By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
LAST OF TWO PARTS
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“Now let’s build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.” — Genesis 11:4
“…all of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things that God has done!” — Acts 2: 11
Unity, Power, and Vision
Now, in what way would the coming of the Holy Spirit empower us? First and foremost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us would make us experience unity. This does not mean we would suddenly all think alike or do everything the same way. Rather, it means that we would love one another and accept these differences rather than letting them divide us.
If we were totally immersed in the Holy Spirit, we would no longer be divided by issues of language or theology, of economics or politics. If we were united in the Holy Spirit, it would not be possible anymore to speak of rich or poor in the Christian community as well as in the larger society. There would simply be Christian communities filled with people blind to differences in language, in theology, in income or social status.
Secondly, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us would also make us experience power. Apostle Peter, infamous for his threefold denial of Christ, boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, no longer afraid of the consequences. The result was the power to convert 3,000 people with one sermon and the faith to spread the Gospel throughout the world. For it is actually the Holy Spirit, not us, that really converts and transforms people’s lives.
A third result of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us is the fulfillment of a vision. Quoting from Prophet Joel, who prophesied of the day in which God’s Spirit would come upon the people, Apostle Peter said that the day has come when the sons and daughters would prophesy, the young would see visions and the old would dream dreams (Acts 2:17). The fulfillment of a vision is perhaps the most remarkable result of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The word visionary is often used to mean a person who is naively idealistic. Yet the Book of Proverbs says that “without vision, the people would perish” (Prov. 29:18). For where would we be if Moses had no vision of what God could do to set the Israelites free from the bondage of Egypt? Where would we be if Jesus our Lord had no vision of God’s Kingdom? Where would we be if Apostle Paul had no vision of spreading the Gospel to the Gentile world? Where would we be if Martin Luther had not prophesied with his 95 theses?
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
Our world today continues to be a world of alienation and fragmentation simply because we still continue to build our own Towers of Babel, and try to make our own selves our gods. Our conflicts and divisions as a people, especially after the very contentious national and local elections, are enough to convict us of not being fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, people grow cynical and disillusioned, because of these conflicts and divisions prevailing even in our faith communities.
The Early Church is often held up as an example of what we should be. Yet we may ask, is the Early Christian Community really the best model for us? I’m just wondering whether or not those who believe in this claim, really read the Book of Acts beyond the Second Chapter.
True, the Day of Pentecost was so great. But within days or weeks after, we already hear stories of confusion, conflict and strife. Ananias and Sapphira, for instance, sold some land and claimed to have given all of it to the Christian community in order to gain prestige in the eyes of their fellow believers (cf. Acts 5). However, in reality they held some of the money back, which was their right, anyway. Their sin however was in lying. They lied against the Holy Spirit.
Then, we also read that a dispute arose between the Christians who spoke Greek and those who spoke Hebrew (Aramaic). The Greek-speaking Christians felt that favoritism was shown to the widows of the Hebrew-speaking Christians in the daily distribution of food (cf. Acts 6). Thus, there came division and strife over ethnic and language differences.
Well, we can go on cataloguing these disputes in the Early Christian Community, for there were lots of them. This is not however necessary for the point is simply that the Early Christians seem to have failed to live up to the great possibilities revealed to us at Pentecost.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that nothing substantial happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon the Christian community with power and in a manner that was never seen before. True, there was division between Gentile and Jewish Christians, like many Christians today. But only the Spirit of God could lead these two kinds of people to worship together in spite of differences.
Yes, there were and there are conflicts and divisions in the church as well as in society, but only the Holy Spirit could open our eyes to see this reality as sinful. Yes, the Christian community often fails to have a vision that transcends the mundane self-centeredness of this world, but only the Holy Spirit could have kept the church from surrendering to the world and from disappearing many years ago.
We should not let our disappointments blind us to the many signs of God’s presence in the Christian community and in the world around us. We are the church, and we are justified by grace and not by works of the law. What happened at Pentecost is a sign of what God has done, is doing and will do in and through us to bring about unity, power, and vision in our hopelessly alienated and fragmented world. It is the Pentecost experience that provides us a sense of direction that would help us overcome every crossroad in our common journey to genuine peace and freedom.
Vision of God’s Reign
Now, there is still one part of the story that I left out when I was re-telling the story of the Pentecost. While it is true that 3,000 people from every known part of the world joined the Christian community on that day, it is also true that some made a mockery of the faith, claiming that the disciples were drunk on cheap wine.
Sometimes, it is easy to make a mockery and to misunderstand the church’s claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Many would dismiss the church as nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. It is easy to dismiss a vision as an illusion.
Some would tell us, for instance, that part of the reason why mainline Protestant churches today are declining in membership is that we have been too active in social issues affecting people’s lives. They would say that for our own institutional survival and growth, we should do away with our vision of God’s Reign and not to challenge the way things are.
However, if we were to be a true and genuine church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we cannot give up our vision of God’s Reign. We cannot give up our struggle to help bring about a society that is just, peaceful, humane and free. Thus, it is our hope and prayer that God’s Holy Spirit will continue to descend upon us so that we may be empowered to be more effective instruments of our country’s unity and transformation in the midst of today’s alienation and fragmentation. And may God the Creator of the heavens and the earth empower us, indeed. Amen. # nordis.net