Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dangerous Spirit

According to the author of Luke/Acts, almost two thousand years ago, during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, tongues of fire descended from the clouds and into a crowd of early Christians, filling them with the Paraclete. The Helper. The Holy Spirit.

My friend Mark has spent the last few days discussing this with our little community of friends as he's put together a sermon for this week. A few high points of some of our conversations:

1. Acts 2:37. One of the assembled Jews asks what should be done, presumably for salvation. However, he specifically asks, "What should we do," suggesting that salvation is communal and codependent upon the actions of the community.

2. Acts 2:38. Peter responds that the only thing left to do is to repent of sins and be baptized. No "acceptance-of-Jesus-Christ-as-your-personal-Lord-and-Savior" talk. This is pretty consistent with Jesus's own teachings. Repent (turn or return), and you will be forgiven. No more, no less.

3. The Holy Spirit appears to be one of the most faith-threatening concepts of Christianity.

What makes the Holy Spirit--which I believe dwells in everyone, Christian or not--so difficult, and indeed, dangerous, is that it opens beliefs and convictions to the personal whims of individuals everywhere. More and more these days, I find myself believing things that aren't scriptural and even eschewing some beliefs that actually are found in scripture (the Book of Obadiah, anyone?), all because the Spirit within me--my heart, what the Quakers would call the Light of God--is so persuaded and convicted. However, there are others for whom this is untrue--even shockingly so--and they are led to this conviction by the Spirit, as well.

This obviously has its problems. The relative tension between personal conviction and communal salvation is sticky enough. But also, being comfortable with the idea that the Spirit can lead others in totally opposite directions seems to conflict with Jesus's last prayer for unity: "May they be one, like the Father and I are one."

Perhaps the Spirit with which we find ourselves endowed provides us the perilous freedom of a different kind of unity; a bond of solidarity that transcends dogma and doctrine and speaks to the most basic common denominator of our existence together: the community of our humanity.

Happy Pentecost, sisters and brothers.

Prayer for Pentecost
Spirit of life,
fill our emptiness with your fullness.
Spirit of power,
stir our hearts afresh.
Spirit of love,
touch us, and through us, our neighbor.
Spirit of creativity,
enable and empower us with the gifts we have been given.
Spirit of eternity,
draw us ever deeper into your Kingdom.
Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning,
is now and will be forever.
(adapted from

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