By Ervin Stutzman
Many of our churches just celebrated Pentecost Day, along with other Christian groups around the world. It is a day to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to the fledgling group of Jesus followers. It fulfilled the promise of Jesus that he would grant his apostolic band power from on high.
Jesus promised his disciples that they would not need to rely on their strength; the power of God is both necessary and available to whoever asks. Our churchwide vision statement reflects this conviction: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace… .” Without that power, our church will not grow.
Even though we understand that as a church, we tend to be shy about the Holy Spirit. Worse, as Cheryl Bridges Johns declared in a recent article in the AMBS journal called Vision, “We suffer from a bad case of what may be called Holy Spirit Deficit Disorder.” This unduly limits our power.
In late May, I attended the General Council of Mennonite World Conference, held near Basel, Switzerland. At a meeting of the Mission Commission held nearby, Alfred Neufeld of Asuncion, Paraguay, delivered an address on the Missio Dei, the mission of God. He asserted that “The Spirit of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a way are identical. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus when he promises to his disciples that he will be with them as they go and fulfill the Great Commission (Mt 28:20).
Neufeld asserted that the Holy Spirit makes new birth possible, since “the power to change [lives] is a crucial difference between general religiosity and authentic Christianity.” He asserts that “the day by day work of the Holy Spirit” makes possible “sanctification, liberation from demons power, transformation into the lost image of God by adoration, and healing of broken vessels.”
This is the testimony of Paul the apostle as well: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of God, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit… But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us’ (2 Cor. 3:17-18; 2.Cor 4:7).
Those of us who feel overwhelmed and inadequate in our attempts to build an alternative community in the name of Jesus can take courage in the promise of Pentecost. God’s power is available to do what can only be done by God.
On Pentecost Sunday, Joni Sancken of Eastern Mennonite Seminary preached in my home congregation. She shared several stories that told of individuals who faced particular disappointments and challenges. She then showed how the Holy Spirit was at work in each of these people, bringing God’s grace to bear in their lives. I was encouraged by her forthright claim that God was at work in each of these cases through the power of the Holy Spirit. Her example boldly contravened the shyness which infects our national church, at times even in the pulpit.
I pray that each of you as leaders will boldly claim the power of God that we celebrate at Pentecost, overcome any symptoms of Holy Spirit Deficit Disorder, and lead your congregations to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope will flow through us to the world.