Transformative Encounters

Ever since our Pub Conversation last Wednesday (March 3rd – fyi – our next conversation is Wed. April 7th ) I’ve been thinking about what the Holy Spirit might be calling me to give up in these times. We’ve been gathering to consider the environmental crisis and how it touches our spirits and affects our hope. I sense this is a deep and fundamental question for all of us who have gathered — regardless of our religious affiliations or inclinations.

I’ve been thinking about all this from a Christian context. What does it mean to listen to the new thing that the Holy Spirit may be calling Christians and the church to engage? Our conversations — broad and deep conversations that matter – seem to me not only the work of some individuals who gather but a movement of spirits and hearts that makes me wonder if this is a nudging of the Holy Spirit?

The passage from Scripture that has been speaking to my heart as I think of this is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. This book, written by the Gospel writer, Luke, describes the early history of the church. Scholars have suggested that a better title would be The Acts of the Holy Spirit — for it is the Spirit, and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit — that shapes and directs all the action described in the book. The particular story that speaks to me is the story of Peter, the generally acknowledged leader of Jesus’ disciples, and a Gentile, Roman soldier named Cornelius.  This encounter, we discover is entirely orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. But the faithful response to this encounter changes the whole direction of the church, moving it from being a Jewish sect, to a worldwide movement. It was a pivotal conversation and meeting — that transformed all concerned.

You can read the full story in Acts 10 — but here is a synopsis. Cornelius has a dream/vision of an angel who tells him in very specific ways to send for Peter who was staying in the town of Joppa. The Spirit even gives the address. Cornelius entrusts a few trusted servants to go to Joppa to invite Peter to his home. Meanwhile, Peter has a prayer time at midday on an empty stomach. And he has a vision/dream of a whole basket of unclean food descending from heaven and he is invited to eat. Peter is appalled and protests that nothing unclean has ever passed his lips. The Spirit says, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” This happens three times. And as Peter wakes and is scratching his head as to what all this means the emissaries from Cornelius arrive with the invitation for him to come and receive hospitality from the Gentile household of Cornelius.  This was something that Peter would not be permitted to do as a Jew and remain pure and clean (religiously speaking). But Peter, obeying the Spirit, goes with them. When they arrive at Cornelius’, they are welcomed and Peter shares the Gospel of Jesus with them. And then the Holy Spirit falls upon the whole assembled group. And Peter concludes that, “God shows no partiality”. Cornelius and his household are baptized.

What fascinates me most is that both parties are changed by this encounter. Cornelius hears the gospel of Jesus and responds and is transformed. And Peter too is transformed.  Has to throw out his most deep and sacred notions of his faith and what it means to be a good Jew. Interestingly there was nothing that Peter could remember from the teaching of Jesus that would have prepared him for this new challenge and obedience that the Spirit was demanding of him. This was brand-new territory. And it shocked and appalled many of the other Jewish Christians — Peter was called on the carpet for his actions. His only defense was in effect, “The Spirit made me do it”. That settled the matter.

All this might seem like a long digression — but it says something that challenges me to careful listening and attentiveness and nudging of the Holy Spirit in our time. As I met and talked to with many wonderful people in our Pub Conversations (as well as many others) all who are not Christian, there is a deep and shared longing for creation made whole and the brotherhood and sisterhood of all peoples.  There is a movement of spirit.

I wonder what deeply held notions of faith I am being asked to perhaps jettison to embrace the new thing that the Holy Spirit is trying to birth in our world today. Because I feel the Holy Spirit is trying to birth something new. Maybe nothing less than the salvation of the planet.

Do you sense it is well?

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