7:37-39 // Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the giving of the Spirit as a result of the Ascension of the Risen Christ. This is a day of great celebration and unnerving responsibility. It is both a blessing and a challenge, a day in which we move out of the shadow of the incarnate Christ in the shape of Jesus and are left alone with the Spirit to usher in the kingdom of God.
It is easy to get caught up in the glorious scenes depicted in the book of Acts. It sounds almost like a scene from any major Hollywood blockbuster – big, bold and life changing. And it is, or at least can be. Here there are dramatic symbols of tongues of fire and a universal language of love and hope. All are able to hear the same voice at the same time. In the moments of revelation they stand together imbued with the power of the Ascended Christ and speak and hear as one.
John, as he is wont to do, editorises Jesus’s proclamation with the words “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive..” Jesus is offering himself as the source of the water of continuing life and John clarifies that this will only happen when the Spirit comes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and John always has great hindsight. In this case John’s hindsight brings with it the insight of cause and effect.
John’s Jesus says, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” He rightly notes that this is not a natural response of human beings to an encounter with the Mystery we call God, that this will not happen without the input of grace, of a gift we are unable to see or consciously receive but that comes to those who stand with the Cosmic Christ unconditionally, without having to seek it.
And the effect of such a gift is an outflowing of that same Spirit in the form of love, respect and wholeness by those who claim Christ as their own. Jesus says this flow will be life giving, life-enhancing, life-watering. It will be as water is to the human body and to all creation, the vital and necessary source of the ongoing existence. We can not live without water and we can not live into Christ without the Spirit.
Let us take a little time to imagine a world in which such a spirit was freely flowing from all who believed. Let us image a country or even a community where such a spirit was freely flowing from all who believed. Let us imagine a church in which such a spirit was freely flowing from all who believed.
Then let us take the same time to look around us and see what is really the case. A world in which violence and selfish takes pride of place, communities and countries in which people are marginalised and excluded and churches in which bullying and violence is done daily.
In the last week or so I have spent time with clergy who have left their places of ministry this year because of bullying by parishioners. These are good and experienced clergy in parishes here in our city. They have been criticised without reason, bullied by those who resist change or simply want their own way and people within their parish have threatened some with violence. Another priest recounted a conversation with parish councillor who asked who we were reconciling with during National Reconciliation Week. When she said the aboriginals the person responded with, ‘That’s ok, we don’t have any of those here.” The fact that the priest is obviously indigenous in appearance and had been open about their background during the two years tenure seemed to have been completely missed by the person in question.
As we talked I saw broken people who have been victims of others fear and anxiety, who have been made scapegoats for others personal insecurities and who have ceased to be persons but simply priests. I have had these experiences throughout my ministry, some of these have occurred here. As I said in my paper at the Carmelite symposium on Thursday,, “In our interactions with others there is often a crucifixion, and it is not Jesus who is crucified.”
We know that Pentecost did not result in a problem free church. The book of Acts is full of conflict and the history of the institutional church is replete with scapegoating, inquisition and violence; innocent people have been destroyed over and over again by those who claim the Spirit of Christ. We excuse it as politics, human nature and well, that’s the way it is.
Jesus is definite, that is not the way it is to be. He says clearly, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Shall flow not may flow, on a good day will flow, when they have had a good night’s sleep or any other rider. It is “shall flow” Now we know that is not always the case for ourselves and for others and we need to ask ourselves why?
Are we awake to our own frailties and foibles, and our biases to stymie the flow from ourselves to others? Are we able to take our selves out onto the front veranda and have a full and open conversation with ourselves about how we speak to others, how we demand our own way, how we hold onto what we have and have come to value?
Self-reflection is vital to both human and, in our context, faith growth. Without the capacity to look closely at our motivations and the impact of our words and actions on others and change pour behaviour, we will continue to wreck havoc on others in our churches, communities and the world.
The coming of the Spirit is a gift but it is not a gift to be corralled for ourselves or recognised in major events. It is a gift that we can only receive if we allow it to flow freely through us and to do that we have to get out of the way. We are to take ourselves to task and be prepared to step away from long held prejudices, understandings, practices and opinions and make room for compassion, inclusion, welcome, mystery and not knowing if we are to be source of living water.