filled with the holy spirit

At Pentecost the church is scripted into its startling identity. Here the miracle of our existence as a people is retold with wonder. As Peter says: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (I Peter 2:10). To our continuing surprise the life of the church is not a product of human ingenuity. It is, instead, the gift of God whose divine energy inspires a new community into being. The power of God to reconcile and make new, to bring life out of death and to form a people who live to God’s glory is what we name the Holy Spirit. This is not just any spirit. When we describe the Spirit as “holy” we are saying that it is the odd, unique, powerful Spirit of the God who is met in Jesus.

It is the Holy Spirit that sweeps over the primordial waters of chaos, giving life to a world that is very good (Genesis 1). It is the Holy Spirit of the Lord that brings “good news to the poor and release to the captives” (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). At Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit that fills the entire congregation with the capacity to proclaim God’s “deeds of power” in every human language.

The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the church. Yet, at times, we shy away from naming the truth that we owe our existence as a people to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is as if we are content to let others in the Christian family make this their focus, leaving us to other pursuits. Perhaps we are not confident that we, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit.

At University Hill Congregation we have been striving to reclaim our identity as a people who are created and sustained by the divine energy and power of God – by the Holy Spirit. We notice that on the day of Pentecost the Spirit-filled church is known by five marks: worship, teaching, service, community and proclamation (Acts 2:41-47). We recall these ancient marks of the church by their Greek names – liturgia, didache, diakonia, koinonia and kerygma – to signify that our life together is a continuation of the spirit-filled life of the church across the ages. When we are tempted to despair at the future we are reminded that the church is not of our making. The Holy Spirit was, is and will be the source of our “new birth into a living hope” (I Peter 1:3).

Throughout the book of Acts when believers are filled with the Holy Spirit they prophesy. In other words, they speak a living word from God. Such prophetic speech is not reserved for the leaders or the apostles but is offered by all (Acts 2:4). At University Hill we encourage everyone in the congregation to offer their own voice in telling the truth about what God is up to in our midst. One of the ways in which we practice proclaiming the good news is through an annual Lenten online daily devotional. We extend an open invitation to everyone (regardless of age or experience or knowledge) to host a scripture passage on behalf of the congregation and to offer a response (a written reflection or poem, a song or a piece of art) that testifies to the word from God that the host has received for us through the text. There are forty-seven texts in total (for the forty days of Lent and the Sundays that take us to Easter Sunday).

Years ago, when we began this practice, numerous texts went without a host. Now it is rare that a passage goes unwelcome. Over time the congregation has grown in its willingness to risk its voice in sharing the message it hears from God. It is what Paul hopes and prays for when he concludes a letter to the struggling church in Corinth with this blessing: “The sharing (literally, the koinonia) of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Corinthians 13:13). Thank God the blessing continues.

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