This past Sunday was Pentecost. The worship service was meaningful to me as we were directed to that day when the Holy Spirit was given as a gift. A part of the Scripture from Sunday has stuck in my mind.
At his ascension Jesus told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. He told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you:” (Acts 1:8a)
That is the part that keeps playing over and over in my mind. “You will receive Power.” Of course, immediately the disciples thought he must be talking about political power. They could use some of that. They were tired of being at the mercy of the Romans. They were tired of their religious beliefs and practices monitored by Roman Law. They could use a little political muscle to get the Romans off of their backs.
We so often seem to think that is what the church needs to get things done. Yet, history serves as a warning to us. Every time the church has gotten political power it has never turned out so well for us. It’s like the old joke about horse manure and ice cream. If you mix horse manure and ice cream it doesn’t hurt the horse manure, but it sure ruins the ice cream. That is why I don’t get as excited about politics as some of my Christian friends do. I know they are well meaning, but I don’t think God plans to use the Republicans or Democrats to bring about the Kingdom. Seeking political power for the church is like playing with matches when God is offering us lightening. All we seem to accomplish is to piddle around and burn ourselves.
Power. I would love to see real power in the church. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am a little saddened by the lack of power I see in the church in general. I don’t’ mean the power to make people act the way we want them to. I don’t mean the power to get our way in the culture. I don’t mean the power to make businesses and organizations stay closed on Sunday so everyone will go to church. I am talking about real power.
I am talking about the power to worship so passionately that our lives are renewed every time we come together to worship God. I am talking about the power to love so genuinely that lives all around us are changed by it. I am talking about the power to put God above every other concern in our lives and live out His kingdom here in this place. I am talking about the power to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And mean it.
Instead of grasping at power in a way that chases people away, I long to see us have the power of the Holy Spirit that is so honest and loving and authentic that it draws people to God.
Today, when we think of the Holy Spirit we often think of the presence of God that comforts us and gives us peace when we are going through difficult times. We often think of the Holy Spirit as one who nudges us and guides us in the direction God wants us to go. We often think of the Holy Spirit as the one who helps us understand what the Scripture says and how to apply it to our lives. And the Holy Spirit does all of those things.
But, we often forget the Holy Spirit is more than that. The Holy Spirit is also the wind that blows through our lives with enough force to bend the palm trees over and rip shingles off of the roof and tear out of our hands the things we need to let go. The Holy Spirit is the fire that rages out of control and purifies the junk in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the power that gives us the courage to take risks and love beyond our comfort zone and step out in faith when we aren’t so sure about our footing. There is that side of the Holy Spirit as well.
What I wouldn’t give for a power hungry church. Not the short-lived, measly power of political leverage, but the power of the Holy Spirit. The power to really change things.