A Gift of Spirit

Scriptures: Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11

Let us pray:
We believe, Lord, that you are here, present. Although our eyes do not see you, our faith senses you. Take any stray thoughts from our minds. Enable us to understand the truths you would desire to teach us in this meditation. Empower us to put them into practice. Your servants are listening; speak, Lord, to our souls. (Pause for a moment of silence) Amen.

It has been six months since my very traditional ordination service in this little country church. I remain convinced the Holy Spirit is and has been present here in this place. Why was I led to you, where are you being led in your next chapter of ministry, what shall we do during this time when the Spirit has brought us together, and how do we listen best for the Spirit’s leading?

Last week the lectionary jumped ahead a bit to a time after the first arrival of the Holy Spirit…this week’s lesson looks at what led to the Holy Spirit’s first arrival, and next week we celebrate Pentecost, remembering the first visitation of the Holy Spirit on Christian humankind and the birthday of Christ’s Church.

There is an interesting history with trying to define the Holy Spirit.  I am guessing it probably starts with language.  The Greek word used in the New Testament for Spirit is pneuma, which is a neuter, or non-gendered word.  Yet in the older Hebrew Scriptures  we get a feminine nuance for Spirit, ruah, which can also mean breath or wind.

When the Church first started referring to the Holy Spirit with a male article, it was after the Catholic Church translated Greek scriptures into Latin. The proper noun for Holy Spirit in Latin is rendered male, spiritus.  I find this progression from feminine to neuter to male gendered nuances in language for the Holy Spirit utterly fascinating. Why did that happen?

For a few minutes, let’s think about that just for fun. From the earliest recordings of creation stories, including stone-age sculpture art, the power of bringing forth life is and always has been associated with women. I do not remember where I read this, maybe an anthropology class, maybe from texts of historical fiction, but on a purely rudimentary observational level from prehistoric times, is it any wonder that for the first 84,000 years of human history, the homo sapien concept of the divine realm rested with a feminine Creator God at its head?

Quick switch: Because the New Testament as we know it was written in Greek, I find it very curious and compellingly interesting that Jesus is always referring to God as Abba, Father, and refers to the Advocate, or Helper, with male articles. That doesn’t quite fit with a Hebrew understanding of ruah.

Regardless, as Jesus ascends to heaven, “to my father and to your father” he tell us “what my father has promised:…you [will be] clothed with power from on high.” Jesus says, “For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send [that one] to you” (John 16:7). Commentator David Cunningham reminds us that this is an example of one part of the trinity giving space for another part.

“As Rowan Williams has suggested, each of the three divine “persons” seeks not to gain pride of place or to assert hierarchical dominion over the others, but to give place to the others, so that they too can most fully be what they are. As such, the divine Trinity models for us the true nature of community, in which self-assertion and hegemony give way to a polyphonic chorus of mutual participation and difference.” Let me put that in plain English. The divine Trinity models getting along. The individual members of the Trinity do not seize power and hold onto to it, keeping it from the others, they make space so that power is shared, so each member can shine on its own, and so the unity of the whole mirrors a stronger Three in One.

We can definitely learn from that! Now I need to go out on a limb here. Coming back to the Holy Spirit, I do not think it is too far a stretch to say Jesus was a Jew…which leads me to speculate he might have understood the Holy Spirit with a more Jewish feminine understanding, not with the masculine Greek words we have recorded in the Gospels.
Why do I bring this all up? It leads me to ask a few questions: How might we grow in our journey of faith if we were to regain, reclaim, or ruminate more on the Jewish understanding of the Holy Spirit? How might our own life of the Spirit be impacted if we paid more attention to the life of the Spirit of which we all share? Would we be more willing to share power, knowing in our very core beings that giving space for others to bloom and grow in their own right makes all of us stronger? Would we be more able to lead by example a more just society where love of neighbor, and not of self, reigns supreme?

Jesus says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

What kind of power, exactly, are you talking about, Jesus? Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:5
What is baptism but a rebirth? We let the old life go and, like Christ, die if you will, claiming a new life in Christ when we pass through the waters of baptism. How much more, then, would a baptism by the Holy Spirit be? Is it a letting go of our own selfish will for our lives and letting God in to rule our lives if we but allow ourselves to be baptized by the Holy Spirit? I can only imagine that might be incredibly powerful indeed! What, then, would we be empowered to do or be?

Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

If I am supposed to witness for you, Jesus, I do not want to be just your diplomat to this world? I don’t want to be a Christian representative to the House of Common Life or a senator for the Senate of Hard Knocks? With my jaded generation X perspective on politics, I confess: to me sometimes that is all it seems to be now-a-days. However, witnessing for Christ is nothing more and nothing less than living out a realized Reign of God on Earth, even amidst these secular times in a secular nation in a world continually trying to throw off the yoke of religious life to become ever more secular.

How much do we participate in unjust balances of power? Just like your people of old, do we stray from you, making our own way in the world, blocking out you and one another? That is not being your witnesses. What we really need is to know-and share-is that your Holy Spirit is alive and active in every one of us from every stripe, color, and walk of faith-filled lives. Awaken in us the awareness that life is precious, all of life, and engender in us your own holy will for reconciliation with one another and all creation. Pour out your Spirit on all flesh, that we may be recipients of it!

Let us pray: Lord, you have said: “All things are possible with God if only we believe.” Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the same Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of the faithful, grant that we may be truly wise; truly loving, truly servants of the Most High, in the name of Christ we pray. Amen? May it be so.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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