It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s….the Holy Spirit?
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.(Acts 10:44-48)
What we have here is the ending of a story. One that is commonly referred to as the “Gentile Pentecost.” But this is what the Revised Common Lectionary gives us for today (Year B, Sixth Sunday of Easter). But come on! What kind of sadist gives you just the end of a story? Like “here you go! Like it? Go back and read it from the beginning. Oh -did I spoil the ending for you? #sorrynotsorry”
And second, it’s out of order! This happens after Pentecost, so why are we reading it before the actual Pentecost?
But that’s the Spirit for you. Disruptive. Rogue. Surprising.
In this painting by Titian, the Holy Spirit is depicted in a very traditional way – as a dove, and as little bits of wind/flames over each person’s head. The people are overwhelmed. It’s classic artistic depictions like these that have led to people describe the Trinity in the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek way of “two white dudes and a bird.”
Renaissance art can be a bit misleading at times….
I like how Grace Ji-Sun Kim describes the Spirit in her book, Embracing the Other. Kim argues that the we can best understand Spirit as a form of Divine Love that connects cultures, lives in the margins, and breaks boundaries. Spirit can do this precisely because Spirit is movement; wind and breath (both moving air). This allow Spirit to reach the “in-between” and “hard-to-reach” spaces. And this is exactly why we need to recover and raise up this third aspect of Trinity:
Traditional theologies posit that the God of the Center reaches out to the marginalized with inclusive love. Yet, in such theologies the center remains central command, determining who will be included and excluded. This creates an obvious structural disadvantage for those on the periphery. In many ways, church politics and theology still rely upon modern, masculine epistemologies of the center and continue to institute them. Epistemologies of the center only perpetuate the status quo and keep power with those who are at the center. This center epistemology needs to be challenged and redefined…Grace Ji-Sun Kim
The Spirit was disrupting this epistemology of the center when They went “out of bounds” by descending upon Gentiles. GENTILES! The circumcised believers were ASTOUNDED. But Peter was all like “So what if they haven’t followed our religious codes? Let’s baptize them anyway.” (Go back and read Acts 10 from the beginning to learn how Peter was taught by God to be so openminded. Sorry you already know the ending.)
Sometimes we need a kick in the butt. Sometimes we get a little too stuck in our ways, too encased in our traditions, our policies, our structures and liturgies and our Roberts Rules of Order, and we start to mistake these rituals and procedures for the God they are meant to point us to. And then…
Enter the disruptive power of the Spirit.
Divine Love in dove’s clothing.