The Common Good
June 2011

Holy Spirit Mapping

by Enuma Okoro | June 2011

Jesus says, receive the Holy Spirit, whom you cannot control. Diversity is an essential attribute of a Spirit-filled church.

It is the season aflame with the power of a living God. The triune community, or Trinity, interrupts and invades our ordinary lives right where we are. As always, we have the choice either to close our eyes and ears and ignore the holy invasion or to allow ourselves to be caught off guard and swept up in God’s mysterious transforming work of making all things new. Either way, God is set loose on the world. We are invited to join -- to participate in bringing kingdom order out of worldly chaos. Be prepared; it’s not what we expect.

This season's scriptures beautifully affirm God’s eternal love for us. The world will never be bereft of God's active and healing presence. Receiving the fullness of such a gift is dependent on understanding what it means to be God’s children and to be a church that follows a crucified Jesus, a risen Christ, and an ascended Lord.

The Holy Spirit labors the church into being and gives birth to new life in our individual bodies and in our ecclesial body. To follow Christ and to be a part of the Spirit-filled church is to immerse ourselves in the world in ways that pursue and proclaim unity and community mirrored in the triune love relationship. The psalms call us to a posture of praise in all things. Doxology is the faithful response to a creating God who makes all things new again and again.

Enuma Okoro, of Durham, North Carolina, is the author of Reluctant Pilgrim and co-author of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

The book of Acts begins with disciples inquiring about their own agenda, their own interpretation of what God's work entails: "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" (1:6). Like the disciples, we are tempted continually to ask, "Lord, is this when all things work out the way we expect them to?"

Christ, however, always has an unconventional response to the expectations of the world. Jesus tells the disciples just to worry about being the church, because the coming Holy Spirit will lead them. These biblical passages call us to faithful loving in the present, trusting the future to God. They invite us to a reordered sense of justice and what it means to share in the glory of God's kingdom.

Psalm 68 is a joyful account of what God's justice looks like and what it means to be a Spirit-led church. Orphans, widows, and prisoners are cared for. God’s work always involves addressing the needs of the marginalized and always calls for unity. However, the crucial point is that the church is only able to be the church when we receive power through the Holy Spirit and then can be Christ’s witnesses "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

In 1 Peter 4 we are reminded that God's work in the world can never be accomplished by our efforts alone. Without receiving and obeying the Spirit, the church will fail under the power of and persecution from all forces that oppose Christ. This epistle prepares us. When we strive to be a Spirit-led church, we will encounter the same reaction that Jesus did.

Yet recognizing the glory of God given to us through the Spirit, we cannot let suffering and hardship affect our perseverance or cause us to abandon our care and love for others. The Spirit enables us to strive for unity under trial and not fall prey to fragmentation and falling away. In Christ, when the going gets tough, the Christian keeps going through the Spirit. As John's gospel points out, God is glorified when God bends down and shows care for others, as Christ bends down in the incarnation (John 17:4), and the Holy Spirit bends down at Pentecost, and as we bend down in loving service by the power of the Spirit.

[ June 12 ]
Running Spiritual Barricades
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35;
1 Corinthians 12:3-13; John 20:19-23

In Acts 2 the church is born. We witness how God seeks to encounter all people graciously. God descends upon those gathered from every nation and offers the love and transforming power of the triune community, with holy respect for how God has formed a diverse humanity in God’s own image. Pentecost is God's "show-and-tell" lesson that after the incarnation no one people has a purchase on the fullness of God. No single denomination, no one race, no one ethnicity, and no one socioeconomic group mediates God's fullness to the world. Diversity is an essential attribute of a Spirit-filled church (Acts 2:8,18). Psalm 104 recognizes and praises the God of creation, who is always creating new realities that invite the faithful to participate in God’s kingdom love.

The modern church, however, has grown exceptionally good at minimizing the powerful role of the Holy Spirit in our individual and corporate lives. If we downplay the Spirit's presence, then it is we who decide what it means to be church, who gets to be part of God’s kingdom, and what role we will play in it all.

Yet despite our human tendencies, the grace of God will not leave us to our own devices and personal missions. John's gospel shows that God steps through our ignorance, our fear, and our spiritual barricades to offer us a wild peace made manifest in a raging, life-giving Spirit. Peace be with you, Jesus says, and receive the Holy Spirit, whom you cannot control (John 20:19, 22).

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians links the Spirit's descent on the corporeal church with holy invasion in our individual bodies. Our bodies constitute the church, and our individual lives are implicated in the new responsibilities to witness to Christ inclusive love and care for all people (1 Corinthians 12:7). When the church fails to be faithful in caring for the marginalized and working toward justice for all people, or fails to recognize that the fullness of God's image is spread through all races and ethnicities, then we each individually have failed and grieved the Spirit that resides in us.

[ June 19 ]
Intentional Community
Genesis 1:1 - 2:4; Psalm 8;
2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" The psalmist’s question both humbles and delights. We are reminded that we are not gods. We do not create out of nothing (Genesis 1:1-2). We cannot bring order to chaos without the life-giving Spirit that guides, empowers, and sustains us. But the Spirit graces us to share in unmerited glory and honor as creatures made in the divine image.

For the Spirit-filled Christian, Christ is the image-bearer into which we gaze for a glimpse of our own holy reflection. Yet Christ's personhood and the fullness of that image is manifest in the triune relationship. We most reflect God's image when engaged in relationship with God and one another. As Paul writes encouraging words for unity and reconciliation to the church at Corinth, we see that a community is only as healthy as its humble love of God and its openness to God’s active Spirit. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you," Paul writes (2 Corinthians 13:13). Division comes when we forget that we do not make up the rules for what it means to be a Spirit-filled, Christ-centered church.

Matthew’s gospel makes this point decisively clear. All authority belongs to Christ, whose identity cannot be separated from the triune community. We only partake in God's transforming work if we first ground ourselves in the triune community. We must acknowledge that God chooses to invite us, without merit, to participate in the new thing God is already doing through Christ. New creation, whether at the beginning of our sense of time or in the historical reality of the incarnation, is always a sign of God actively giving to the world.

[ June 26 ]
The Binding of Isaac
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18;
Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

The test of Abraham in Genesis 22 raises the offensive yet ultimate question: "What kind of God calls a father to sacrifice his only son?" The equally shocking answer is, in part, "the kind of God willing to do the very same thing for the salvation of the world." The trauma, the test, the unknowable notwithstanding, this text is about the faith of Abraham and the faithfulness of God. With a heart that ultimately trusts in God, there is nothing Abraham will withhold from God -- not even the very son through whom he assumed God would fulfill God’s promise. The sacrifice of Isaac gives us a glimpse of what God is really like. God requires obedience and, like the Israelites, we Christians have been freed from captivity to sin and bound in obedience to God.

The text in Romans 6 highlights our baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It asks if we are willing to live in God's new reality. Reading these texts alongside Matthew 10:40-42, we have to acknowledge that when we say “yes” to Jesus, the son, we thereby say "yes" to the full Trinity, including also God as a father and God as the Holy Spirit, who brings guidance and transforming power. If whoever welcomes a prophet and a righteous person receives a prophet and a righteous person’s reward (Matthew 10:41), then what kind of reward do we receive when we welcome the triune God? Perhaps the answer begins with the doxological words of the psalmist in Psalm 89:1-4: Our reward is the faithfulness and steadfast love of God.

"Preaching the Word," Sojourners' online resource for sermon preparation and Bible study, is available at www.sojo.net/ptw.

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