Today, the proverbial rubber meets the road. We’re talkin’ spirit. The Spirit. The Holy Spirit. This is a crucial topic because God is spirit; each of us created in God’s image means that we also have a spirit and as such we are extensions of God’s presence.
Jesus promised that, after he left, he would send the energetic, marvelous Spirit of God. Why is the Holy Spirit sent to us? Perhaps it is because Jesus didn’t want us to be left alone. Jesus also didn’t want us to be without power insofar as we are agents of God’s transforming presence. God accomplishes worldly tasks through us, and we should be alert and willing participants in the divine plan. There’s no standing on the sidelines!
The most basic biblical message about God’s essence—spirit—is that the Holy Spirit comforts and guides us. God is spirit, hence the Holy Spirit is God’s truest and most basic form. All of this is simply a long-winded way to introduce Pentecost, recorded in the Bible’s book of Acts. Strange things happened on Pentecost: Flames of fire appeared above the assembled disciples; people spoke foreign languages without prior knowledge; and the astonished believers were gathered together in a wonderful celebration. The venerable Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, stood up and explained that even greater things would happen, such as prophecies and diverse signs and wonders. What a scene!
Are you confused and perplexed about all the spirit talk and miraculous claims? If so, then you’re in good company among thoughtful thinkers. For better or for worse, there is much controversy about the nature, role and presence of the Holy Spirit and attendant miracles. Christians are divided more than ever about these issues. Some argue that we can and should expect the same situation as described in Acts. In other words, God’s Spirit is ready and able to do the types of miracles through us in precisely the same way as we read in Acts. Other Christians suggest that the age of intense miracles is long over, and that God uses other, more subtle means to empower believers and to get things done. The danger in this latter position is that it can lead to ignoring the Holy Spirit. On the other side of things, placing too much emphasis on the literal, specific miracles of the Holy Spirit in Acts can, ironically, end up distracting us and puffing us up with pride.
There is no known way to demonstrate which side of the spirit debate is absolutely, totally correct. There is no impartial third-party to which the spirit debate partisans can appeal. And as is prevalent in partisan debates, each side sees what they want to perceive and any contrary evidence is either ignored or dismissed. Unfortunately, this situation is common for most of what Christians claim they believe. How does anyone emerge intact from this mess? It seems clear that God’s Spirit is within us and it’s worth exploring what good things can happen when we open ourselves to new possibilities. We must widen the gaze of our understanding and consider that we run a risk of outright defiance of God’s Spirit or, at the very least, we risk ignoring spiritual issues if we dismiss them too smugly. True, a lively experience of spiritual power is not aligned with some folks’ style or worship. Be that as it may, we can’t elevate a traditional or habitual style as the final arbiter of who we are and what we’re willing to become. God is greater than style!
As persons of faith, we can choose to let God do great things in us and through us. Be that as it may, the challenge for us is to grow and keep our faith alive by claiming God’s promises, not just the convenient or more alluring ones. It is productive to keep alive the possibility that God’s spirit—the Holy Spirit—is far from remaining fully utilized and that we must strive to be fully empowered. We should never give-up on moving-up. We must set goals in our journey of faith that advance God’s kingdom and that challenge us to become stronger and more loving. Otherwise, what’s the point of living a dry, powerless religion that seems to go nowhere? The world is watching us, and so is God. Better then that we do whatever we can to demonstrate that God is alive in us and through us.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey