VIEW VIDEO  I was at a weeklong conference up north about fifteen or so years ago. One morning after I spoke, I was chatting with folks, shaking hands, that kind of thing, when I was approached by three women, who asked if I would meet with them privately that afternoon, which I agreed to do. Our conversation began with them telling me how disappointed they were in me and that I owed them an apology for saying the theology of blood atonement was not only barbaric and pagan, it was also inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus and the character of God. They wanted me to make a public retraction and apologize.

While they were chewing on me, I noticed one of the women wasn’t saying anything. She just had her head bowed and her lips were moving.

I asked why she wasn’t talking. She didn’t answer, but one of the other women said, “We asked her not to talk, just to pray.”

I asked what she was praying for, and they said she was praying for me to “get the Holy Spirit and get right with God.” Have you ever had anyone tell you they’re praying for you, like they’re doing you a favor, except they’re not?

I asked them, “What if your prayer works and I get the Holy Spirit. How will you know?”

They said they’d know I had the Holy Spirit when I believed what they did.

Isn’t that an interesting standard? Someone is right with God when they agree with us. That seems to be a popular notion these days. Someone has the Spirit in them, someone’s a true Christian, when they think like we think, when they do what we do, when they interpret the Bible the way we interpret the Bible. I catch myself thinking that way from time to time.

I want to talk about the Spirit this morning, and maybe in the process de-weaponize it. The Spirit is not a spiritual bludgeon to condemn and coerce. It is a motion of grace to connect and transform.

When I was growing up, I was taught the Holy Spirit was the third person of the Trinity, sent by Jesus to comfort and guide his disciples after his death, in the gospel of John, the death of Jesus is fast approaching. The disciples are anxious, worried about their future. Hoping to comfort then, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”

It would be tempting, reading this, to assume the Spirit was a uniquely Christian invention, a gift from Jesus to the Church. But this would be incorrect. The Jewish people in the Hebrew Scriptures spoke often about “the spirit of the Lord.” They believed the Spirit was present at creation, and remained, working in and through prophets and judges and kings to accomplish God’s purposes.

Indigenous Americans spoke about the Spirit, as has nearly every religion and culture known to humanity. While those three women at the conference believed they could direct the Spirit to do what they wished by praying the right prayers, it is abundantly clear, in history and in practice, that the Spirit blows where it will, according to the gospel of John. “The Spirit blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

The Spirit blows where it will. Still, we try to direct and control it, presuming a divine spirit, permeating the universe, relies upon instructions from us. The assumption that God is awaiting our instructions, that God greets us each morning, a towel draped over his arm like a solicitous butler, saying, “What is your pleasure today?” is all too common. And it never ends well, for it makes us believe it is God’s job to endorse our priorities, to serve us, to champion our desires, no matter how twisted they might be.

Whenever a group of people have believed they serve as the conscience of God, evil is sure to follow. Today, the rise of Christian nationalism is just such an example─the belief of a significant number of Americans that God is singularly devoted to their priorities, and not to justice, not to compassion, not to reconciliation. Dressing their endeavors in divine approval, they deny good to embrace evil, snub justice in favor of tyranny, shun equality to welcome privilege.

The three women I met with were praying I would get the Spirit. But we don’t “get” the Spirit. It isn’t a reward God bestows on a select or chosen few. The Quaker John Woolman said of this spirit, “There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names; it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any whose heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomever this takes root and grows, no matter their nation, they become brothers and sisters.”

If this spirit is that of God within us, then we either live in its Light, bringing joy and wholeness to others, or we ignore it, neglecting its presence and dimming its voice. This is why early Friends asked themselves, “Am I sensitive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit?”

I was walking through our cemetery this past Tuesday after Kay Frye’s funeral. I went past Elsie Carter’s gravestone and thought of her. Do you remember Elsie? I recall a few times when she didn’t care for a sermon I had given, how she would stand up and in the most tactful and gracious way, suggest I was full of beans. If she had raised her voice or shook her fist, I would have dug in, tuned her out, and been determined all the more to stand my ground. It was always her gentleness, her tender obedience to the Inward Light, to the Spirit, that moved and melted me.

Yet another school shooting this week, this time in Nashville, Tennessee. I want to shake my fist and yell. I want to condemn in the harshest terms those politicians who offer only thoughts and prayers, but never legislation that would curb the tide of grotesque weapons so readily available to the most broken among us. How does one persuade those who believe their right to arm themselves with the most vicious implements of war is a God-given right, an inalienable right? How does one wear down such granite resistance? By remembering the power of Spirit and its power to transform. By being like Elsie. Saying over and over again, this is not the way, this is not the way, this is not the way. We can be better. We can be better. We can be better.

Joan and I were at the farm a few days this week, on vacation. We’d spread river rock underneath our screenhouse and to keep the lawn from growing into the rock, we decided to go down to the creek and bring up big stones to encircle the rock. These were big stones, so big I had to let Joan haul them out of the creek. So we were doing that. We were a team. I was pointing out the rocks and Joan was wrestling them out of the water, up the creekbank, and into the wheelbarrow. Then I noticed this rock with a hole in it, going all the way through the stone. I know just enough geology to know the only thing that could have done that was the constancy of water, wearing away, wearing away, wearing away, transforming, transforming, transforming. So likewise, does the Spirit soften the hardest heart, until the victory is won. Are you sensitive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit?