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AfterWords | Spirit of God: Jacob and the Gentiles (May 5, 2024)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Deonna Bettis

This season of Pentecost that we are about to enter is such a beautiful one. The beginning of the church. The spread of the good news that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, and, after not being recognized by some as that fulfillment, was crucified and buried. On the third day—Jesus rose from the dead and the tomb where He was laid, and during this season of Eastertide we recall the many ways He was seen by many from Galilee to Jerusalem.* It is these accounts of witness to His resurrection that precede the events in Acts. 

As a gentile, I am so grateful for these accounts, and the reality of which they speak. This Sunday I was struck, unexpectedly, with a word of restoration and caution that I believe was from that same Spirit.   

First, I was reminded of the Spirit’s holiness. Culturally it is much easier to discuss and engage in many ways with the Spirit, as opposed to the Holy Spirit. However, this distinction is crucial. We are reminded in the scriptures, many times in the book of Acts alone, of the presence of spirits of all kinds. What sets the Spirit of God apart, is—holiness! So in our very spiritual world, I would do well to dwell on the holiness of God’s Spirit. If I am unable to get a sense of that or see it clearly—then I would do well to ask for the wholeness, the otherness, the holiness of God’s Spirit to be revealed. 

Second, in our highly individualized culture, once I have come to a place that acknowledges the hurt and pain in my story—it can be very easy for me to dwell on my hurts, my traumas, my woundings and to seek their healing almost exclusively. In formation-based churches I have been part of, there is generally a focus on individual healing. This makes sense in many ways, as healed and healthier people make for a healthier community at large. However, as we earnestly seek restoration in ourselves, let us not abandon shared study and discussion of the Bible or community prayer.  

Third, the very source from which we are told of the promise and arrival of the Holy Spirit—to the Jews first, and also (as Jordan mentioned from Acts 10) to the gentiles, that source is the God-breathed scriptures. It is to my peril that I allow personal wounding and trauma from the enemy’s sinful workings to take me for very long from the word. The Holy Spirit will move and speak the Word (Jesus) as God wills. The scriptures are God-breathed* originated with, and are filled by, the Holy Spirit. As someone who has grown up in the church, I have experienced a wide range of times where, sadly, the very words of the Bible have been twisted and manipulated to accomplish a single leader’s or organization’s end. Consequently, there are whole passages and books of the Bible with which I have had a complicated relationship. As my children have grown, my own faith has been tested and deepened—I am learning that avoidance of those passages, or of scripture in general, is such foolishness. I have wrestled at different times with fear that takes many forms. I have had fears about passing on my warped perspectives or inadvertently twisting the words of the Bible for my children. The past several years have brought circumstances that God, in His mercy, has used to bring me back to the foundational Truth of the Scriptures. This isn’t a dismissal of arguments and explorations for the ways in which cultural forces have altered the Bible over time. This is just a personal statement that I feel in some ways as Jacob*, who after wrestling with the Lord as he was going out to meet what he thought was his greatest enemy, came away with a limp, a new name, and a promise that more than covers that which he could not understand.

Therefore, I can acknowledge to myself and my children, very real limitations (a limp) in my ability to understand the words of the Bible. However, as a Holy Spirit-filled Christian (my new name and the promise) I am called to speak the God-breathed words of truth over myself, my family, my community, and the world. If I approach the scriptures with the same openness and expectation that I bring to a moment of silence, or contemplation… God’s Spirit is faithful to reveal Truth in the very scriptures that may have been weaponized or manipulated in my earlier experience. The enemy of our souls loves to redirect my gaze from the Truth in any way possible. I bet he does that to you too. The scriptures contain a wealth of Truth.* Sometimes I have such difficulty separating the reality of Truth from my ability to understand it. Truth is larger than my comprehension, but I am not left in the dark. I am told that the Word is a light to my path*—that reminds me of Jesus, and I am simultaneously grateful for the text where I read this truth. 

Finally, as God is healing and redeeming me as an individual, I pray I will be open to seeking where and how the Holy Spirit is also redeeming the Bible for me. I want to be able to read, memorize, tell the story of God that is in the Bible—and do it fully. I don’t want to inadvertently omit difficult passages or discussions because of the warping effect of sin, a lack of understanding, or my own felt limitations.  

Rather, let me humbly acknowledge my limitations and still present to my mind, heart, and family the entire truth of the Bible. 

Let me invite the Holy Spirit to move in the pages, and trust God to do what He promises He will do.  

As we enter Pentecost, I am reminded that I have the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence as a testament of the faithfulness of a triune God. A God whom we can never fully understand, but Who continues to interrupt our complacency and illusions of control, and invites us into His redemption work of the world as first outlined in the gift of scripture.

*Acts 13:23–31; 2 Timothy 3:16 and Ephesians 1:13; Genesis 32; Ephesians 6:14; Psalm 119:105

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