Feeling the Spirit
I have a friend who is a citizen of the world; a scholar who has contacts and clients across the globe; who meets with Presidents and other notables most of us never see except on TV. Her books are in libraries across the world. She writes
I had to comfort one of our servers in exile in the baptistery last week after we banned him from serving for being way over the drink-drive limit. He copped a right feel as he snuggled up to me and nuzzled my thumb throughout the service.
The story went downhill, as we say, from there and is not appropriate to post here. But from a mutual friend who visited recently it is clear that some other members of that congregation are no less... interesting... than the one my friend writes about.
The congregation is tiny, trying to maintain a huge barn of a church, and the minister works another job because they can't provide a stipend. Nonetheless, this unlikely group of people has adopted my brilliant friend—who has more university medals than I have sporting trophies, and her equally smart husband. And she tolerates being felt up; I would have clobbered the bloke and run him out of the building!
They are the same strange bunch of oddballs to whom the Spirit came at Pentecost. Peter said
...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.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
To translate into our language, God has begun to move, people! God is acting in the lives of everybody, bogans, men and women, toilet cleaners and rubbish collectors. God is coming to strange little congregations like that of my friend, and oddball little places like Greenacres. It's happening.
It's not that the Spirit was ever absent. Even before Jesus was killed, he says this to Phillip about the Spirit: You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:17) There is a sense in which the Spirit is always present. The problem is that the world cannot—what John calls—"receive" the Spirit; it neither sees him nor knows him. We can live in such a way that it blinds us the presence of God.
On the other hand, says Jesus,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth... (John 8:15-16)
I take this to mean that if we seek to live the way Jesus showed us, then it will open us to being able to discern the ever-present Spirit of God in our midst. We will be open to experiences like that over-the-top ecstasy that gets written about in Acts Chapter 2. God will invade our lives.
The temptation is to make Acts Chapter 2 prescriptive. That means we are tempted to think that if God were really present, then this place would be hopping just like that room in Jerusalem. And of course, we're not hopping. We're old—for the most part, we're small, we are very ordinary. We are also polite, and don't talk too much about our oddities. But we all know we are a less than stellar bunch. From the minister on, it is not hard to point out some... shall we say, less than helpful idiosyncrasies... in most of us. We are very much the same as the New Testament churches, which were full of arguments and fights, and very far less than perfect people.
But God still comes.
Look at us: Old farmers; retired air force; immigrants; housewives; grandmas; church building falling apart... who would expect that here—some of us have lived within spitting distance all of our lives— who would expect that here little refugee kids from Africa would find a home and be taught how to survive in Australia? Who would think that we could look after traumatised families, who spent decades in camps, to the point that they have been able to buy their own house in Australia? Who would think that a bunch of no accounts like us could provide a place for an entire congregation from Ethiopia? Or become a friendly place for people to get bread each week? Or adopt little children who now bring their own children to the same church? And this is not half of what has gone on here...
This is the love of God, and the moving of the Spirit among us, for no other reason than God loves us and we have opened ourselves by seeking to follow.
Pentecost celebrates the fact that God does not leave us alone. Jesus is gone, but the Spirit is here. You notice the Spirit is called another Paraclete, in the John reading; another friend, helper, and comforter. That's because Jesus was the first Paraclete, and has not left us alone. The Father has sent another.
So hear the message: the Spirit came to a bunch of Galilean fisherman. The people who were so astonished by this ecstasy of tongues, were partly amazed because they recognised that God was gifting the bogans of the day, can you believe it! The bogans were speaking the languages of all the nations of the earth; the gift is for everyone! And in case that is not clear it is repeated: God's Spirit is poured out upon sons, daughters, young men, old men, and slaves; even female slaves—totally at odds with what the world expected.
And God is on the move. Anyone who calls out to God, will be saved.
The first Pentecost was an example of what can happen, not a prescription. If we will follow Jesus' way of living we open ourselves to the same Spirit, even here. And the Spirit is here. What follows, if we will follow, may be quiet, over the top, exciting, ordinary.... who knows? But it will be earth shaping. Amen.
Andrew Prior (Pentecost 2013)