Dear CME Family:
When recently did you press “SEND” after writing an email – and wished right away that you could take it back? That happened to me last Saturday night, after writing “Another Comforter” and pressing “SEND.”
I was concerned that I had not written sufficiently about the topic. I was concerned that the topic was “out of balance,” or, less than thorough.
You see, I had fallen into a comfortable trap of spiritualizing things that have more than spiritual impact. There’s something in the Western mindset that, when it spiritualizes things, makes those things seem to lose their sting, their power, their “umph!” (I love hymns, but too many of those we know are this way; that is, they direct us toward a comfortable place within rather than project us outward to do and serve and be bold in discipling and in living!)
Yes, I’m talking about “things,” but I need quickly to say that I’m not calling the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Godhead – a thing.
Perhaps the best way to describe this “trap” is to say that, in the thinking and writing mind of the Western world Christians of the 19th century and the 20th century, so much of Christianity is pietistic – about making one holy. (Please don’t hang up before you hear me!) The dominant problem with this thinking is that it tends to project this “call to holiness” as being something focused inwardly, internally, personal, and even private. And as I pressed “SEND” on last Saturday night, I caught my own disappointment, knowing had fallen into that trap, again.
The first thing I realized, as I walked away from “SEND,” was that it was too late and I was too tired to re-think and re-compose; so I determined to spend the week rethinking and recomposing. Better it is to write with a fresh mind than when weary.
The second thing, though, was the realization that all that power at Pentecost and the persistence of Jesus in telling the disciples to wait for it could not have been only about our personal, inward, or private experiences. There had to be a reason beyond each one’s personal experience for Jesus to have told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem! And that reason is plain in the text: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … in Jerusalem, … in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).
Was this power intended to be doted upon within? or to be received as a personal badge? or so that someone could gloat in one’s special, privatized relationship with God? No, the promised power intended to focus the disciples outward, to make them bold, to give them the confidence to re-shape society by their witnessing to the mighty acts of God in Jesus the Messiah, and in us!
Thus I spent moments this past week, musing over how best to express the power which fell at Pentecost! I thought of power in the sense of using dynamite to break through centuries-old mountainous rock structures with one explosion; in the sense of being a power that comes with nitroglycerin effects, that is, with ability to change what had existed before into something totally unidentifiable between the old and the new; in the sense of the bombastic nature with which God used the disciples to break through so-called sacred, previously private, prior held dogma and prejudices (such as the thought that only the Jews could be empowered or that only by going through the Jewish ways could one be empowered – remember Acts 10), while God, in fact, was using God’s empowered church to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
So, the Holy Spirit is powerful and life-changing! … and that change is both inward and outward!
Third, as I mused the subject even more in the week, I was struck by the centering moments in a meeting Wednesday in which Bishop Thomas Brown was guiding our thoughts in those moments. He emphasized the translation from the New Revised Standard Version, saying that the Holy Spirit is our advocate.
I had emphasized helper, one called alongside to help, but Bishop Brown, by using advocate, brought into clearer focus that the Holy Spirit’s activity, past and present, is also in advocating for justice in an unjust world.
Advocacy is not common to many of our experiences. We want things to get better, but we shirk from advocating for them, pressing for them, persisting in our support for them. The Holy Spirit, Bishop Brown said, is at work even in society today, advocating for the justice of those who do not receive it, advocating against injustice in issues like suppressive voting bills, advocating against the policies and powers of those who would subjugate others to a “less than” humane existence before God!
Those were not his exact words, but when he finished, I said, “Thanks for the correction!”
So, Dear Family, I try again: the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Advocate, is more than our personal helper, intercessor, or mediator. He is also God with us, empowering us, motivating us, moving us to witness and to change what is wrong in our world. And He is the Godly persona who, even when the weights of the world’s systems overwhelm our own passions to persist, is advocating beyond our advocacy so that the world still will know what God calls truth!
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick