In the Spirit -- A Reflection for Pentecost (Gathering Voices)
Pentecost arrives on Sunday. The Easter journey gives way to the journey in the Spirit. The piece below was written for Gathering Voices -- the blog of The Thoughtful Christian. I would encourage you to subscribe, but in the mean time I invite you to read here my reflection.
A Gathering Voices post by Bob Cornwall
Wait. That was Jesus’ command to the gathered disciples on the day of his ascension. He had given them an assignment – go and be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. But to do this, they would need the baptism with the Spirit (Acts 1:1-11). This baptism with the Spirit would come on the day of Pentecost. Churches that follow the liturgical year, such as mine, will remember this event with worship services that will feature red vestments and paraments. It’s about the only time during the year that we bedeck the church in red, so we have to make the most of it. But, Pentecost is more than an opportunity to wear red. It’s an opportunity to consider what it means to be gifted and empowered by the Spirit to do the work of the ministry, a ministry that focuses on the work of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2. It’s a story familiar to many, especially those who attend churches that observe Pentecost Sunday. That group of disciples that Jesus had bid farewell to were now gathered in an upper room, when the Spirit falls upon them like a mighty wind. They begin to speak in languages they didn’t know, but which apparently are known by the pilgrims gathered in the street for the Pentecost festival. These pilgrims hear the gospel preached in their own languages and want to know how this can be, which leads to a sermon on the part of Peter. The result of this sermon is a harvest even Billy Graham would be proud of. Luke reports that 3,000 were baptized. And we’re off to the races. The ministry of the fledgling Christian community begins its steady march toward the ends of the earth – and they do so in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important to remember that for Luke, it is the Spirit who guides and empowers the mission outward.
Pentecost offers us an excellent opportunity to consider the nature of our ministries and the way in which we are engaging the Spirit of God. Are we focused more on organizational principles learned from the secular world (not that we have nothing to learn) or are we rooting our ministry in the work of the Spirit?
The reading from the Gospel for Pentecost (year A) is John 20:19-23. In this Easter day conversation Jesus commissions the disciples – “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathes on them and says – “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This reference to breath is important since the word for Spirit – pneuma – is also the word for breath (and wind). If we follow this back to Genesis 2, God breathes life into Adam – Spirit once again. The Spirit, what Jack Levison terms “spirit-breath” (Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith, Eerdmans, 2013), is to us – the breath of life. This breath of the Spirit empowers us to live lives of witness to the gospel. Ministry, then, isn’t an occasional activity but a way of life.
Ministry is a way of life, and in order for us to engage in such ministry we must have the abilities to carry out our ministry. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, we find lists of gifts that are provided to the church – for the building up of the community. In my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening (Energion, 2013), I explore these gifts and their importance to fulfilling our calling to be a community of reconciliation and healing for the world.
If, as some suggest, we are entering a new era – a new Great Awakening then what does the story of Pentecost and its story of the baptism of the Spirit have to say to us about the nature of this awakening? [(Diana Butler Bass, Christianity after Religion, (Harper One, 2013)]. What is our calling and what gifts do we bring?