be led by the Spirit within moment by moment. From making the coffee, to planning the merger, to morning prayers — led by the Spirit moment by moment.
“Perfect?” Absolutely when rightly understood. Perfection is all about intention.
Hear these words from St. Paul, paraphrased to make them more relevant to our social and religious context (Philippians 3:7-15):
Whatever was gain to me, I have set aside for the sake of the one goal. More than that, I regard everything else as a distraction except this one goal: the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have given up everything, and, indeed, I count it all as dung, in order that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having achieved something for which I can boast, but having gained that which comes from God as gift. I want only one thing: to know Christ and the power of his resurrection; to share in his self-giving life, so that I, too, may be raised from the dead.
Not that I have already achieved the goal or have already been perfected; but I press on to lay hold of this goal, for which Christ has laid hold of me. Friends, I do not consider that I have already laid hold of it; rather this one thing I do: Forget what lies behind and strain to the uttermost for what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. As many of you as are perfect, let this be your intention, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal this to you.
Perfection is in the intending, being perfect is God’s business.
This is why there is no try but only do on the spiritual journey. However bumbling we may stumble, we forget what lies behind and press forward to the upward call of life led by the Spirit. This is the perfect life. This is the normal Christian life.
In another place St. Paul says it more simply: “For as many as are by the Spirit of God led, these children of God are” (Romans 8:14).
Grace and Peace,
More to come …