Sunday, 7 June 2015

Meditation: EMPOWERING PEOPLE by John de Gruchy


I Corinthians 12:4-11
Acts 2:1-4
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

Last Friday I attended an indaba at the University of the Western Cape arranged by AHA, the movement that was recently founded to respond to the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.  AHA stands for Authentic, Hopeful Action, and you will recall that during Lent instead of saying Alleluia we said AHA at the end of our weekly Eucharist.  This reminded us of our responsibility as Christians to serve the needs of others.  To get on and do something practical!  At the AHA Indaba a whole range of projects were reported on and discussed by the sixty people who attended.  These ranged from Sparklekids here in Hermanus, to others that promote social cohesion in society, or help people to access their social grants without being taken for a ride.  I ended up in a cluster group that talked about projects related to education which enable school learners and university students to achieve their potential.  We came to the conclusion that what we were engaged in empowering people -- enabling them stand on their own feet, discover and use their gifts to fulfil their dreams and serve the wider community.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost.  We recall how the first Christians experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and received power to witness to Christ in the world.  Pentecost is the festival of God empowering people to minister to others.  In receiving the Holy Spirit the first Christians discovered they had both the gifts and the power to do this.  "You will receive power," Jesus had told them, "when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses."  St. Paul later reflected on these gifts of empowerment.  Some, he said, are ecstatic gifts for prayer and worship, others very practical, in fact, there are varieties of gifts because there are varieties of activities but, says Paul,  they are all "manifestations of the same Spirit of the common good." 

In the context of Paul's letter, the "common good"  refers to the good of the church or, as he says elsewhere, the gifts which the Spirit gives are for the "building up of the body of Christ."  Paul's focus was primarily on the church as it struggled to establish itself and maintain its unity in a very hostile environment.  But the common good does not refer only to the church, because the church exists for the sake of the world. The common good also means the good of the society in which the church exists.  The Holy Spirit does not come to give the church a spiritual massage, or to make us "happy and clappy" in our own enclave; the Spirit empowers the church to serve the world.  Pentecost is about God's empowerment of us to participate in his mission of healing and justicein a broken world.

Just as the Holy Spirit was active in the creation of the world breathing the gift of life into every creature, so at Pentecost the Spirit is "poured out on all flesh" in order to bring life anew to the world. The primary gift of the Spirit is the giving of new life which produces the fruit of the Spirit, of faith, hope and love are paramount.  Wherever there is love, joy, peace and hope the Spirit is at work; wherever people struggle for justice and God's kingdom of righteousness, the Spirit is at work; wherever people reach out to embrace others their suffering with acts of compassion, the Spirit is at work.  The fruit of the Spirit cannot be evident if the Spirit is not at work making it possible. In this way the Spirit, as Jesus said, bears witness to him.  

If we think of Pentecost as the festival of God empowering God's people and gifting us to serve the world, then we will also discern that the Holy Spirit is at work in a variety of ways, and in all who serve the common good: those who look care for Volmoed, those who visit the sick elderly, those who create works of art that delight us, those who manage our town, teach in our schools, nurse in our hospitals.  The list is endless.  But "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

The AHA Indaba last Friday was opened in prayer by a young black woman, Siki Dlanga, who is also a poet and doctoral student.  She entitled it "Surprise us, O Lord."  I think it is quite beautiful, and also reminds us that God the Holy Spirit is continually at work in the world surprising us at every turn, empowering us to do what would otherwise be beyond us, and calling us to participate in empowering others to fulfill the dreams and hopes that God gives them:

Surprise us, O Lord
when we have forgotten that You are the God of Hope,
when we have forgotten that we are the light of the world or the salt of the earth,
because we failed to put our trust in You alone.
Surprise us, O Lord
by lifting the veil of poverty and bad education from our poor,
by blessing the rich with an unquenchable mission for your justice for the poor,
by blessing our nation with good leadership.
 Surprise us, O Lord
with hearts that groan with gratitude, 
with expectation of good to come out of our disappointments. 
Allow our vision of your kingdom to be the glow that never dims from our eyes.
 Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly into the depths of the darkness we most fear,
where we have been broken by hatred and division,
we will be forgiven and mended by your love.
Let reconciliation be true so that our human dignity is restored.

Awake us, O Lord
Breathe new brightness into the fading colours of our rainbow. 

Surprise us, O Lord
so that Your joy will crown men and women in their fruitful work,
so that women are sought out for their great wisdom,
so that men are known for their love,
so that the children will be safe and sing your praises in the streets,
so that the widow will rejoice and call your justice glorious,
so that you will be called our Beautiful Hope.
 Surprise us, O Lord
So that those who look upon us will say AHA!
Their hope is not in vain!
Their hope is not in vain!
[1]Camagu! Amen! 

John de Gruchy
Volmoed 21 May 2015

[1] Camagu:  Xhosa for "so let it be."

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