Clothed in the Spirit

Because I’m working another full-time job, and not involved in the life of a congregation, I can plead that I’m not paying the kind of attention to Scripture — or worship — that I really ought to be. I’m a bit lost in the wilderness, as I have confessed multiple times on this blog.

So, this posting really should have been written several weeks ago for Pentecost.

Not long ago — and I’m not sure when exactly that was — I was reading through the two books of Chronicles, the second and much shorter historical account for Israel’s rise, fall, and redemption from exile. It’s a much more sanitized version of our history (yes, ours), leaves out many of the gory details of Saul’s faithlessness and David’s sin.

But I came across this amazing passage from 1 Chronicles 12 about David’s “Mighty Men”:

16 And some of the men of Benjamin and Judah came to the stronghold to David. 17 David went out to meet them and said to them, “If you have come to me in friendship to help me, my heart will be joined to you; but if to betray me to my adversaries, although there is no wrong in my hands, then may the God of our fathers see and rebuke you.” 18 Then the Spirit clothed Amasai, chief of the thirty, and he said,
“We are yours, O David,
and with you, O son of Jesse!
Peace, peace to you,
and peace to your helpers!
For your God helps you.”
Then David received them and made them officers of his troops. (1 Chronicles 12:16-18, ESV)

“The Spirit clothed Amasai…” וְרוּחַ לָבְשָׁ֗ה אֶת־עֲמָשַׂי This Spirit is the ruh that is the breath of God, and it enfolds Amasai like a garment. He wears לבשׁ lbš the Spirit of God. It covers him.

This doesn’t happen often. In Judges 6:34, the Spirit of the Lord clothes Gideon (וְרוּחַ יְהוָה לָבְשָׁה אֶת־גִּדְעוֹן) as he leads the army of Israel across the Jordan and gathers allies, and later in the Chronicles account (2 Chronicles 20:24), The Spirit of God clothes Zechariah the son of Jehoiada as he calls out the people’s idolatry following his father’s death (וְרוּחַ אֱלהִ֗ים לָֽבְשָׁה אֶת־זְכַרְיָה בֶּן־יְהוֹיָדָע הַכֹּהֵן). These are passages when a leader is clothed in the Spirit to gather followers or preach the clear truth to the people of God.

But this passage from 1 Chronicles is different. David is approached by some men from Benjamin and Judah — with whom David is at war because Saul is still king — who have come for reasons the Chronicler doesn’t say. Only David calls for God to rebuke them if they have come for ill. That’s when the Spirit clothes Amasai, and he proclaims his allegiance to David.

This is a political confession Amasai makes on behalf of his thirty men. He, and his cohort, give themselves over to David, and proclaim peace upon David and all those who help him, for God helps David. They will fight, will command men to fight, for David.

Like the Gibeonites, they see which side God is on and they switch sides.

Others from Israel slowly defect to David. But only Amasai and his thirty make a Spirit-clothed allegiance and confession. They are David’s because David is God’s.

What has this to do with Pentecost? Everything.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49 ESV)

“But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” ὑμεῖς δὲ καθίσατε ἐν τῇ πόλει ἕως οὗ ἐνδύσησθε ἐξ ὕψους δύναμιν. Acts itself uses “tongues of fire” and filling to describe the action of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, an outpouring like water, and not clothing wrapping and covering. But the risen Christ himself in Luke speaks of “putting on” power from high. A garment that enfolds us so that we can make a confession, proclaim an allegiance to Christ.

One of the things I learned early on as Muslim is that the shahada, the basic confession of faith — لا إله إلى الله محمد رسول الله there is absolutely no god but God and Muhammad [the praised one] is the messenger of God — is also a fundamentally political confession. To speak these words changed how the believer related to clan, caste, village, nation, and reoriented everything toward God and His Prophet.

Clearly this confession that Amasai and his fellow soldiers make is also a political confession. By being clothed in the spirit, and proclaiming “peace” to David, they are saying they will serve David and David’s God, who helps David. And not Saul. Their relationship to David becomes more important than being men of Benjamin and Judah, and they become men of David here.

And this is Peter’s confession on that day the followers of Jesus are “clothed with power from on high”:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. … Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:32-33, 36)

This is a political confession, as political a confession as Amasai’s proclamation of peace for David. When we confess this, we confess who is Lord, who is sovereign, who is helped and whom God helps. We confess whose side we are on by remembering whose side God is on — Christ’s. We are no longer divided by language, tribe, clan, and nation (εθνος), but we are no longer united by being members of the House of Israel or simply by being subject to Caesar’s rule. We have another Lord, because God has helped another.

And in helping Christ, God is helping us. In being on Christ’s side, God is on ours.

But only because we have come and submitted ourselves first to Christ. Because the Spirit has given us the power, wrapped itself around us, clothed us, and given us the ability to make that confession. We are only righteous insofar as Christ is righteous, and the only righteousness we have is that which first belonged to Christ.

Life Abdunatly

John 10:1-10

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

They know his voice.

I have my dad’s old cell phone. It’s still listed in my iPhone’s address book as belonging to my dad, though he is gone and Jennifer now carries that phone.

And it still has the outgoing message he recorded. I cannot delete it — it is the last copy of his voice I know that I have. I simply cannot let go of it.

I know my dad’s voice. I have always known it, whether I was waiting with anticipation or terror at his coming.

