Unveiling of Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
For more than two months, millions of people have been ordered to stay in their homes to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, which has now claimed over 100,000 lives in this country alone. The economic impact has left 40 million people out of work.
And then the last few days.
A lot can change in a few days. If you read my weekly email, this morning was supposed to be a party, celebrating the Holy Spirit, a pentecost party with new friends and old friends, joining together with Sausalito Pres. But I don’t imagine any of us are much in a party mood.
Even before the protests began, it was a challenging few weeks.
Like many of you, I’ve been sitting on a crazy-making roller coaster of emotion. I ride this roller coaster especially on early morning walks down by the water while listening to music.
Deep gratitude for life itself moves seamlessly into deep sadness. As I walk back and forth on a very small stretch of beach, I ride waves between grief and gratitude, praying for those who have died, those grieving, those hungry, those who’ve lost their jobs. Compassion and the awareness that my life could change on the turn of a dime brings me back into joy for simply being alive.
They say that tears of joy and tears of sadness look different under a microscope, but lately, I wonder if there’s a third kind of tear - one that combines both - one that feels out of sync with this morning’s scripture.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians paints a beautiful picture of the spirit, describing the manifestation of the spirit as different in each one of us, taking on a variety of expressions. The spirit won’t look the same in each person. The spirit manifests a million different ways in (and yet, all the ways that Paul describes seem to me to be the same variety of some kind of positive) expression.
To one is given through the spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge.
To another faith, to another gifts of healing.
To another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
As I read Paul’s litany of the ways the spirit presents itself, I found myself a little annoyed. At first glance tt seems so one sided, so positive; but in looking a little deeper, I began to realize that those words - wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy - don’t come to us easily. They come from a lifetime of living, through good times and bad.
What Paul didn’t mention are those times when the spirit expresses itself through tears, through compassion. Surely Christ exemplified what that looks like when he wept over Lazarus. What about the spirit’s expression of indignation when systems of oppression hurt those who have been marginalized? Surely Jesus exemplified for us time and time again what it meant to live a life in protest against the exploitation of the neglected among him. A life he was willing to lose for the sake of others.
The spirit in Paul’s letter, are at first glance shades of rosy. But biblically, the spirit moves people into action with passion. The spirit is depicted as a fire. Fire has the ability to destroy what’s in its path but also has the power to regenerate new life. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, like the range of emotions that live inside of us, can take on many shades, many varieties of expression.
And as much as we’d like to, we can’t selectively open our hearts to only the spiritual rosy, positive side of life, to only gratitude, without also opening ourselves up to compassion and empathy which can weigh heavily. Our hearts are either open or closed. And once they’re open, we can’t self select only the feel good spirit, because sometimes the spirit moves from a place of anger, of sadness, of compassion.
And for the people who are taking to the streets in protest, I understand this as an unveiling of the spirit, one that has been burning like a fire for centuries, building up and erupting now, like an unveiling of what’s been suppressed for far too long. People will blame the pandemic and economic crisis for the civil unrest, but there’s more going on. There’s no unifying voice, no unifying call from our leaders to appeal to our better selves.
Unifying words sound like those we heard throughout history in times of crisis, words from leaders across the political divide, leaders who expressed empathy and steadfastness. Who understood that unifying words in times of crisis are not just words, but a call to the spirit, a spirit of patriotism that lifts us up and away from violence and into the ability to support one another passionately and peacefully,
This is what the apostle Paul got so right (verse 7).
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
The common good is a unifying principle. It’s the litmus test for whether the spirit is being put to good use or not. The common good embraces the same unifying spirit Paul puts forth in scripture: same God, same spirit, same Lord. Those words live at the core of so many of the other principles we live by in this country - principles that our founding fathers intended for us to take seriously - that all people are created equally under a power greater than ourselves. We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.
Every day I pray that the spirit will wake people up into recognizing the same unifying spirit that Paul describes. Different expressions of the spirit, but living under the same stars, sharing the same resources, and entitled to the same inalienable rights when they lead to us towards the common good. The common good reminds us in the words of Walt Whitman, that every atom as belonging to me as food belongs to you, no matter where you’re born. The common good is not about self. It’s about relation.
When all of this began, I read you a prayer that was a dialogue between God and a parent who was scared, who listed all their fears to God and one of the fears was that the person was afraid that we wouldn’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic. But my fear has always been that we will. I want this pandemic to change us for the better. We call this time unprecendented, as though it only means something negative, but coming back from all this means that we have an opportunity to create a new normal that is also unprecedented.
While the spirit may lead some people to protest, it can also lead us into more awareness of our own responsibility towards the common good in how we live out our daily lives. There is not one interaction of your day that isn’t an opportunity to express the spirit of God which lives inside of you, through the kindness you exude, through generosity, in your daily living.
If people can’t see you smile under your mask, start waving. If people are speeding, around you, maintain the new pace you’ve discovered during this time, be the calm in the storm. As the spirit of fire rages and burns around us, pray for peace and that the unveiling of this spirit may form new life in its wake.
People are discovering new ways to be in community despite the divisive rhetoric. This is a time to feed the moral imaginations of our spirit as we imagine together how we want to live together in the new normal, which includes the manifestation of the spirit for the common good.