A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
May 17, 2018
Ubiquity – “Presence everywhere or in many places, especially simultaneously.” (Merriam-Webster)
A more common theological synonym is “omnipresence,” which usually refers to God being everywhere at once, and sometimes to Christ’s abiding universal presence, as he promised his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) While theologians often attribute “omnipresence” to God or to Christ, they do so rarely for the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. So, on this Pentecost week, I’d like us to consider the ubiquity of the Spirit that is poured out at Pentecost, and what it means for how we relate to each other.
The Spirit of God is present already in Genesis 1. This Spirit comes upon prophets and rulers throughout the stories of God’s people recorded in Hebrew Scriptures. Sometimes the Spirit is given through anointing, other times through involuntary divine seizure. Such impartations are isolated and episodic. Sometimes the Spirit manifests in a person only once, as with the elders that Moses appointed to help lead Israel in its wilderness sojourn. (Numbers 11:25) Others, such as Samson, experience repeated experiences of the Spirit’s incursion and empowerment, but even those impartations are episodic and ephemeral.
Moses yearned that all Israel would be filled by the Holy Spirit. Ancient prophets foresaw the day when God’s Spirit would be poured out on all peoples. Yet that day was far-off and dim.
Until the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. Suddenly the Spirit was poured out on all the disciples, no exceptions. Peter exults, “This is what the prophet Joel was talking about! All kinds of people are included – young and old, men and women, people from nearby and faraway alike. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord, in fact!”
Earlier generations had seen this same Spirit rest upon this person or that, every now and then. But only with Pentecost is God’s desire to fill all humanity with the Spirit made publicly manifest. Not only is the Spirit given to everyone – the Spirit now abides within and among us, rather than resting on us only episodically.
Pentecost discloses God’s redemption program to bring all creation into conformity with God’s original intent. Upon whom does God pour out the Spirit? Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. “Every kind of people!” is how Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message.
There was no doctrinal subscription card the Pentecost disciples had to sign before they were candidates for the outpouring of the Spirit. They came from all nations, young and old, men and women. Some had been with Jesus all along, others were novices to his way. Some had stayed faithful through thick and thin (notably the women who lingered with Jesus at the cross and came first thing Easter morning to anoint him with burial spices), while others, like Peter, bailed on him when he needed their support most. All of them were filled with the Spirit on Pentecost. They all began to glorify God in new languages.
When the wind and fire of Pentecost fill the house, no-one gets left out. We bear witness to this ubiquity of the Spirit by affirming the integrity and importance of everyone in our fellowship. If God’s Spirit makes no exceptions, how can we?
The reason we insist that everyone has a place in our fellowship regardless of external condition is because that is precisely what Pentecost discloses as God’s will. “No person shall be denied membership [in the church] for any reason not related to profession of faith.... Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.” (Book of Order G-1.0302)
The panoply of humanity is the theater of the Spirit’s outpouring. Ubiquity. Everyone, everywhere. We don’t welcome all or insist on principles of full representation to be politically correct, but we welcome all because this is the way of the Holy Spirit who inundates the church indiscriminately on Pentecost. And this same Spirit is with us today. Are we ready for the ubiquity of the Spirit to be fully manifest among us?
In Pentecost joy,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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