June 09, 2019
Pentecost is here. The great 50 days of Easter are completed today. Our narrative from Acts gives us plenty to chew on as we ponder the significance of this day.
There is wide revelation of God’s heart going on in the midst of much action.
The outpouring of the Spirit in this passage involves most senses for those present: sound – like a rushing wind. Touch – they seemed to be aware of this wind filling the entire place they were in. Sight – they saw divided tongues as of fire that rested on each of them.
Sound, sight, touch…did they think they were losing their minds? Or were their expectations of God’s abilities for things to happen with a power that was experiential normal?
This was a crazy and chaotic day for the church. And today we celebrate it.
But why? Why should it matter to us that the Holy Spirit was poured out this way?
Jesus had told them, before the Ascension, to “wait here for the promise of the Father…John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
As the disciples interact with Jesus in that passage over this order to stay, they clearly show that they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. But they stay. But it may have had to do not only with Jesus’ order to them but that they were afraid. After Jesus death and resurrection, they were often gathering together to support each other while the Jews and Romans were running around trying to tame this resurrection story.
Additionally, what has become our Christian Pentecost was also the name of an Old Testament Feast that was going on at that time: Shavuot in Hebrew, Pentecost in ancient Greek or the Feast of Weeks in English – a celebration of the Harvest. In the Jewish calendar, this Feast is still celebrated and began last night at sundown.
So, they’re there. Waiting. Likely also participating in this celebration of the harvest. As are so many others – people already living in Jerusalem and immigrants. We hear today: “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” This feast was an opportunity to express gratitude to God for the harvest. How beautiful is that?
Here is where we see more of God’s extravagant power.
Everyone in this stew of people groups at the chaos of sound gathered and began to hear their native languages being spoken.
In our contemporary American culture – and really in many cultures in the world – what’s so amazing and perhaps challenging about this, is the graphic example of God’s embracing of diversity. Of otherness. Of people who are different than us.
Instead of the miracle being that everyone began to speak in the same language and understand one another – all becoming more the same everyone began to speak in a different language – and don’t miss that they all could have and did understand common language as devout Jews and those living in Jerusalem. This was not a “needed” miracle. God was making a point quite extravagantly.
Diversity – difference is important. And miraculous effort was made to embrace it. What an experience of love, of acceptance, of affirmation each person must have felt – that perhaps was not a part of their daily life.
We are created in God’s image. No simple or one-dimensional thing to express. It requires all of us to participate in all of our differences: language, color, culture, sexuality, gender.
There’s a beautiful quote by C. S. Lewis that articulates this idea. It’s from Mere Christianity. Lewis says as he speaks of God’s image and diversity among people:
“At the beginning, I said there were personalities with God. I will go further now [he says]. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up yourself to [God] you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most 'natural' [people], not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been how gloriously different the saints.”
What did this require then? This bringing together of people who were different
– it required being filled with the Holy Spirit.
In response to people’s bewilderment and amazement Peter quotes the book of Joel:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
Again, we hear diversity – God’s spirit will fill every one. Everyone is included. No one excluded. And that is what they were experiencing that day.
In terms of religious experience, in the history of Israel approaching God was different – priests alone entered into the Holy of Holies. In terms of the Holy Spirit – it was prophets, and those charged with a specific task that the Holy Spirit was upon. Not everyone. And not all the time.
And on this day – a testimony of God’s accessibility and power.
God is accessible.
God is powerful.
God is with each one.
A big deal. This Christianity thing is a new thing. A change – a different day. Participation. Presence. Power. For everyone.
Being filled with the Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The abstract but true answer is that the Holy Spirit is God. A person of the Trinity – the 3 in one and one in 3. The Holy Spirit, God dwells in us. God’s design in this Christian spirituality is one of a union – union with God.
And there’s practicality to this filling with the Spirit.
If we are indwelt by the Spirit as followers of Christ, how do we get filled with the Spirit?
Is there a difference between being indwelt and being filled with the Holy Spirit? Yes.
There is description throughout the Bible – a preface to boldness, preaching, miracles: filled with the Spirit. True of prophets, priests, and Kings. True for all. This was a semantic people were familiar with then and there: “filled with the Spirit.”
But here and now it becomes a bit lost on us.
I have a simple word picture for you to illustrate it:
Imagine 2 glasses of milk that represent 2 different people – and metaphorically one glass of milk [person] decides to ‘follow Jesus.’ I know it’s a reach – but bear with me.
This Jesus following glass of milk gets some chocolate stuff poured into it – indwelt if you will.
Now, if we take a look at the glass of milk not following Jesus and the one following Jesus and indwelt by the Spirit, we don’t really see a difference.
And what makes a difference? Stirring the milk. Becoming filled with the Spirit in contrast to merely indwelt.
It’s different for the glass of milk and it’s evident on the outside: the chocolate stuff is only settled on the bottom of the glass unless is it stirred – then it permeates and is observable.
And so, it is with us.
We are indwelt.
We need to be stirred – to be filled.
How do we do that? We simply ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit.
And what does that look like? It looks however God wants it to look like. In fact, we may not tangibly notice anything at all – might look almost boring compared with this Acts narrative today. But that’s not really the point. The point is union with God and empowerment for God’s purposes.
So, celebrating Pentecost matters. It matters because God extents to us union with God through the Spirit within us. It matters because we need God. It matters because we need to be empowered to live our lives. It matters because we need each other, and we need to welcome each other in all of our differences – and apart from God, we’re not always very good at that.
Let’s strive to stir our milk – to purposefully ask God daily to fill us with the Holy Spirit – and let’s enjoy and be grateful for the fruit that bears in our lives and in the lives around us.