May 7, 2012

Receiving the Holy Spirit

                It is not surprising that some New Testament scholars have referred to Acts as the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  Empowering, prompting, filling, transporting, and illumining, the Holy Spirit provides the dynamism for the early Christian witness.  Volume two of Luke’s salvation history pulsates with the presence of God’s own presence as Holy Spirit, who will be extravagantly sown in the lives of believers.

                The Spirit is always transgressing barriers erected by those who want to make exclusive claims about where God might be at work.  In the house of Cornelius while Peter was preaching, “. . . the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word . . . even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:44-45).  Persuaded that God was including them in this new epoch of redemption, he “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 48).  Gulping hard, Peter opens his heart to the primary “other” of his existence.  Transcending this boundary was the beginning of the evangelization of the Roman Empire.

                Yesterday afternoon I participated in the ordination service of Tyler Tankersley, a student in the first create cohort of Central and Student Pastor at Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO.  It was a spirited occasion!  Unlike the ordination services I witnessed in my home church where only ordained men participated, the line that wrapped around the sanctuary waiting to bless Tyler was full of youth as well as other generations of the congregation, male and female.  Rather than the solemn ritual of ponderous words offered by seasoned ministers as they laid hands on the ordinand, there were giggles and hugs and fist bumps.  Including all in the act of consecrating a minister is an expression of the Spirit who overturns hierarchy, makes worship celebrative, and kindles gifts for God’s service.

                Visible signs accompanied out-poured Spirit in Acts, but that is not the only way the Spirit is manifest.  In his fine book Practice Resurrection, Eugene Peterson warns against expecting demonstrable wonders as proof of the Spirit’s work in our lives.  “When God brings us into this Holy Spirit life of participation, he [God] doesn’t make a show out of it” (p. 199).  The Holy Spirit draws us into the life of God as Trinity so that we might participate in God’s work.

                Is God’s Spirit as active today as in the early fervor of proclaiming the resurrected Lord?  Yes, but not always in the same form.  There are ecclesial traditions that believe the confirming sign of the presence of the Spirit is speaking in tongues; others believe that this is not the sine qua non of being filled with the Spirit.  We must guard against circumscribing how the Spirit must work; at the same time we can grow in being receptive to all drawn by the Spirit’s tether—always more encompassing than we imagine.  The Holy Spirit is God present with us, transforming us to live into the patterns of resurrection.

                Molly T. Marshall

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