We can’t hold back

Friday, July 12, 2013 — Week of Proper 9, Year One

[Go to Mission St. Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)

1 Samuel 17:17-30

Acts 10:34-48

Mark 1:1-13

Imagine facing today with even a fraction of the energy, optimism, and momentum of the book of Acts. Nothing can stop these apostles! Peter probably paused barely long enough to catch his breath during his speech in today’s reading. He packs a lot of good news into just a few verses about Jesus’ message of peace, his acts on behalf of the oppressed, and his risen presence.

The key to Peter’s confidence and success is not that he’s an exceptionally self-driven individual. Rather, he is cooperating with a powerful driving force. Peter uses a distinct image to capture this force: baptismal water that can’t be contained. When Peter perceives that the Holy Spirit has descended on the Gentiles in his audience, he asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Good question. Can anyone withhold baptismal water? Peter says no—not from people he has come to recognize as equals. The Holy Spirit has enabled Peter to see the Gentiles in this way. As Peter says, they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit “just as we have.” Peter’s fellow-believers learn to see God’s indiscriminate work as well. To their astonishment, the gift of the Holy Spirit was “poured out even on the Gentiles.”

We can’t hold back baptismal water from those we see as equals, and the Holy Spirit helps us to see each other in that way. What else can we not withhold? Can we withhold blessings? If so, from whom? And what about other sacraments: When can we withhold the bread and cup, the healing oil, or the bonds of marriage?

In the opening lines of his speech, Peter boldly affirms God’s impartiality and expands the boundaries of who is considered acceptable to God. God disregards the conventional ways that we use to differentiate human beings and devalue them for their differences. According to Peter, “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

What exactly constitutes “what is right” is a matter for discernment. Christian ethics and sacramental theology are complex disciplines. I have a feeling that they are a lot more exciting, though, when they are animated by the urgency of the Holy Spirit’s desire to help us recognize one another as good and acceptable to God.

What a gift it would be if this irresistible, divine energy could animate us and our faith communities in our missions. We wouldn’t be able to hold back the waters. By cooperating with the mission and momentum of the transformative and all-embracing Holy Spirit, we would waste a lot less energy and human potential. What a great day to overpower whatever holds us back.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus, Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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