Sunday, June 12, 2011

Filled with the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday

There's a fine line for both disciple and inquirer/observer when it comes to discerning how devout and genuine is one's walk in the Christian faith.

The New Testament contains numerous references to being "filled with the Holy Spirit." John the Baptizer is near the beginning of the list, running through the Apostles through Paul of Tarsus, and ending with a smattering of names of people who were instrumental in the early Christian communities.

Then there's Harold Camping. In case you've just joined us or have forgotten, Mr. Camping heads a non-denominational ministry called Family Radio, and grabbed a great deal of press coverage about seven weeks ago when he announced that the Rapture would occur this past May 21, with the end of the world - as everyone knows it - five months later. This date was supposedly calculated by Camping (and I would presume by at least an assistant or two on his staff) based on 'statistics' found in the book of Revelation. On that great day, those most faithful of believers would all be taken to heaven, and those "left behind" would face the tribulations of the Last Judgment, culminating with the destruction of this world. When May 21 came and went and nothing out of the ordinary appeared to have happened, Camping said he was "bewildered" but stuck to his prediction that October 21 would indeed mark the end of time. (This is, of course, a full fourteen months before the ancient Mayan calendar runs out of days.)

It's not my intention to comment on the "end times" here. There's been more than enough of that and there will be more. It is all speculation. Further, Revelation is written in the figurative language of apocalyptic literature - and not the only example of same in the Judeo-Christian repertoire. During those seven weeks of notoriety, the ultimate question becomes: Is Mr. Camping filled with the Holy Spirit - or full of something else? Again, lots of speculation. He's an octogenarian and could be suffering elements of the diseases among the elderly I'm becoming familiar with as my parents and I age. Any and all manner of rational, plausible configurations are possible. That being said, I'm not out to affirm or condemn Mr. Camping, or what he believes or preaches. That is not the point.

People thought Deacon Stephen was a bit over the edge when he testified that he saw 'the heavens opened' and Jesus sitting at the right of the throne of almighty God. For that matter, a great many people thought Jesus was over the edge, too. Jesus had promised the apostles that another advocate would be sent to them after his departure. None of them really understood what that meant until it happened. But when it happened, it was immediately understood what was to be done.

Receiving the Holy Spirit does not mean you will instantly know everything. That was apparent as we proceed through the writings of the New Testament. What it does mean is that the recipient is better prepared to face whatever God will present in that person's life. This continued presence of God among us is often misunderstood and even overlooked, the emphasis being so much on the person of Jesus as he lived among the people of 1st Century Palestine. It is that presence that moved Paul and the other apostles in the spread of Christianity. It is that presence that one seeks, and finds in the vibrant congregations of today.

On this day, considered to be the birthday of the Church, let us be thankful for this great gift of divine love. May we be moved to think more about the part of our being that is connected to the Divine; to receive anew and afresh the Holy Spirit of God. Let us be filled with that presence - lest we become full of something else.