Here, Jesus tells his disciples that his sheep know his voice. They know it. The teaching is made after Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, some of whom cannot believe that Jesus is the long prophesied Son of Man.

It sounds here like you either know the shepherd’s voice or not. And maybe that’s true. To follow the master, and refuse to follow the thief, or a stranger, is to know something about the shepherd. The shepherd has come by the right way — the gate — and the gatekeeper has opened the gate for the shepherd.

Jesus is the gate, the one through which entry to the sheep is given. He is also, later in the reading, the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. He speaks and those who follow know he has spoken.

I have heard the voice of Jesus. And yet, I did not know him. I was not one of his when he spoke to me. I could not follow the voice of what was then, to me, a stranger. It took others — faithful followers, struggling as best they could — to show me who he was. Who he is. I did not know his voice then but I do now. He is not a stranger to me now. He is the shepherd, and I know his voice.

I don’t think I’ve followed a stranger. Or been robbed by a thief. I have followed. I have life. I have it abundantly. I have that promise.

I wonder, though, what that means. Because what I’m living now … does not feel to me like abundant life.

LECTIONARY MONDAY Living a Burnt-Over Life

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

It is Pentecost Sunday. The birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and filled them, covered them, set them afire with power and faith — trust — to do great things.

I was baptized on Pentecost Sunday in 2005, so this is my “baptism birthday.” My first internship supervisor, who has moved on from his call in rural Wisconsin a time or two or three since our time together, would, for a the first few years afterwards, send me a message — “Happy baptism birthday!”, something he tried to do with all his parishioners when he knew they date of their baptism.

The first couple of times, that greeting made me angry, felt deeply humiliating, a reminder of the terrible thing that happened. But those feelings passed a long time ago. It’s also been a long time since he’s wished me a happy baptism birthday. And I miss it.

I’m feeling disconnected today. Not spirit filled. Not on fire. I’m lonely and isolated. I wonder what my future is. I am not amazed, or astounded, and I’m not dreaming dreams.

It’s the usual complaint of the last few years. My life feels somewhat pointless, purposeless, and empty. I cannot even take comfort in this ministry I do, since I no longer have any idea how much of it was real and how much wasn’t. I feel a little humiliated being lied to, but more importantly, I feel like I’ve wasted my purpose. Like I have none.

In the past, when I have felt this way, it has been mixed with destitution and the despair that induced. But thanks to my father’s recent death, Jennifer and I now no longer face that kind of oblivion. I have work and a place to live I pay rent on, and some other things. We shall not be destitute unless I’m supremely stupid or the stock market ceases to exist tomorrow.

But still … purpose.

It’s a sense of homelessness, a desire to connect, to belong, to part of a people, to know them and be known by them. I picked a lousy place to do that — Central Washington is a place, like the Midwest, of settled people, of people so enmeshed with each other that they don’t welcome strangers very well and don’t really know how to get to know strangers. The upside of knowing people since kindergarten — as one tiny class of seven high school graduates do in one small town high school graduation I covered this weekend — is that is how most people have known each other for most of human history. You are born, live, work, and die in the midst of kin and loved ones. “These are my brothers and sisters,” one student said. And he wasn’t wrong.

The downside is the only way people really enter that group is through birth. They know of no other way to welcome new people into their midst. And so … they don’t really know how.

This is one reason I think Semitic scriptures (Bible and Qur’an) make such a big deal of welcoming strangers. It is so very counter to how we actually live. It is not easy. And that is why so many are not very good at it.

I think the ministry was a way for me to connect, even with someone virtual. (I think Bethany — whoever she really was — wanted that too, was lonely too, which is why she pretended so much, and why she hasn’t hurt me.) I am lonely, and I want to be part of other people’s lives, to matter, to be important. And it’s hard, being a stranger and a wanderer in the land of settled people.

It is, right now, more than I really care to bear.

God feels so … gone. I feel so empty, forgotten, abandoned. I know I cannot rely on my feelings, especially in the empty place. But still, it is all very overwhelming. And it’s not just feelings, either. I am not part of whoever “they” are as they have gathered in that one place. I am not part of them. I am not of them. I have no place.

I was on fire. Once. Now I am ashes. The fire … has gone.

In the LCMS’s The Lutheran Study Bible, there is a prayer in the footnotes to this passage from the Hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”:

Come, holy fire, comfort true, Grant us the will Your work to do And in your service to abide; Let trials turn us not aside.

I have to trust this emptiness is, in fact, a place I have been brought. That this yearning to know and be known, to have a home, is one I have some hope of realizing. Because right now, I do not know. It is hard to trust. Hard to trust God in the emptiness. Hard to trust the fire of the Spirit when there is nothing but cold and ashes and silence.

Jesus spoke to me. Why don’t more people care about that?

Maybe because I don’t care enough about it.

It is an odd place, this place of cold silence. This place of strangeness. This empty place. I’ve had the Spirit descend on me, speak to me — It will not always be this way, so live until it changes. You do not need to be so angry. Things are going exactly as they should be. My love is all that matters and this is who I am. — an intense revelation that when I read it together, still speaks to me.

Still says all I need to know. To believe. To trust

That I am reborn. That I have new life. That I am filled with the Spirit. That I am on fire. That I belong. That I am one of them in that one place. That I have been called and gathered and sent forth.

I trust. In the thing I cannot see, touch, or even feel inside me right now. I trust. It is all I have.