As we look forward to Pentecost Sunday on May 31, I wonder why so many churches appear hesitant to put forward a clear emphasis on the dimension of God as Spirit.
Growing up in Baptist churches, I remember how comfortable we were with the story of Jesus from Advent through Easter and even loved all those songs about God as Creator and Father sung throughout the rest of the year. But we stumbled when faced with the reckless reputation of the Spirit and preferred, in the rare moments when it was brought up, to domesticate it under the banners of sweet sentiments and fuzzy feel-goods.
It’s to our shame. Our spiritual heritage is nonexistent without the Spirit who has given it birth and inspired its progress. The success of Jesus and the early church following him were dependent upon their fidelity to the Spirit’s working in them, through them and beyond them.
This Sunday is our opportunity to confess how this very Spirit is our experience of God’s steady and continuing presence on earth.
Taking the Spirit seriously means receiving this gift promised by Jesus as our source for spiritual strength and guidance. Our sincere acceptance compels us to follow the Lord into the waters of baptism and be similarly driven into a dangerous world where demons and temptations loom, to confront evil and embrace diseased, forgotten and condemned persons with the healing presence of love.
It is hard work and no wonder many feel it’s better left trivialized. To consider God as Spirit threatens our sense of power and control when the Spirit will blow like the wind where it will – huffing, puffing and shaking up our comfort zones and clearly defined boundaries.
To consider God as Spirit invites the radical realization of equality for all persons, of all colors and all politics, mixtures of young or old, male or female, liberal or conservative, straight or gay, without the artificial distinctions of worth based on pedigree or worldly accomplishments.
To consider God as Spirit requires a deeper passion and a persistent desire to never become too comfortable with just how comfortable we have become.
To consider God as Spirit is to defend the powerless and reject the powerful, to trust the long arch of the Spirit’s timing rather than fickled fads of marching in the shallow parade of immediate success or in joining the band wagon of doom and peril.
It allows attention to the still, small voice speaking more clearly than the hammering of the endless noise carried over the popular airwaves and high-speed connections of the world’s billions.
It provides hope in the God who is not finished with us yet and looks for visionaries and dreamers to proclaim the divine vision to all populations on how things can be done on earth as they are done in heaven.
Yes, there are a lot of problems in this tired old world, far too many for any one of us to answer. That is in ourselves and devoid of this present dimension of Emmanuel, God with us.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
Mark Johnson is senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.