Day of Pentecost, Year A
[This is a contribution to the Pentecost Grid Blog, in which bloggers around the world are celebrating Pentecost in their entries on or related to May 15 and the season of Pentecost. Feel free to join in!]
In John 14, Jesus promises the Spirit that he breathes upon them in John 20, and which comes upon the believers gathered to observe Pentecost in Acts 2. As Christians, we celebrate at Pentecost the coming of this Holy Spirit.
That statement doesn't have a lot of content for a lot of people, though. Coming on the eve of release for Star Wars' Episode III, we might be tempted to think of the Spirit Jesus promises as being like “the Force” that Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars describes impersonally as “an energy field created by all living things” that “surrounds us and penetrates us,” a mysterious phenomenon that gives those very few who can perceive and channel it hidden powers, as well as the temptation to become rulers of the galaxy.
But in John, the Spirit is described in far more personal terms. In John 14:16, the Spirit is an “advocate,” a term for a person who defends others. And John particularly emphasizes that the Spirit Jesus sends is “the Truthful Spirit” (14:17, 15:26, and 16:13 -- I go with Malina and Rohrbaugh in that rendering of the phrase usually rendered as “Spirit of Truth”), a phrase that describes someone with nothing to hide, a person whose character is fully manifest. “Truth” (aletheia -- with the 'e' being an eta) can also mean “reality”; a truthful person is one who makes what's real manifest for any to see.
If we look at what the Spirit does, not only in John, but in Luke's (the NT author, not the Skywalker) and Paul's works, that seems an apt description. The Spirit manifests and makes visible in the community of Jesus' followers, the Body of Christ (to use one of Paul's favorite images) what is really the case, what God is doing in the world. If a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God's grace, you might say that the Spirit is what makes sacramental living possible, who makes the Body of Christ an outward and visible sign to the world of what God's grace is accomplishing.
The Spirit is the person who binds Jesus' followers together in such a way that our life together and our ministry in the world make clear for all to see that God is at work in the world, proclaiming and manifesting Good News for the poor and release for the prisoners, bridging barriers between men and women, between nations and ethnicities, between rich and poor, healing and reconciling the whole world to one another and to God. The Spirit takes a dream, the dream God gives to the prophets:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh;
your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit
-- Joel 2:28-30
... and makes the dream manifest, showing it to be reality for the world.
In short, the Spirit does everywhere and upon all flesh what Jesus does. That's why Jesus describes the Spirit in John 14:16 as another Advocate, and 1 John (2:1) presents Jesus as our Advocate as well. The Spirit is not an impersonal Force, but the Truthful person who leads us all into all aletheia, making God's grace manifest in the Body of Christ and therefore in the world.
In other words, the work of the Spirit is a lot like the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the world of Buffy, one person in each generation is chosen, infused with an ancient spirit and extraordinary gifts to fight evil. As the Chosen One, Buffy has spent the series with her friends saving the world. The final season of the series has Buffy gathering from around the world “the Potentials,” those who, if the Chosen One dies, might become the next to be chosen, given the lonely task of using her extraordinary gifts to save the world. And in the final episode, Buffy's cadre of friends do something more extraordinary: they change the rules, releasing the Chosen One's power so that every one of the Potentials is Chosen, every young girl around the world who might do what Buffy does is empowered to do what Buffy does, and more.
That move does two things in the story world of Buffy. First, it puts evil on the run in a big way. The Chosen One was powerful, but now the Chosen in countless numbers reach around the world, across every nation, class, and race. What evil could stand against that? And second, it changes the experience of being Chosen. The Chosen One had a small band of friends who tried their best to be loyal to her though they could never fully understand her, but the Chosen in every nation are surrounded by others who share their vocation and have been given gifts to make it happen, not just in one town, one state, one country, but everywhere.
But the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fantasy and fiction, and the powers we're facing off against make the monsters of Buffy look tame. We live in a world where racism, sexism, and economic injustice are entrenched, not only in individual lives, but also in systems that both perpetuate it and amplify its effects. We live in a world where even Jesus' name and the scriptures have become tools used to justify schism, persecution, violence, and furthering the privilege of the rich at the expense of the world's poor. We live in a world where the barriers to the justice, healing, and reconciliation of God's kingdom are immense and powerful.
But those barriers are not the final word. God so loved us that in every generation, God chose prophets to speak truth to power and point us toward God's kingdom. God so loved us that in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to teach and heal, love and forgive, and to gather to himself a community in which God's love rules. And now, God has breathed the Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism upon each and every one of us. We celebrate at Pentecost that as Jesus gathers us in community, we are empowered by the Spirit to do the works that Jesus does, and even greater (John 14:12). In Christ, God's chosen and anointed, all of us “Potentials” are Chosen, and we who were not a people have become God's people, one Body of Christ living into the truth that all of the old divisions between men and women, between the nations, between the haves and the have-nots have been overcome and will be overcome throughout the world.
