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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Empathy Today and It's Significance for Being the Best Neighbors With Those in Your Neighborhood: a Reflection on Numbers 11:24-30 and John 7:37-39

Pentecost is the time in the Church Year when we remember the ongoing empathy and compassion of God. The Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh. It is the Spirit permanently indwelling humanity that leads Christians to engage transformative work. Recall verse one from Chris Anderson’s The Spirit of Christ, our commissioned hymn for Pentecost 2016, “Spirit of the risen Christ, Sent as promised to His church, Make of us through gospel might One new body o’er the earth. Holy Spirit, Breath of Life, Blow through us for others’ good. Spirit of the risen Christ Do through us the things You would.”[1] I am grateful for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that first Pentecost and now.

Jesus lives his life within anyone who acknowledges him as the way, the truth and the life. That acknowledgment transforms one life at a time. And yet, we have many churches/faith communities with little transformation occurring. Oh, do not get me wrong. Individuals changing is fundamental. But then those individuals must coalesce as a transformative presence in neighborhoods, communities, schools and workplaces. Individuals and churches/faith communities must cry out for justice, mercy, and a better way of living for all.

Jesus lives his life in and through us for the sake of others. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. In this regard, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller in Neighborhood Church write,

His [Jesus] entire ministry was a passionate attempt to illustrate basileia tou theou—kingdom of God—as his central metaphor. In one graphic teaching after another, including short stories we call parables, he offers us glimpses of this new reality. It is like a father who never stops waiting at the window for his wayward son, and when that son returns, the father celebrates with a sumptuous feast. It is like a smidgen of yeast that works enormous transformation. It is like a mustard seed, though tiny, that blooms into a mighty, shade-giving tree. It is like people who instinctively care for the naked, hungry, imprisoned, or foreigner. It is like a man who imperils his life and resources to help a stranger of another race, his compassion outweighing prejudice or resentment. It is like a shepherd so mindful of one missing lamb that he goes on a search-and-rescue mission.[2]

Think about the line in the Lord’s Prayer that we pray every week, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That line is transformative.

The texts in Numbers 11:24-30 and John 7:37-39 assert that God’s presence is carried by individuals and structures to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Numbers 11:24-30, we learn that the impact of God’s followers is most transformative when individuals and structures use their unique gifts of the Holy Spirit to do kingdom ministry.

In John 7:37-39, a shift in how God works, occurs. Whereas in the Old Testament the role and work of the Holy Spirit was demonstrated in specific people at specific times, Jesus shifts the activity of God’s Spirit as a mark of all his followers. The significance of the permanence of the Holy Spirit in individuals and structures in ministry is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit ensures God’s presence in Jesus’ absence, life through self and structural denial and power through empathy.

As the text states, it was on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, that Jesus promises that all who believe in him will never be thirsty and that from the believer’s life will flow rivers of living water. The Holy Spirit will lead followers of Jesus to give the living water of Jesus, in word and deed, to others. Individuals and ministry/church structures are obligated to do as Jesus did. Heal the sick. Address injustice. Speak for justice. This is the promise and fulfillment of Pentecost.[3]

When we as individuals and structures (churches/faith communities) look to Jesus to meet our deepest thirsts, personally and in ministry, our needs are met and our identity in Jesus is strengthened. Again, Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller, the authors of Neighborhood Church write, “This book joins hands with others in a quest to kindle a new relevancy, especially in a country where Christianity is too often a civic religion, supporting a nationalistic worldview out of sync with biblical admonitions for justice.”[4] The good news of Pentecost is that God meets us and lives God’s way in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Others see Jesus. Others experience transformation. Injustice is transformed to justice.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we proclaim with Jesus, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”Let’s partner with God to demonstrate there is a better way individually and as churches/faith communities to bring about the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. Many long for a revolution to take root in their lives and churches/faith communities. The thirst for authenticity, transformation and justice is palpable. Come Holy Spirit come.

[1]Chris Anderson, The Spirit of Christ, 2016. [2]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 2-3. [3]In the four paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Bradley E. Schmeling, Jennifer L. Lord, L. Shannon Jung and Craig S. Keener in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 318-320, 320-321, 338-339 and 340-341. [4]Krin Van Tatenhove & Rob Mueller, Neighborhood Church, 5.

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