“Descent of the Spirit (Acts 2)” Doré, Gustave, 1832-1883
I am afraid that sometimes I operate with only a half understanding of Holy Spirit …
Often when I pray, I ask the Spirit to show up and bring comfort.
When the Spirit comes in Acts 2, the Spirit is wild and uncontainable. In the Pentecost story, the Spirit comes in power, and causes a disruption. The Spirit shakes up life as usual. In Acts, the Spirit tends to be kind of overwhelming … maybe, even more disconcerting, than it is comforting.
“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind … it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared … and a tongue rested on each of them … all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:2-4).
Here we meet a powerful force.
The Spirit, the third person of the trinity, is not a thing, not an it, but a living and breathing dynamic part of God, God unleashed with power and momentum, moving, revealing, teaching, helping, comforting, directing, blocking, testifying, sending, renewing and regenerating, disrupting, and even instigating! Listen to how people responded to the Spirit’s presence in Acts 2: they were, “bewildered, amazed, astonished, perplexed.” I have heard that these are pretty tame translations and it could be more accurate to say people were, “Confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, completely uncomprehending” (Crouch, Frank L. Working Preacher Commentary on Acts 2:1-22).
Undone. Blown away. Disoriented. Those pack a punch.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out that Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples were empowered, and pushed out into ministry and the stage was set for the good news of Jesus Christ to spread and break through barriers of geography, language, economics, and culture.
As we follow the story of Acts we see the Holy Spirit moving and working in the lives of Christ’s followers, moving a step ahead of the church, leading the way, filling people up, inspiring, opening hearts and ears, making it possible for people to believe in Christ.
As much as the Holy Spirit comforts, the Holy Spirit instigates, shakes up, gives courage, and sends. There is always a point and direction to the Spirit’s action. The Holy Spirit moves people beyond themselves and points toward Jesus.
The Holy Spirit makes hard hearts soft.
The Holy Spirit makes comfortable people uncomfortable.
The Holy Spirit builds up and empowers witnesses.
The Holy Spirit is a gift to the community of believers that benefits others.
The Holy Spirit moves the church from an inward, self-focus, toward an outward, other-focus.
The Holy Spirit equips the church to be witnesses.
The Holy Spirit gives the church gifts for ministry, and pushes the church out to connect with people.
In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit transforms a private event into a public spectacle.
The apostles were together, sitting in a house on the day of Pentecost, waiting, just like Jesus told them to. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Jewish Festival of Weeks. Pentecost was a pilgrimage festival, meaning Jews would travel to Jerusalem from all over the Ancient Near East to celebrate the harvest and remember when God gave Moses the law and the covenant on Mt. Sinai.
The disciples were waiting inside while religious pilgrims from all over the place were outside in the bustling streets.
The Holy Spirit came in a way that attracted attention. It wasn’t a private chapel service for a few insiders, the Holy Spirit drew in outsiders, a crowd of bewildered pilgrims gathered around as they heard that sound of violent, rushing wind. Its like the wall of the house just disappear … they were in the house, they hear the sound, the tongues of fire touch them, they start speaking in other languages, and suddenly they are surrounded by a crowd.
The crowd heard some strange things. These, Galileans, people who were considered backward and kind of out of it, were speaking in the native languages of all these pilgrims about God’s deeds of power.
The crowd couldn’t figure it out.
Some people wondered what this could mean?
Others people mocked the apostles.
Here, the Holy Spirit did not build up Jesus’ people and make them appear to be more devout or religious. Here, the Holy Spirit connected Jesus’ followers with Jewish pilgrims from all over the world, and overcame the language barriers that separated them. The Holy Spirit pushed the Apostles outside of themselves and enabled them to do something they had never done before. The Holy Spirit didn’t make the Apostles look any holier, or more righteous. They didn’t look any better, in fact, some people must have thought they looked ridiculous … the skeptics in the crowd accused the Apostles of being drunk.
Peter tried to tell them what it all meant.
No, they were not drunk, it was too early in the morning for that. (That doesn’t seem like a very good defense, “No, we are not drunk … yet.”)
Peter realized this was what God had been working toward all along.
This was what the prophet Joel was talking about when he spoke of God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh, inspiring men and women, old and young as prophets, visionaries, and dreamers, this was a sign of the new age, the sign of God’s coming, a sign of God’s power and glory – Joel’s prophesy that “everyone who called on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
This was what Jesus was talking about when he said his disciples would receive “power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Holy Spirit is a gift given to Christ’s followers for the sake of others.
The Holy Spirit points towards Christ. Here in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit giving people the ability to do ministry, allowing people to connect with people just outside their front door. Other places in Acts we see the Holy Spirit expanding doorways, by inspiring journeys across great seas and down long roads to far off places to share God’s word.
The story began with the Apostles sitting together inside a house and ended with Peter courageously preaching Jesus’ good news to a crowd of worshiping pilgrims from all across the ancient world.
None of the disciples could have ever imagined just how big “all flesh” and “everyone” really was. The apostles could never have imagined just how far away the “ends of the earth” would be. As the book of Acts progresses the gospel extends into new places, changes lives, disrupts the usual ways of doing things, challenges the common understandings of who is in and who is out, and we see these people who have been called by God and enabled by the Spirit to carry the gospel encounter opposition.
As the Holy Spirit filled the house in Jerusalem and as the apostles spoke in foreign and unfamiliar languages we see more and more that God is up something really big in Jesus.
Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate that the Holy Spirit is in the midst of us today, leading us and equipping us for ministry, enabling us to share Christ’s love with our family, friends, community, and world. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up in wild and powerful ways like it did for the Apostles, giving them the ability to speak in other languages, other times the Holy Spirit shows up in a simple push to encourage someone, or in a quiet and simple action that helps someone.
The Holy Spirit points people toward Jesus. Often the Holy Spirit will push us into uncomfortable places and interactions with unfamiliar people. The Holy Spirit isn’t just a gift for our own comfort, the Holy Spirit is a gift given so that others can know Christ’s love.
Today we have an opportunity to celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit as a gift, by remembering how the Holy Spirit has been at work in our own lives and how the Holy Spirit may be calling us to ministry now.
How might the Holy Spirit be pushing you out, beyond yourself, to connect with people and share the good news of Jesus?
Here is a piece of paper with questions about the talents and interests God has given you. Maybe you could take a moment to think about your gifts, your interests and the areas where you might find joy serving your congregation and your community.
The list is probably missing some gifts, feel free to add any that should be on it.
When we present our tithes and our offerings please put your gift and interest sheets into the offering plate.