Godspeak: de-coding the language of the church. The Spirit.

Sunday, June 1, 2008. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

Opening Prayer: Gracious God, we pray that as your Spirit moves among us we will open our hearts and minds to be sensitive to your presence. As we seek to live out your story, we pray that our lives will make real the vision you have cast before us. You are our God and we are your people. We rejoice in your presence, this day and forever. Amen.

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

New Testament Reading: John 14:23-27

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

We have been thinking about the language we use in the church and how that language can be a barrier to communicating the Gospel. Recently, we have talked about the Trinity – a term used essentially nowhere except in the church – and then we began to look at how the terms father, Son and Spirit function. Two weeks ago, we discussed “the Father”, last week, Rev. Dee Baker spoke of “the Son”, and this week we will discuss “the Spirit”.

So far, we have seen that the concept of God as Trinity leads us to an understanding of a model for life that includes: Community; Diverse Community; Cooperative Community – where “each participates in the lives of the other – none is in isolation from any other”.

We examined the term “Father” and saw that this calls us to: Obedience (Do no harm, do all the good you can – John Wesley); Agency (All it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing); and Inheritance (The Kingdom of God is a reality waiting for us to claim it). Our discussions of “the Son” led us to see a call to: Full humanity (Living as the image of God); Self-emptying (Being open to the will of God); and Expansive love (Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and your neighbor as yourself).

When we come to discuss “the Spirit” we run into a series of complexities in translation. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term ru’ah (ruach) is often translated as spirit, wind, breathe, or ghost. Depending upon who hears such terms, each can conjure up different images. For example, in many native American cultures the term “spirit” refers to a being intermediate between God and humanity and yet this is likely not the image to which the term ru’ah refers. Similarly, in societies located in regions where winds are destructive (hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, etc.) the translation of ru’ah as ‘wind” conjures up negative images associated with destruction. Once again, this is not likely to be the images that the authors of the original term had in mind. The translation of ru’ah as “breathe” led Europeans into an unfortunate series of misconceptions about the nature of matter in the universe when it was believed that there was an inherent difference between chemical compounds that originated from living sources (“organic”) and those that originated from non-living sources (“inorganic”). Organic compounds were believed to have an origin associated with a “vital force” (often construed as the breathe of God) that gave life. When Friedrich Wohler synthesized urea (an organic compound) from ammonium cyanate (obtained from an inorganic source) in 1828, he idea of a vital force that differentiated organic and inorganic substances faded away.

The image of “ghost” is one that today might bring to mind horror movies or cartoon characters – again, these are not the images that the authors of the original words had in mind. So what sort of images did the early writers use to describe ru’ah?

We see ru’ah as an agent of creation in Genesis 1:2 …

NIV: Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

NRSV: the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

And as a source of inspiration and power among the judges, prophets and kings, for example:

Numbers 27:18 So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him”.

Interestingly though, once we encounter the time of the exile, the idea of God being present among the people (tabernacling in the Temple) seems to fade away. Perhaps the people of Israel in the second Temple period had serious questions about God’s presence among them… Where was God when the Temple was destroyed? What happened to God’s presence when the people were sent into exile? Did God return to the Temple when it was rebuilt?

These lingering questions were no doubt reinforced by the long absence of any well-recognized prophets among the people. If God inspires prophets through the spirit and there are no prophets then it suggests that God is absent. But then, bursting onto the scene, we find John the Baptist – a new prophet comes after a long silence!

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

Matthew 3:16 “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

John the Baptist announces and Jesus fullfils the return of the Spirit – even from his birth – among the people of Israel! God is back and the Kingdom is coming!

Following this new sense of God’s presence made possible by Jesus, we encounter the question of how to speak of God’s presence after the crucifixion and resurrection, Here we encounter reference to the Paraclete (advocate; counselor):

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

And then Paul introduces the idea o
f Koinonia – participation in the community and work of the Spirit (the shared experience of God):

1 Corinthian 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

From this diverse and evolving understanding of the Spirit, perhaps we can add to our model for life derived from the Trinity as follows:

• Community of Christ – Shared experience of God
• Inspiration – Being inspired to live into the reality of the Kingdom
• God is with us – Presence of God drawing us close

In sum, the Trinity leads to an understanding of a model for life that looks like this:

Trinity:
• Community
• Diverse Community
• Cooperative Community
• “each participates in the lives of the other – none is in isolation from any other”.

Father:
• Obedience (Do no harm, do all the good you can – John Wesley)
• Agency (All it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing)
• Inheritance (The Kingdom of God is a reality waiting for us to claim it).

Son:
• Full humanity (Living as the image of God)
• Self-emptying (Being open to the will of God)
• Expansive love (Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and your neighbor as yourself).

Spirit:
• Community of Christ – Shared experience of God
• Inspiration – Being inspired to live into the reality of the Kingdom
• God is with us – Presence of God drawing us close

And that is what it looks like when we strive to live into being the “image of God”!

Thanks for visiting!