The Subversive Spirit 3

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 21, 2007

They paint the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles’ heads in the form of a dove. For shame! Haven’t they ever felt the Holy Spirit burning them? Where did they find that innocent, edible bird? How can they present that to us as Spirit? No, the Holy Spirit is not a dove, it is a fire, a man eating fire which clamps its talons into the very crown of saints, martyrs, and great strugglers, reducing them to ashes. Abject souls are the ones who take the Holy Spirit for a dove which they imagine they can kill and eat.

(Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco, 508)

When we first encounter the Spirit in the Gospels, we see the Spirit preparing the way for the Messiah. It is the Spirit who impregnates Mary…it is the Spirit who empowers John to be a Great Prophet and it is the Spirit who anoints Jesus at his Baptism.

The Spirit brings forth the Christ. And then leads him into the desert to be confronted by Satan. From there, we see that Jesus’ understanding of his own ministry in Luke 4 is tied up with the Spirit…for it is the Spirit’s anointing that allows Jesus to preach good news to the poor.

And it is the Spirit who, after Jesus ascends to the Father, is unleashed upon the disciples…a terrifying wind that leaves flames dancing upon their heads. By the Spirit’s power, these disciples start to vomit strange words–a terrifying sign of new unity. A great reversal of Babel. Jesus, the Lawgiver, has given his new Law, the Spirit.

The Spirit subverts, but quietly. The Spirit never brings attention to herself, but instead point folks to Jesus. Yet the Spirit is essential–the Spirit and the Son are so wrapped up in one another that they cannot be separated. Jesus never seemed to do anything of his own accord or power. Jesus works by the power of the Spirit, and in obedience to the Father.

If in the Old Testament, we see the Spirit engaged in revealing the world as-it-might-be and then empower God’s people to subvert the world as-it-is, then the Spirit’s “job” doesn’t change in the New Testament. And the following Old Testament cycle doesn’t change in the New Testament either:

The Spirit co-creates. The Spirit inspires. The Spirit reveals. The Spirit re-creates.

In the New Testament we see the Spirit, in a sense, making the Messiah. And it is the Spirit who co-creates the Church with Jesus. The Spirit, we see in the Gospels and Acts, is behind every true word, and behind every true insight. The Spirit speaks into Falsehood. And the Spirit destroys misunderstanding. The Spirit inspires and the Spirit reveals.

The Spirit not only creates, but also destroys. Gone are the old divisions. At Pentecost, the Spirit destroys national distinctions. And at the “Gentile” Pentecost, the Spirit destroys the division between Jews and Gentiles.

And every time we see Jesus or one of his followers do a miraculous deed or utter a bold word, it is the Spirit who enables them to do so. Every missional step forward in the book of Acts is at the Spirit’s urging. There is no “missonal” apart from the Spirit. There is no “incarnational” (or an Incarnation for that matter) apart from the Spirit.

The Spirit isn’t a snake that can be charmed. The Spirit blows where she will. She is never commanded, never used. She is unpredictable. And mysterious. She is a dangerous bird. She subverts. And when she burns in your heart, she destroys you from within, so that a new life will rise from the ashes.

The Spirit has quietly ripped apart the old world and is bringing forth the new, in Christ, for the Father. Amen.

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