A Fish too Slippery to Tame

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.
Acts 10:44-45 (NRSV)
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had accepted the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them . . . ?” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning . . . . When they heard this, they were silenced.  And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 11:1-3, 15, 18 (NRSV)

When I was in high school my dad and others would go on a canoeing trip every summer that served as a great opportunity to spear fish for carp.  Carp are a crazy breed of fish.  They’re awfully big, hang out on riverbeds, and feast on trash.  The years of fighting river currents also make them very strong and thus elusive.  Out of many tries I only caught one in four summers. Once I found myself in a split-second wrestling match with one of these feral river beasts.  I had hovered above it, spear raised high, then paused.  Slam! I thrust the spear into the water and before I knew it I went under and found my hand on the fish’s tail.  I gripped its slippery scales with all my might only to feel it’s much mightier tale easily whip me away.  As I stood I could hear the sloshing of water and lots of laughter.  Clearly, I had met a fish too big for me to tame. 

I hesitate to compare the Spirit of the living God to a trash-eating river fish, but I guess that’s what I’m about to do.  What Peter and these Jewish Christians in Acts are dealing with is a slippery and powerful tail that wants to swim somewhere they don’t want it to go.  When it comes to the Spirit we are not in control.  In fact, the point of the Spirit is the exact opposite of our control.  The Spirit invites us to cooperate with it; not to domesticate it.[1]  I love the image from this passage: as Peter is speaking, the Spirit falls on these Gentiles.  That had to have been an interruption that threw him off his delivery.  The Spirit goes where it wants to go, does what it wants to do, and falls upon whomever asks for it.[2]  

There are a lot of Christians throughout history who I look up to.  But the fact is that I think they were wrong about some important stuff.  I would have strong doctrinal disagreements with almost all of my Christian heroes.  The reason why they are my heroes has nothing to do with their doctrinal contributions.  Instead, their heroism is grounded by their faith in Christ and animated by a powerful and wily Spirit swimming through their life.  I recognize these heroes by the telltale signs of Christ’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[3] In the light of their fruit, my argumentative zeal is silenced and I cannot withhold my fellowship from them.[4]
All this compels me to be awfully hospitable in this world.[5]  I might just find myself talking to someone I despise only to be swept off my feet mid-sentence and dragged helplessly upstream by that compassionate, forgiving, and slippery river beast.   

What do you say River Street . . . ready for a swim?

Also, if you wish to see what all this does and doesn't look like consider this article about Evangelical-Catholic relations in Italy. 

p.s. I wrote an article this month for Missio Alliance for their conversation on Gender and the Kingdom of God.  The article ran this morning and you can find it here.

[1] Cooperation is really a key when we’re talking about the Spirit.  The Spirit is not coercive.  It won’t make you do anything.  Instead, it’s going up stream and always invites us to be dragged along behind it.
[2] I have never understood the idea that the Spirit is only given to certain people and that it has to be delivered by certain means.  Here we have a prime example of the Spirit doing something that had not been done before.  I appeal to Jesus’s words, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13)
[3] After all, this is how Jesus said we would recognize his followers.  And yet for much longer than a millennium the Church has demanded that doctrinal purity be the indication of one’s life in the Spirit. Oh, and I know it isn’t on the list in Galatians, but I think Jesus’s consistent use of compassion should also be thought of as a product of the Spirit.
[4] One of the old Church of God hymns puts this sentiment this way: “I reach my hand in fellowship to every blood-washed one.” 
[5] At least I try to be.


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