Jean II Restout’s 1732 painting titled Pentecost. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: The Spirit sets us on a challenging course

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  • May 24, 2020

Pentecost Sunday, May 31 (Year A) Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

The term “Holy Spirit” is often used in ambiguous ways.

For many, it is a theological doctrine used for official prayers and requires assent. Indeed, it is, but it is far more than that. Especially for the first generations of Jesus’ followers, it was a life-changing experience. It empowered and enlightened believers with the life-giving energies of God.

The community of believers had been shattered by the death of Jesus and they huddled in fear from the authorities. As the Spirit settled on each one in a dramatic fashion, the fear fell away and they felt themselves enabled to transcend many human frailties and limitations.

The primary gift of the Spirit was that of relationship, unity and reconciliation — with one another, outsiders and God. Many people previously separated by language and culture were able to understand Peter’s speech. The confusion and separation of the tower of Babel experience was being reversed.

The Spirit is not static but dynamic and always on the move. It soon forced the community to go beyond customs and traditions that encouraged exclusion or separation.

The emboldened apostles preached openly and fearlessly. It definitely took them where they would rather not go — even to the ends of the Earth and, for some of them, martyrdom.

The Spirit is not the preserver and stabilizer of the status quo, nor is it concerned with our own opinions, prejudices and theologies. Its sole agenda is the will of God the Father.

That is the main reason the Spirit makes people nervous. When we pray to the Spirit individually or together as a Church, it should be with the expectation that we will be challenged. We face many daunting challenges today, and the temptation is to hunker down and become overly defensive.

Our world is one of division, disunity and fear. But nothing can take the Spirit from us — it is not going anywhere. It will prod us to strike out in new directions, in the Church and in political, economic and social areas of human life.

Paul describes some of the ways the Spirit acts in community. “Jesus is Lord!” is easy enough to say with the lips, but only under the influence of the Spirit can we make that proclamation from the depths of our mind and heart. The Spirit also begins to eclipse the human ego.

Paul emphasizes that none of the spiritual gifts given to community members is their personal achievement of possession. They all come from the same Spirit and must be used for the common good.

All those abiding in the Spirit are bound together in a union of minds and hearts. There is no room for competition, greed, selfishness or exclusion. This is the way God intends us to live and there is no better way to respond to the challenges of our age.

Many people experience only the absence of God, but a vibrant mystical tradition insists that “God is closer to us than our own breath and heartbeat.” The word for “breath” and “spirit” is identical in the languages of both the Old and New Testaments. When Jesus breathed on His followers in the Upper Room, He was infusing them with the divine breath.

For those gifted with the Spirit, God’s breath or spirit is joined with their own, enabling them to experience harmony and union. They can never say that God is absent or distant.

Why are so few aware of this? John’s Gospel is clear: Our response of faith in Jesus requires us to dwell continually in Him in heart and mind.

This requires thinking in a spiritual rather than an earthly manner. Stepping away from our ego and our desire to control enables the Spirit of God to do its work.

Having imparted the Spirit to them, Jesus gave them a mission: to continue His work in the world. He had come into the world to transform human consciousness, enabling people to both know and experience God.

When we know and experience God ourselves and our own consciousness has been transformed then we are truly fit to be Christ’s presence in the world.

Jesus greeted them with “shalom” — peace — and that was much more than a mere greeting. The word can also mean whole or complete, lacking nothing. When God’s Spirit dwells in us, we are complete and we lack nothing.

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