Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

Pentecost

Week of Sunday May 31 - Pentecost
Bible Readings from Acts 2, Ezekiel 37, Romans 8, and John 16 - See end of page

Thoughts on Pentecost

Something happened.

There was a group of people who claimed that Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, was now raised from the dead. They used to meet together to pray. On the day of Pentecost, they had a massive religious experience, hearing wind, and seeing tongues of fire. They spoke in different languages. In the weeks that followed, this little group was emboldened, filled with the Spirit, and made a huge impression in Jerusalem. Thousands were converted to their cause. At the time people related it to the prophesy from the prophet 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."  See Acts 2

People soon related the story to the old prophesy from Ezekiel. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel as he had the vision of the valley of dry bones:

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.  Ezekiel 37

Things were being made new.

But not everybody had this kind of Pentecost experience. The Gospel of John, which has its own giving of the Spirit in Chapter 20, has never even heard the story... or... perhaps, John had- and he left it out, as a distraction from greater insights into the nature of the gift of the holy spirit.

It has been a distraction. Many sects insist you have a pentecostal experience that matches their standards, or you are not fully a Christian. Other Christians claim the time of penetecostal experiences is now past.

The penetecostal sects are correct about one thing; Pentecost is not a one off event. Whatever the event of that morning was, the Holy Spirit is an ongoing experience.

Let's talk about the Holy Spirit.

The word spirit is closely related to the word wind, using the same word in the Greek. The two are similar! Jesus says The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (in John 3 8)

It's hard to describe the wind. We never actually see wind. We see what wind does. We can get very technical about wind; it comes from a difference in air pressure. Wind is simply air molecules flowing to equalise pressure. The greater the difference in air pressure, the faster the wind. Wind doesn't flow in straight lines, but in circular fashion; we know the lines on the weather maps, and the nature of willy willys, and tornadoes.

But we don't put pressure equalisation into poetry or novels. We mostly talk about what the wind does.

It's the same with the Spirit. We can get very technical, but those details often don't gel for us. Most of us are not meteorologists of the spirit-only people at the weather bureau get excited about pressure cells-- we'd rather enjoy the experience of standing in the breeze! We relate to what the Spirit does.

But here's some meteorology, anyway.

  1. The spirit didn't come for the first time at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit always was. In the first sentence of the Hebrew scriptures it says: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
  2. In fact, nothing can live without the Spirit, the Spirit is God with all people, if you think about it. God sustains us all. We hear this in John 16: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
  3. The Holy Spirit, is God present for all of us. One of the creeds at Iona says: 

    He was tortured and nailed to a tree.
    A man of sorrows, he died forsaken.
    He descended into the earth to the place of the dead.

    You can hear the echoes of the Apostle's Creed! And then it says

    On the third day he rose from the tomb.
    He ascended into heaven to be everywhere present
    And his kingdom will come to earth.
  4. The Spirit is here to help us: That's part of what the name Advocate means.
  5. The Spirit is God present to us, guiding us into truth. Jesus said When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
  6. The Spirit is God touching our innermost being... our being, and the being of the whole of creation. We see this in the Romans reading for today... 

    22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.... and then... ...the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Let's go back to the weather bureau. We've just had the weather man give us a lecture about pressure, and isobars, and cold fronts. It made sense when he was speaking, but now, after all the theology- sorry, meteorology-we're feeling a bit confused. And we say... "Hang on, I'm getting lost. Can't you explain it in another way? Can't you drop all the technical language?

"I mean, what is Pentecost? If the Spirit is always here, and always has been, then what difference did Pentecost make? Why is it special? If everyone has the Spirit of God touching them, what's different between the Christians, and all the other religions, or even non religious Australians?"

Maybe it's like this.

We all live in the air... the wind. We all breathe it. We all depend on it. But some people don't notice. They don't feel the wonder of it. They don't notice, or care, or appreciate, that it smells different in the morning from the evening. Perhaps those people are like non believers... they just say, "Air? So what? Big deal! Tjaka. That's just how things are."

But some people feel more. They say "Almighty and everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being..." They know the wonder of the air. They sense that there is more to life than just wind. They might express it in Christian terms, or Buddhist, or maybe they read the poetry of Wordsworth... but they have seen beyond the shallow, insensitive materialism of so much of our age. We might say they are no longer spiritual bogans.

In all the religious traditions, there is a kind of Pentecost. It's an understanding, it's an event, it's a discovery, it's a surprise, it is like a quantum leap into a new understanding of how much God wishes to touch us, and of how close we can be to God. It's a new appreciation of how we can live.

Maybe it's like a person in Adelaide, after a long, cold, dark, wet and hard winter. (Not that we've had many lately!) You know the kind of winter I mean, where people get really depressed by the beginning of September. But we come outside one day, and the wind is different. It's light. There is a touch of warmness. There is the smell of ripening grass, and hay and pollen, coming down from the north. Suddenly the whole world is different. And we realise again, just how rich life is. But Pentecost is more than that. It's not simply remembering the richness. It's seeing something new...

I learned to sailboard. I fell off a thousand times, trying to balance the thing and pull the sail up. But slowly, I got the knack of it and began to sail around. I loved windsurfing.

Then one day I went down the beach, and the wind was a little bit stronger than it had ever been before. I promptly fell off. Everything was different. Past a certain wind speed the whole technique of windsurfing is different.

I had a sharp learning curve that day! And then the glory happened. Because in the stronger breeze, with the new technique, the sailboard begins to aquaplane. It doesn't sail through the water, it slides across the top. And that narrow, unstable, twitchy board that you balance upon, becomes rock steady. It's as stable as a cement footpath.

The whole experience enters into a new plane of existence and excitement. It's like the old windsurfing life has died. You realise you didn't know the half of it. It's a new life. Isobars and pressure cells, and the physics of sails no longer matter. It is pure joy. That was what Pentecost was; the discovery not only of the More, the Divine, that we always felt and responded to, but the discovery of SO MUCH More... a whole new way of living.

Everyday life is like learning to windsurf in a light breeze. We keep falling off. The board ploughs through water like an inelegant barge. But if we keep practicing the life of Christ, there will be times when the wind is up. And we will fly! That's a Pentecostal sort of day, when we stand rock solid in another way of living.

Andrew Prior

Acts 2: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.' 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?' 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.' But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17"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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Ezekiel 37 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?' I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.' 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.' 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.'

Romans 8 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

John 16 ‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, "Where are you going?" 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

 


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