That's not fiction: that's Gospel. That's the Good News we've received and are called to spread throughout the nations. And that Good News means that the dreams of the prophets, the dream of God that some might dismiss as fantasy, fiction, or wishful thinking, is being made manifest among us and in the world with a power that no dark power can overcome.
Thanks be to God!
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When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among... [Read More]
Tracked on May 18, 2005 7:55:19 PM
This is another good piece of writing to add to your lectionary explorations, though I have to disagree on the idea of intentionality. As I've made it clear to you, I don't hold with the idea of theism per se, but prefer to see God (and the Holy Spirit) through the lens of panentheism. In this respect, I feel Obi-Wan's discussion of the Force in Star Wars is dead on.
God, particularly as embodied in the Holy Spirit, is the root of all existence, and therefore stands firmly on the side of prosperity and growth in fact. Life that endures is life of balance -- strong and weak, rich and poor, etc. -- and therefore there's no real need, at least for me, to ascribe intentionality to something that the early Christians attempted to explain in theistic terms.
Writers, like the author of John, viewed the sacred in strictly theistic terms, but that doesn't mean we have to. Rather, we can take the understanding we have now and return to the language of John to see the common truths there.
Posted by: James | May 11, 2005 9:17:04 AM
LOVE the Buffy illustration. I remember watching that final epi two years ago (ah, two years without Buffy!) and when they decided to change the rules, and we saw the potential slayers all over the world experience their new power and possibility, I turned to my husband and said PENTECOST!
Think I'll go watch that epi on DVD before I do any more on my sermon for Sunday.
Posted by: Paige | May 11, 2005 2:08:27 PM
This is the best yet, Dylan. Thanks.
Posted by: Tripp | May 12, 2005 2:32:36 PM
Thank you Dylan
An interesting correlation between Scripture and culture that I have always seen as a useful teaching/homiletical tool.
God's ever expanding ministry of reconciliation is a mysterious wonder.
I just spent the morning with a group from the Islamic Society of Annapollis. In their own version of church planting they are going to break ground in June for a Mosque
and education center on St. Stephen's Church
Rd near Rt.3. In our very fearful and suspicious time they reached out to the
Christian community for dialogue. I invited them to St.Stephen's today. I was impressed
by there commitment to values of cooperation
with us for the good of the community. It struck me as a remarkably holy moment when we are surrounded by so many stories of violence and misunderstanding.
God is radically free in the Spirit's movement of reconciliation; And sometimes
The God of Scripture is also the God of nature and history. I have always experienced that in a very personal way.
To make God some thing less than personal(even if we imagine it to be "more")is to make God something less than ourselves and
ourselves into "idols" of the personal
and decison making realm. Pretty frightening given our track record of stewardship on this planet.
The Holy Spirit that renews the face of the
earth is our ever present hope of becoming
wiser. I rejoice that Pentecost KEEPS HAPPENING.
Posted by: Steven Hagerman | May 14, 2005 11:55:07 AM
The Buffy reference is perfect. It got me thinking about Pentecost as another Christmas. I have been preaching about us being Jesus in the world--each of us as the union of the divine and human. Just as at Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus, at Pentecost we celebrate the incarnation of God in us. The Buffy story will really help me tomorrow. Thanks.
Posted by: Brian Baker | May 14, 2005 7:12:37 PM
In the book of Acts, the obvious presence of the Holy Spirit marked believers. Indeed, the Jewish Christians could not but accept the Gentile believers because they could not deny the presence of the Spirit in their lives.
This kind of thing is not talked about much in the American church, where doctrine is king, as though one could learn enough to bring the Spirit of God into one's life.
I am reminded that I am unable to be the kind of person God wants me to be. Rather than waste a lot of my own energy in trying to BE a better Christian, I put a considerable bit of my own time and energy into prayer and waiting for the Spirit of God to help me become who I need to be.
This takes the pressure off me, makes me grateful and therefore Grace-ful with others who need a good dose of God's love.
Posted by: Real Live Preacher | May 17, 2005 12:36:55 PM
I followed a link here from RLP's blog, and I'm glad I did. I'm enjoying your commentary; though we work from different scriptures, I can see a lot here that I can learn from. :-)
Also, I love the Buffy reference in this most recent post! Buffy certaintly was a theologically-fascinating show...
Posted by: Rachel | May 17, 2005 1:56:59 PM