Transforming Spirit: Ecstacy and Inclusion (Bruce Epperly)

 Acts 2 is one of the most exhilarating passages of scripture.  It marks a new beginning for the early Christians, as they receive the promised baptism of the Spirit, are empowered to declare the gospel in multiples of languages, and begin a movement of growth that continues to this day.  Bruce Epperly offers in this essay the third installment of his journey through Acts, focusing on the ecstatic and inclusive work of the Spirit in the church and in our lives.  I invite you to ponder this text and this commentary.  


Adventurous Theology #3
Transforming Spirit:  Ecstasy and Inclusion
Bruce G. Epperly
Acts 2:1-41

Living with the Acts of the Apostles will transform your life and your community of faith. Spirit-centered faith is both ecstatic and inclusive.  Strap on your safety belts and put on your crash helmets when the Spirit shows up in dramatic ways!  Be prepared to go to unexpected places!

 In the dynamic call and response of the divine-human relationship, prayer leads to an opening for a surprising and dramatic revelation of God's Spirit.  Yes, God was present in the ongoing prayer and community life of the earliest Christians.  God's still small voice echoes through stillness as well as storm.  But, when we pray, we open a field of force that enables God to be more creative and powerful in realizing God's vision for ourselves and the world.  Prayer is an act of partnership with God and creation in which we take our place alongside God in creating the future for us and the world. On the day of Pentecost, the prayers of the first Christians were answered with a deep and convincing experience of God's presence, not just for themselves but for the wider community.  The Spirit is never a private possession, though we may experience it in moments of solitude; it always drives us from individual transformation to communal and planetary transformation.  The Spirit always lures us toward unexpected missions for transforming the world.

Ecstatic experiences transcend nation and ethnicity and call us to see everyone as God's beloved child.  The apostles speak in other languages awakening the pluralistic Pentecost community to the message of Jesus the Christ.   People hear God's words of hope in their own tongues and not the tongue of an external or imperialistic power.  Pentecost is about ecstasy and drama, but it is just as importantly about unity amid diversity.  The gifts of ethnicity and diversity remain, but find  their  meaning in the larger divine vision for humankind.  We can never fully experience God's revelation apart from our affirmation of God's presence in strangers and aliens.   God's healing includes all creation and we cannot be fully healed – indeed, fully saved – without the salvation of creation in all its diversity.

The global and universal are always experienced personally.  God's Spirit will enliven “all flesh.” All groups of people – young men and women, elderly persons, rich and poor – will receive visions and dreams.  Today, we must expand our concepts of divine revelation to include persons of all gender and sexual identities, immigrants, homeless persons, children, persons of other faiths, and enemies.  God can and does speak through all things.  The whole earth will be transformed by our mystical experiences.

The interplay of divine call and human response leads to deeper and more inclusive experiences of call and response.  Those who have been touched by the Spirit ask for further guidance and receive greater energy and power.  Everyone who calls will be answered personally in terms of her or his experience and social location.  In this instance, calling on God requires repentance, that is, a renewed mind and transformed behaviors, fitting their transformed experiences.  As the apostle Paul proclaims, “Be not conformed to this world [the familiar world of injustice, materialism, self-interest] but be transformed by the renewing of your find.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Pentecost is a challenge and invitation to be spirit-centered; to open to surprising manifestations of God's Spirit, to expect miracles (quantum leaps in spirituality and healing energy working within natural forces) and accept them when they occur even when they challenge our current world views and religious practices.  Progressive and moderate Christians can have worship, praise, preaching, and spiritual practices as lively as the Spirit's movements.  The Spirit lures us onward on a holy adventure, which includes creation in all its wondrous beauty.

Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion.  He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life.  His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy.  His most recent book is From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church, written with Daryl Hollinger.


John said…
Last night I was at an interfaith event at a Hindu temple. A Hindu woman taught us the traditional greeting, Namaste, teaching us that it means "the Spirit of God within me greets the Spirit of God within you."

How can anyone question the understanding that we are all children of God and none of us can claim a monopoly on God's love. God will be who God will be.

Brian said…
John - This guy has found much help in learning from the Eastern religions. It only deepens my Christian experience.

I know that many criticize what they call the "cafeteria style" approach to spirituality. One will hear the usual cliches, "consumerism" , "individualism", etc etc etc.

God bless them. I trust they mean well.

For me, I'll enjoy growing in knowledge from wisdom of many traditions. I encourage young people to learn all they can from every source possible. Always question any authority figure who tries to make you feel small or shallow for wanting to grow.

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