The Holy Spirit: Now and Always
The Holy Spirit: Now and Always
May 20, 2018
In the end, the Bible talks to us about three distinct ways of experiencing God’s presence. First, there is the God who is the source of all that is, who brought order out of chaos, who created us in God’s image,. This God, whom we learn about in the Old Testament, is the God who mostly stands outside of history, expecting all that is to be what it was created to be. Occasionally, when the creation strays too far from that order, God intervenes. God works through particular people (for example, Moses) to right a certain wrong (the slavery of our ancestors in Egypt.) However, the expectation is that the creation should be able to stay in covenant relationship with the creator. God gives us commandments and prophets to guide us in living a faithful life. Yet, the story, for the most part, is one of us using the freedom that God has given us to stray from that faithful path.
God is still experienced in and through creation, in and through doing the right thing, in and through the times when chaos gives way to a deeper order. There is still a sense of wholeness when we are who God created us to be and when the world is what God created it to be, as well. And yet, this sense was not enough to keep us on a faithful path.
So, God became one of us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We experience God’s presence when the story of Jesus of Nazareth comes to life for us. He shows us “the way” that we would live if we lived a life of faith: caring about the outcast and the overlooked and the poor, choosing to love and forgive and serve in this lifetime. Jesus invites us into a life that is about more than just our own needs. And, he invites us to see that self-sacrifice is the heart of such a life. Ultimately, as he faces our worst fears and even death, itself, he sets us free to really live. When we live in that way, we feel connected to him.
By the end of the Gospels, one way or another, each Gospel agrees that Jesus was with us, showing us the way to live. Then he was with us, even after death, in ways that were beyond our explanations. After a while, though, he was gone. He “ascended,” as the theologians later came to say. (“Up” seemed as good of an explanation as any other…) This was when people began to remember what he had taught them, particularly in the Gospel of John, that there was one who would come after him, the advocate, the counselor, the guide. Having experienced the God who made us and the God who was one of us, the promise was that there would be a third way that we were yet to experience God.
Now, I want you to pause with me for a moment. Have you ever had a serious loss in your life—a moment where someone you loved deeply died? Chances are, if you know what I am talking about then the dynamics of what is happening here will be familiar. If that person was a key person in your universe, at first it is unimaginable to think of a world without them. You are who you are because of the impact they had on you. Your world was the world that it was because they were woven into it. Now, they are torn from that fabric. You feel “dislocated” and you can’t locate them. Your head spins.
Then, it happens. You are out walking and something reminds you of them and for a moment that distance from them is bridged. Or, you have a dream, the kind of dream that is so vivid that you fight not to wake up. You are right there with them and they are right there with you. Or, maybe you don’t have either of those experiences. Instead, someone comes up to you to tell you about their experience or their dream and a big part of your reaction is, “Hey, why didn’t I get to have that experience or that dream? I was closer to them than you!” Then, it happens…the experiences, the dreams, the experiences others are having all stop and all you feel is distance. You don’t close yourself off to their presence but you wonder, “Where did they go?” You wait and you wonder…
What you discover, if you are willing to wait and to wonder at some point is that three things are true. First, death is real. All the ways that you knew that person when they were living under the same roof with you or when you sat and had lunch together or when you fished from the same boat—those days are done. Second, that weird interim phase of mystical experiences is over, too. That chapter of encountering things that brought that person close every now and then has finished. Third, though, if you’ve stayed open, somehow, in some way, what you discover is that this beloved person is now right here in your heart and your mind all the time. It is not that they are gone. Rather, the experience is that they have moved right in. They are with you and available to you…all the time.—if you learn how to feel their presence, if you learn how to listen to your life, if you open yourself to the ways that feeling their presence might guide you. They are still profoundly a part of your life in an entirely new way, if you are willing to wait and be open.
We catch up to the earliest followers of Jesus in their time of waiting and wondering. This is huge! People, generally, are terrible at waiting, especially if they don’t know what’s coming next. Yet, bad as we all may be at being patient and being open at the same time, they not only manage that but they manage to stay together while they are waiting. They are all together in one room, sitting and waiting.
Here’s the thing about waiting. Waiting feels like forever while you are waiting. We sit there and think, “Is this ever going to end?” If there had been bad People Magazines like they always have at the doctor’s office, folks would have been reading them. If they had phones, they would have been checking their Facebook accounts. If they had headphones, they might have listened to a few tunes. That’s the thing, though, they were waiting and they had no distractions. All they had to do was choose whether to get lost in the space between one another or lost in the black hole inside of themselves. The world that God had created seemed pretty broken, with the Romans and the corrupt authorities running the show. The way that Jesus had taught them turned out to lead to a horror show on a cross. Even the reports of the risen Jesus appearing seemed to lead only to the conclusion that he had somehow gone somewhere that we cannot go. We keep sitting. We keep waiting.
Then, the waiting ends. This is the secret: the waiting always ends, which makes so much sense until it’s time to wait again. The waiting feels like forever until what’s next happens. Then it turns out that it was only a five minute wait or a five hour wait or a five day wait. Change comes…and in an instant…the waiting is over.
So, the discomfort of waiting is replaced by…the disorientation that is change. Change comes and we don’t have a clue what is unfolding. Like the first few moments on a great rollercoaster, we click, click, click our way to the top of the first big peak, wondering when we will ever go faster. Then, we slingshot over the top of that crest and scream, “Slow this thing down!” When we were waiting, we convinced ourselves that the end of waiting would be such a relief. Then, as soon as change comes, we suddenly long for the familiar.
Change does come. As they are sitting together in a room, our earliest Christian ancestors are biding their time and then, in an instant, things go crazy. Their ears are overwhelmed by a sound that seems like the rush of a wind. (Do you remember the rush of the wind across the face of the earth in the Genesis creation story—the “Ruach Elohim”—the breath of God?) A tongue of fire rests on each of them. (Do you remember the burning bush that called out to Moses, that began the process by which Pharaoh would be confronted and the people would be set free?) Every person in that room is filled with the Holy Spirit, something which had previously been given only to a select few but was now shared with everyone.
What we have to see is that though what is happening is powerful and new, it is built out of the basic building blocks from which God has always worked: the creative breath of God, the burning fire of God’s presence, the inspiration of the Spirit which enables us to do what we couldn’t do before. All of this comes together in this moment that we know as Pentecost. Here’s the thing, though: everyone in that room is filled with God’s presence. Everyone in that room is able to do things that they would never have been able to do. Everyone is made new in this moment because now, everyone, has the chance to experience God not only as the source of all that is or the source of teaching on how to live but as the God who is within us and beside us and between us—always. God hasn’t changed. Rather, every person in that room has been changed by the core awareness that God is right there with them—here and now and always.
People who would never have been able to come up with the right words on their own suddenly speak those words. People are inspired and empowered. Maybe, most tellingly, people who never would have been connected to each other are now not only connected but they understand each other. Everyone is amazed and perplexed—except for the most jaded in the crowd. They just assume that everyone is “hammered.”
The God who created us in the beginning and who became one of us for a while is now with us always—as the Holy Spirit. This way of experiencing God’s presence still inspires us and empowers us and guides us. This is the God who sees the dilemmas and challenges of our lives and whispers to us, “Let’s figure this out—together.” This is the God who patiently listens as we talk ourselves out of doing the task at hand, “I can’t care for this person; I can’t deal with this challenge; I can’ttell this truth to power.’ Then, God whispers to us, “I bet we can—together.” This is the God who patiently waits for the noise to die down inside of us so that we can finally hear our calling: “Let’s love our way through this day—together.”