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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.
But Jesus’ ministry only comes alive when it’s lived and carried out in the real world. It’s not just an abstract ideal somewhere up in the sky. If it’s not embedded in our everyday lives, it’s not Jesus’ ministry.
MAY 1ST, 2016: SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
How do we know what the Holy Spirit wants us to do, and why is it important that we know?
The answer to the last question is given in today’s gospel pericope. It’s clear from our Christian Scriptures that the historical Jesus was deeply concerned his ministry be carried on after his death and resurrection. The earliest account of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11 leaves no doubt about the issue, especially when it comes to sharing Jesus’ cup. But Jesus’ ministry only comes alive when it’s lived and carried out in the real world. It’s not just an abstract ideal somewhere up in the sky. If it’s not embedded in our everyday lives, it’s not Jesus’ ministry.
That’s the problem: how do we know what Jesus practically wants us to do in our everyday lives? He certainly didn’t give his followers a step by step journal outlining what he expected. He simply gave them the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit which would not only “remind” us of the things he told his original disciples, but would also “teach” us. From what Jesus says two chapters later, the teaching entails things the historical Jesus never got around to sharing with his followers. “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.” If carrying on the risen Jesus’ ministry consisted only in repeating what the historical Jesus said and did, we wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit.
According to Luke in today’s Acts passage, the early Christian community discovered this very quickly. As we heard last weekend, the church in Antioch began to convert Gentiles to the faith without first converting them to Judaism. Though they were at peace in doing this, “some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers and sisters, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” It seems the Holy Spirit was telling Christians in Jerusalem something different from what he/she was telling Christians in Antioch. What’s a Christian to do? The historical Jesus never dealt with that issue.
A huge part of chapter 15 has been omitted from our liturgical selection, but the essentials are still there: the concerned parties call a meeting of the “whole church.” No one person makes such an important decision.
The group’s final statement, eventually sent to Antioch, begins, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us . . . .” This isn’t the first time in Acts that the Holy Spirit is equated with the Christian community. In chapter 5’s Ananias and Sapphira pericope – a passage which, for obvious reasons, is never proclaimed during a Eucharist – we find the same belief. “Why,” Peter demands to know, “did Ananias lie to the Holy Spirit?” Obviously the condemned man lied only to the Jerusalem Christian community. Yet Luke equates that group of people with the Holy Spirit.
Our Christian sacred authors not only put their bets on the Holy Spirit to keep us in touch with the things Jesus wishes to us do, they also presume the best place to surface that Spirit is to surface what the Body of Christ is thinking. If we, along with the author of Revelation, really believe the “Lord God almighty” is present among us, we must also admit all of us are more than just passive individuals in a huge church.
No wonder Pope Francis, as an essential part of his reforms, constantly insists the institutional church set up structures whereby the hierarchy can consult with everyone in the community. Nice to have a pope who knows his Acts of the Apostles.