Graphic by David Chen

Spirit gives us our inspirational boost

  • May 25, 2017

Pentecost Sunday, June 4 (Year A) Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

Being filled with the Holy Spirit can be a rather scary thing. It cares little for our prejudices, opinions, fears and personal preferences, and is prone to take us where we do not want to go and ask us to do things from which we shrink in fear.

For the early Christians and for many others after them, an encounter with the Spirit was a transforming and life-altering experience, as the disciples assembled in the upper room soon discovered. They had been staying quiet and out of sight for they feared they would suffer the same fate as Jesus.

After the fiery and noisy descent of the Spirit, they proclaimed the risen Lord openly and fearlessly, continuing to do so throughout their ministry.

One must be willing to break from past customs, attitudes and behavioural patterns if prompted to do so.

Soon after the descent of the Spirit, Peter and the others were prodded and pushed to accept gentile converts to the faith and not to label or stigmatize them in any way.

Peter was shocked to see the Spirit fill Cornelius, a Roman officer, along with members of his household. He realized that they had entered the new age in which people were not to be divided according to ethnicity, class, status and gender.

We often need a powerful boost from the Spirit to break with the past for the sake of people and the advancement of God’s reign. It is never easy.

We have seen much resistance in our own time as some fight the movement of the Spirit because of the fear of change. We cannot live a life guided by the Spirit while maintaining a death-grip on our own way of thinking.

The Spirit is very much about dynamism, movement and change. We can allow ourselves to be swept along with its power or step aside and ignore it, but the Spirit will not be stopped. History’s great sages, teachers, spiritual leaders and reformers were those who opened their hearts and minds to its inspiration.

Paul insisted that one of the key signs of the Spirit’s work was unity. As the Spirit shaped and transformed the members of the community, they were challenged to think of themselves as one body, each unique and important, but not more so than the others.

The sign that the Corinthian community was in serious trouble was their factionalism, arrogance and competition.

Paul had to remind them that their spiritual gifts were just that — gifts — and had to be used for the common good.

They belonged to all, rather than being the personal property of individuals. Possessiveness is a corrosive attitude, leading to fragmentation and decay of the spiritual life of any community, religious or not.

The quiet giving of the Spirit in John’s Gospel did not appear to have any dramatic or immediate effect on the disciples. That would come later.

Jesus appeared in the upper room and blessed them with God’s Shalom — wholeness, health and peace — and then demonstrated what that meant.

Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus promised to leave them with a peace different from any sort of peace that the world could give. In fact, the worldly understanding of peace is not peace at all. The peace of Jesus was the healing of the sense of separation and alienation from God, other people and creation, replaced by a deep harmony and interconnectedness with all.

Jesus also gave His disciples the same mission that He had — to reveal the true God to the world in word, thought and deed.

Just as Jesus had revealed the Father in His own person, disciples were expected to reveal Jesus in theirs. It was an invitation to continue God’s work in the world.

This is a huge task and if it depended solely on us, it would be impossible. Jesus breathed the Spirit into them, the same Spirit present and active at the creation of the world, and created them anew. The same gift is offered to us, along with the same mission.

There is a desperate need for the Spirit’s work today, especially for reassurance that God is indeed in our midst and that our lives matter to God.

This is only possible if we are willing to allow the breath of God to instruct, guide and lead us.

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