A Reflection on Acts 2: 1-13
How are your “spirits” this morning, today? Up, down, half-way, okay for now, check later after reading or hearing this talk? So it goes with the human spirit, often equated with our temperaments. “He or she has such a ‘Sweet Spirit’” we say, or “What a mean spirited person!’” we exclaim.
The “Holy Spirit,” on the other hand, remains the same. It is defined as constant love, joy, peace, hope, perseverance, patient and eternal. It’s like we have two “spirits” within ourselves; the one is variable and changing constantly while the other remains steady, quiet, but at peace with deep joy. It’s easy to confuse the two, even trying to make them into one rather than two.
The word “spirit” comes from the ancient Hebrew word, ruah, meaning wind or breath. “In the beginning, God breathed the creation” it says. In Greek, it’s the word pneumatos, or also breath or wind. In Latin, the word is spiritus, or again, breath, to breathe or the wind. Spirit then is critical to our life force, the ability to be alive. If it’s alive in the body, it might be just called “spirit” but if it’s alive in the God or Christ-Self, it could be called “Holy Spirit.” Again, it’s easy to confuse the two. People become intoxicated with drink, work outs, fantastic music and feel the spirit is alive. But usually it doesn’t last too long, like a favorite team losing the play-offs and leaving us depressed, disgusted, angry and dispirited.
In the Acts of the Apostles’ reading, we see how accessible this Holy Spirit was to people from all over the then known world. All races and languages suddenly “understood each other.” It is the “Tower of Babel” story reversed!
Even earlier, we remember how Jesus chose a variety to men and women to be his disciples. Most were simple fishermen. In his birth story, it was lowly shepherds who first picked up signs from angels on high. In this passage, common folks from around the world sense the same presence as early disciples “spoke in tongues” and everybody seemed to understand. They were so happy with such gibberish people wondered if they were drunk with wine early in the morning!
The good news is that Holy Spirit is for everybody. Indeed, some of the folks who display it the quickest are among the poorest and least educated by western standards. Not that I’m against higher education.
The danger of higher education is that it leads to “elitism.” People think they have truly graduated into a higher plane of joy and happiness. It’s a subtle delusion.
While studying in San Francisco Theological Seminary for a “Doctorate of Ministry,” as it is called, an instructor trained as a psycho-therapist worked with candidates. I remember he warned us about seeking such a degree to bring us the peace and happiness we were missing as pastors; we would be deeply disappointed!
There’s something about higher education and advanced degrees which feeds the human desire to be “special,” to be a cut above the rest. It is an “ego trap” that comes back to bite hard.
The Apostle Paul knew this trap as a “religious expert.” Raised and trained among the Pharisees, rising high as an interpreter and enforcer of the law, he came to a humiliating encounter with a different Spirit on the road to Damascus. Later, after spending time in the desert, he returned to say all the knowledge and law expertise he had learned, all the traditions he worked so hard to maintain, weren’t worth “shit” compared to the experience of the inward Spirit, the Holy Christ Self!
The experience and awareness of Holy Spirit is for everybody. It begins with the realization that you have it, that It is within you, the True All of You!
In awareness and awakening to Holy Spirit, we grow to understand it is past all the duality of sensory phenomenon. In Holy Spirit, there is no time, no past or future. In Holy Spirit, we touch the eternal “isness” of God, of Spirit where time is no more. There is no up or down, empty or full, ahead and behind, right or wrong, good or bad, happy or sad; it just is, a fullness, overflowing cup of wonder, love and well being.
In the human spirit, it’s duality. We constantly search for who we are, why we are here, what we are supposed to be doing. We never get it right. In Holy Spirit, we make no decisions but wait for the Holy Spirit’s answer of peace, forgiveness, letting go, and just being. It’s quite scary at first, so frightening we run away, but today, the call returns.
The Bhagavad Gita, in chapter five on “The Yoga of Action,” says, “Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping and in breathing, the illumined soul who knows reality thinks, ‘I do nothing at all!’” We are in the body mind, but not of it.
Once I read the great Roman Catholic Jesuit teacher, William Johnston. I quoted him often in my dissertation. (Johnston, William. The Inner Eye of Love. London: William Collins Sons and Company, 1978.) Johnston was a teacher and missionary of sorts to Japan. While there, he became fascinated of Buddhism and its Japanese counterpart Shintoism. He decided to do an experiment, gathering members of Shintoism, Buddhism, Jewish mystics and Sufi together to meditate. Their meditation practice and experiences of a unitive joy were nearly identical. But when they tried to explain it and write about it, they soon got lost in the words of separation. Pentecost Spirit is a Spirit of Oneness, beyond all languages and cultures.
What are signs of walking and living in Holy Spirit? One teacher said, “You smile a little bit more and don’t take things so seriously.” Another said you hold grudges and grievances for much shorter periods of time. You find yourself forgiving yourself and others more quickly. You don’t jump to make decisions so quickly; you are more at ease with all the noise and endless confusion of this world. You practice “staying and waiting” as the early followers did in the book of Acts.
A sign of Holy Spirit is less arguing, defending, politicking and more realization that “everything does work for good to those who love God, who walk according to Holy Spirit.” One moves a bit closer to the model of Jesus, who in facing criticism and deep anger from the religious leadership that led to his death, he simply remained quiet, and uttered “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as he died.
Where are we? Where are you? Lost in anger, judgment, confusion, negativity about life? Where is the Holy Spirit among us in evidence?
This can be new to many Presbyterians and current professing Christians. I golf often with a man who was born, baptized and raised Presbyterian. He has been ordained elder and deacon and has served well for over 60 years. A few days we were golfing together and he said, “Over the past few years of hearing and being with you, I just beginning to understand God as not ‘out there’ but within ‘here’” as he pointed to he heart.
Once there was a Presbyterian preacher delivering a well written, sharply reasoned sermon to his congregation. Suddenly a man in the rear of the church slumped over in his seat as if he were dead. The EMT’s were called in. The reports go that the first three rows were carried out before they came to the man that was truly slumped over in a coma!
Realize again today that in Christ, there are no differences, no denominations, no gay or straight, no liberal and conservative, no republican or democrat, but we are all one. And there is not one thing anybody can ever do to us, to you, to destroy that. You can learn to live in peace, sharing kindness in self-forgiveness of those times when you don’t always measure up, and one day, can die in peace to mortality as you pass through this mortal nature into the fullness of your Oneness with God forever!
Rev. Dr. David G. Persons, June 12, 2011, at First Presbyterian Church, West Seneca, NY