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The Spirit within and amongst us

... they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,.... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit -- Acts 2:1-4

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. {verse 4}

The gift of the Spirit came to them, each one, and together, both individually and collectively, both as personal followers of Jesus and as his body the church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit came when they were gathered together as a body and yet the fire rested on each one individually. Much in our lives as disciples of Christ and members of the church, and indeed on our families and work, is affected by how much we pay attention to these two different emphases. Do we listen primarily to the voice of the Spirit within or the voice of the corporate body? Many consequences follow from a preference for the individual over society or for social interest rather the private person. So, justifying these different ways of seeing things, with their associated ideologies, people have tended to speak of the presence of God in their lives, or specifically of the Holy Spirit, as if the presence of God were either a private possession within oneself or, alternatively, as if the Spirit is properly possessed only in the gathered community and its structure as a body. In fact both are important, except that, if we must speak of possessing anything, it would be better to say that we belong to God rather than thinking of God belonging to us, whether individually or as a group.

They were all there, together in the one room, the twelve, Peter, John, James, and other disciples including Mary the mother of Jesus, and also his brothers (Acts 1:13-14;2:1). Being together had something to do with their being ready for the coming of the Spirit. Elsewhere, eg 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 we read of how the gifts of the Spirit belonged to the whole body so that there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit.

Peoples with different gifts of the Spirit are equipped to work together as members of the one body. As in Ephesians 4, that we remembered last week in reference to the gifts of the Spirit coming from the Ascension: It is clear that in the early church the Spirit was understood to be present, as the risen Christ had himself been present, when they met together. In the New Testament, references to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, coming on people seem to be to events that happened within the fellowship of believers when they were gathered together, although there were occasions, like when Ananias laid his hands on Paul [Acts 9:17], when there might have been only two or three gathered together.

When we pray for the gift of the Spirit with the laying on of hands at confirmation or at an ordination or at the commissioning of people for a form of ministry such as elder, youth worker or lay preacher, we are acting corporately as the body of Christ. Although particular people are blessed, they are blessed as members or parts of the body with particular functions and not as individuals who have the power or privilege to act alone. Members of the body exercise their particular ministries under the discipline of the body as a whole. That is seen for example in the celebration of the sacraments. In our  understanding, ordained ministers are not free to celebrate baptism or the Lord's Supper apart from the life of a congregation or recognized Christian fellowship. We sometimes take communion to the sick or people who are not able to attend the regular service, but that communion is an extension of the life of the gathered congregation and still under the oversight of the minister and council of elders. Having an ordained minister, who is under the discipline of the wider church, preside at the celebration of the sacraments is a sign of the fact that the sacraments belong to the universal church which should be represented at each celebration. All these acts of the church in worship depend upon the Holy Spirit being present in the corporate life of the church.

The different emphasis on the Spirit dwelling within each person is seen in prayer and personal devotion. For example, Paul wrote to the Romans about how the Spirit witnesses with each one that we are children of God:

Individuals members of the body of Christ have personal knowledge of God, in which God is known intimately in the way that close members of a family know each other. It is knowledge shared in the fellowship of believers, but it is known directly by each member. We know it within ourselves when we are not in the gathered congregation or even with one or two. Sometimes it is very important to be able to say when we are absolutely on our own, "I know in whom I believe."

Jesus, indeed prayed for this indwelling of his presence when he prayed for the unity of those whose would believe in him, a little further on in the final prayer for his disciples that we considered last week:

It is the personal relationship of each one to Christ which is the foundation of the unity that is God's will and his gift. At one of  our local services during the week of prayer for Christian unity the local Catholic priest told a combined congregation of his own personal knowledge of Christ and his sense of presence of the Spirit of God which he had discerned also in Christians of the other local churches. That really matters, and in the end it will be the basis on which the structural problems of church organisation that keep Christians apart will eventually be overcome. And they must be overcome, for if we belong to the one Lord we belong in the one fellowship celebrating our one baptism at the one table. That fellowship is the communion of the Holy Spirit, and today we praise him and pray that he will lead us into all truth. As Jesus said, It would be my prayer also that the Spirit of God who was present in the work of creation (while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters, Genesis 1:2), and who remains active in the world, will yet lead men and women everywhere to learn how to overcome their differences and be blessed as children of the one human family.

We need in our economic and political affairs to be able to see others as people who are, like ourselves, potentially children of God. In that sense we need to recognize in each other individually that capacity to relate to God which we value in ourselves. We might not know whether a person we are dealing with in business or in the street is a believer, or whether the knowledge of God is important to them, but we do know that we are all made in the image of God and have the capacity to respond to the call of God. That fact must place a very high value on every individual human life, as one in whom the Spirit of God may dwell and speak intimately. Our sense of social justice, then, requires both, that regard for the value of every person regardless of who they are or where they come from, and at the same time an appreciation of the value of acting together as a body in which we serve one another and act together sharing our different gifts. We need both the social sense of the Spirit of God acting amongst us and the personal sense of the Spirit dwelling within each person.

Serious distortions of human life occur when the balance between the individual and the group is disturbed, whether it be in the church or family or society at large. The 'within' and 'among', personal and social emphases, too easily separate, especially in politics and economics. At times we behave as if the rights of individuals were all that matters, and at others as if social obligations to family or corporation or nation must take priority over all other considerations. Bullies, authoritarian managers, populist leaders and demagogues, as well as many counsellors and advisers on personal problems and finance, are all too good at insisting on one or the other, the rights and  values of either the group or the individual. We know, however, that we are not complete in isolation from fellow human beings, and we are aware that neither is the fulness of our being found in our social roles; we are both more than the sum of our relationships with others, and yet more than who we are within our separate selves. God, the Holy Spirit, relates to both to us within ourselves as persons and amongst us as a people; God meets us as we truly are, both personally and socially. Let us then recognize the uniqueness of every individual who may respond to God personally, and at the same time encourage one another in working together as a body. In the fellowship of believers we are one body of Christ in which each of us is given our own particular gifts by the Spirit in whose power we are enabled to recognize each other at the Lord's Table and in service in the world.

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Notes

1 Corinthians 12:4: See notes `spiritual [gifts]' verse 1 `gifts' this verse, `services' verse 5, `activities' verse 6. NB gifts, same Spirit; services, same Lord; activities [or works], same God.

1 "GIFTS": 5486. charisma, khar'-is-mah; from G5483; a (divine) gratuity, i.e. deliverance (from danger or passion); (spec.) a (spiritual) endowment, i.e. (subj.) religious qualification, or (obj.) miraculous faculty:--(free) gift.

1 Corinthians 12:5: See verse 4 and note on `services'.

2 "SERVICES": 1248. diakonia, dee-ak-on-ee'-ah; from G1249; attendance (as a servant, etc.); fig. (eleemosynary) aid, (official) service (espec. of the Chr. teacher, or techn. of the diaconate):--(ad-) minister (-ing, -tration, -try), office, relief, service (-ing).

1 Corinthians 12:6: See note on verse 4 and see `activities' and `activates' in this verse. [Energy is work, Phys]

3 "ACTIVITIES": 1755. energema, en-erg'-ay-mah; from G1754; an effect:--operation, working.

4 "ACTIVATES": 1754. energeo, en-erg-eh'-o; from G1756; to be active, efficient:--do, (be) effectual (fervent), be mighty in, shew forth self, work (effectually in).

1 Corinthians 12:11: `one and the same'= heis + autos. `allots to each one' = diairoun idia hekasto: from same root as diversity/various in verse 4, qv. + particular one. .. as he chooses.

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