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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
After the ascension in Acts, the risen Jesus works only through people; he/she no longer works directly in the life of the church.
MAY 26TH, 2019: SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 15:1-2, 27-29
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
One of the most important concepts in our Christian Scriptures revolves around the community’s belief that the teachings of the risen Jesus continue to come to his/her followers through the years. They don’t end either with Jesus’ ascension or the end of the biblical period. John’s Jesus clearly states that belief during his Last Supper discourse. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (16:12-13) In other words, his Spirit will keep the revelation coming.
Even in today’s gospel pericope we hear Jesus assure us, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Spirit is always in our lives, constantly teaching the community what the risen Jesus wants us to learn about God’s will. Though our sacred authors certainly presume revelation is an ongoing process, our church “officially” closed the canon of Scripture within a century of the historical Jesus. At least on that level, this church mandated shut-down implies that our job in the faith today is just to review, no longer to discover.
But if we actually did listen to the Holy Spirit, and go beyond what the gospel Jesus taught his people, what form would that new teaching take? How does the Spirit communicate its ongoing revelation to the church? Does she regularly schedule listening sessions or setup ecumenical councils? Who conducts the meetings, takes the notes or verifies the Spirit’s message? Where should the sessions be held? Perhaps it would be best for the Spirit just to go one on one with a special designate and cut out the middle people, sort of like the church does with papal infallibility. Yet if we listen carefully to today’s Acts passage, those middle people are essential. Luke’s convinced that’s how the process is done. After the ascension in Acts, the risen Jesus works only through people; he/she no longer works directly in the life of the church.
Former St. Louis University historian Jack Padberg once remarked that there’ve been no significant changes in the church which haven’t been preceded by years – if not generations – of disobedience. (Private reconciliation is a classic example; something for which we must credit that great “rule breaker” St. Patrick.) It seems the same holds true for the Holy Spirit’s changes.
When Paul and Barnabas began baptizing Gentiles without first converting them to Judaism, they were at least skirting an early church law, if not actually breaking it. No wonder some Jewish Christians want to go back to the status quo, to the days when things are once again in black and white.
It’s too bad that those who have chosen today’s Acts reading have omitted 20 verses! Obviously there’s lots of discussion – call it arguing – over this Gentile issue. Such a community changing decision doesn’t just come into people’s mind fully cooked. It takes time before it develops. Though we long for the day when the community experiences a New Jerusalem, we’ll experience lots of “hit and misses” before that event actually takes place.
John’s Jesus presumes we must give ourselves over to a Spirit-filled, ongoing process. Those who expect immediate, facile answers aren’t hearing our readings. As frustrating as Pope Francis can be at times, he seems determined to implement this process. Instead of just telling us what the Spirit wants, he’s listening to what the Spirit is saying – not just to those in authority in the church, but also to the rule-breakers. He wasn’t being flippant when he uttered those memorable words, “Who am I to judge?” He was simply being serious about the Spirit’s ongoing role in the church.
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