The Subversive Spirit

The Subversive Spirit March 4, 2019

Guilhem Vellut / Holy spirit @ Stained glass @ Paroisse Saint-Etienne-du-Mont @ Montagne Sainte-Geneviève @ Paris on Flickr

In the beginning, we find the Spirit hovering over the unformed deep. There, at the beginning as God spoke light into being, the first spark of creation.

We know what happens later in Genesis: innocence lost, murder, the deepening of human frailty and wickedness.

Amidst the shattered fragments of our frail world, the Spirit does her work…the work of sacred re-creation. It is the Spirit who opens up new possibilities, new opportunities for God’s people to be restored and transformed. Where things fall apart, and the world falls deeper into oppression, the Spirit subverts.

“Subvert” is one of my favorite words. It is the combination of two Latin words: sub (meaning “under”) and vertere (meaning “to turn”). Subvert means to turn under, to turn upside down, to overturn, to overthrow. A good picture of subversion is what a plow does to soil, it turns it over, letting the good soil emerge from beneath the surface into the sunlight.

The Spirit brings new possibilities to light. The Spirit disrupts the status quo. She refuses to take the world as it is and, instead, flips it. She speaks into our reality, giving us eyes to see things as they are, so that we can deconstruct the world around us and embrace new realities.

The Spirit refuses to accept things as they are, and instead woos us down the dangerous path of restoration, re-creation, renovation. We see this throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Every time God brings about change, the Spirit is present to open eyes, inspire wisdom, reveal forgotten or new truths. It is by the power and influence of the Spirit that we have the great artisans shaping great works (Exodus 31:2-5). It is with the voice of the Spirit that the prophets call God’s people faithfulness (2 Samuel 23). And we are told that it is through the power of this Spirit that things will be made right…justice will come to the nations (Isaiah 42).

Without the Spirit, we cannot encounter God. It is this Spirit that opens our eyes to see the world-as-it-might-be. It is this Spirit that opens our eyes to see the God-who-is-coming. It is this Spirit who then empowers us to over-turn the world as it is. The Spirit subverts.

When we first encounter the Spirit in the Gospels, we see her preparing the way for the Messiah. It is the Spirit who impregnates Mary…it is the Spirit who empowers John to be the greatest prophet and it is the Spirit who anoints Jesus at his Baptism.

The Spirit brings forth the Christ. And then leads him into the desert to be confronted by Satan. From there, we see that Jesus’ understanding of his own ministry is tied up with the Spirit…for it is the Spirit’s anointing that empowers Jesus to preach good news to the poor.

And it is the Spirit who, after Jesus ascends to the Father, is unleashed upon the disciples…a terrifying wind that leaves flames dancing upon their heads. By the Spirit’s power, these disciples start to vomit strange words–a terrifying sign of new unity. A great reversal of Babel, where God fragmented human speech into many language, so that people would scatter. At Pentecost, the fragmented are brought back together.

In Luke 4, Jesus proclaims his Spirit-filled manifesto. Luke and Acts are companion volumes. They are to be read together. In volume one, Jesus is filled with the Spirit at his baptism on the edge of society and then marches to Jerusalem for a final confrontation. In volume two, the followers of Jesus are baptized with the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and then driven to the edges of the world. The first baptism, of Jesus inaugurates the Jubilee. The second baptism, at Pentecost, fulfills it.

In Acts 2, we see the disciples sharing all good things, breaking bread, praying, and listening to apostolic teaching. They too, as the Spirit compels, proclaim good news to the poor, set people free from social exclusion, heal the sick, cast out demons, and giving sight to the blind.

It is the Spirit who collapses the distance between people. It is the Spirit who opens our eyes to the reality of God. It is the Spirit who drives us into the wild places. It is the Spirit who brings the Jubilee.

The Spirit not only creates, she destroys. Gone are the old divisions. At Pentecost, the Spirit destroys national distinctions. And later, as the Spirit woos the Gentiles, she destroys the division between Jews and Gentiles.

And every time we see the disciples do a miraculous deed or utter a bold word, it is the Spirit who enables them to do so. Every missional step forward in the book of Acts is at the Spirit’s urging. There is no mission apart from the Spirit.

The Spirit blows where she will. She is never commanded, never used. She is unpredictable. And mysterious. She is a dangerous bird. She subverts. And when she burns in your heart, she destroys you from within, so that a new life will rise from the ashes.

The Spirit has quietly ripped apart the old world and is bringing forth the new. Within us. Let us listen to the Spirit.

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