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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.
The Apostle’s convinced that if we let love guide us through the aggravation of everyone having different – even at times conflicting - gifts we’ll eventually discover we’ve morphed into the Body of Christ, each member working for the good of the whole body.
During the church’s 2,000 year history, the Holy Spirit has often been an aggravation to the leaders of the institution. “Things” would obviously run more smoothly without that “thorn in their side.” In some sense, the second century movement to form a hierarchical church structure, as we know it, was an attempt to get rid of that aggravation.
One of the difficulties of falling back on the Holy Spirit for guidance is that we’re forced to deal with prophets. Surfacing and listening to prophets was the normal process biblical people employed to understand what God wanted them to do. Throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, there runs a belief that God always places a handful of especially inspired people in our midst to point us in the direction God wishes us to go. The late Bruce Vawter labeled these individuals “the conscience of the people.” The great Hans Walter Wolff referred to them as “people who supply us with the future implications of our present actions.”
The only problem facing God’s biblical disciples revolved around finding ways to separate false prophets from real prophets. Both claimed to have been sent by God. Though as a Scripture teacher, Wolff faithfully outlined the five classic rules for distinguishing between real and fake, as one of the world’s experts on biblical prophecy, he always added a sixth criterion. “Authentic prophets,” he taught, “constantly cause confusion.” This is especially true when the prophets’ words are triggered by the Holy Spirit.
Luke warns of that disturbing situation in the way he describes the Jerusalem Pentecost event. It’s no accident that the Spirit’s arrival is accompanied with noise, wind and fire: all elements which take us out of our peaceful, secure environment and throw us into confusion. Yet it’s only after such a disturbing experience that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Had they not first gone through that confusion, no one would have “heard them speaking in his or her own tongue.” Such aggravation seems to be a necessary when we’re dealing with the Spirit.
Yet it’s clear from today’s I Corinthians pericope that even after the church receives the gift of tongues there’s still a lot of confusion. How does a community handle a situation in which some are gifted with tongues and others aren’t? Paul deals with this problem in chapters 12-14, outlining how a follower of Jesus and a recipient of the Spirit’s gifts works through such confusion in order to employ his or her gifts “for some benefit.” The Apostle’s convinced that if we let love guide us through the aggravation of everyone having different – even at times conflicting - gifts we’ll eventually discover we’ve morphed into the Body of Christ, each member working for the good of the whole body.
Of course, nothing brings more confusion than when we employ the Spirit’s gift of forgiveness: the gift John’s Jesus shares with his disciples on Easter Sunday night. We normally appreciate the security of knowing who our friends and who our enemies are. Yet, if we, like Jesus, actually forgive everyone’s sins we obliterate that secure dividing line. It’s impossible to live in a black and white world when forgiveness is the outward sign we’re being “sent” as the Father has sent Jesus. Carrying on Jesus’ ministry opens the door to lots of confusion. It simply seems to go with the territory.
Knowing these biblical “realities,” I’ve been amused at some of the recent criticism Pope Francis has received from several high-profile church officials and commentators. Among other things, they actually accuse him of “causing confusion among the faithful.”
How biblical can you get?
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