Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Power of God: A Promise Fulfilled
Before his ascension, Jesus promised the disciples that he would be with them always and that he would ask God the Father to send a comforter to be with them forever. Though I do not believe they understood it at the time, these two promises were one and the same. The promised Comforter is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity sent to the world and to God’s people by God the Father. Jesus, as God, is present with us and in the world through that same Holy Spirit.
The fulfillment of Jesus’ promises is described in powerful language in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-21)
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered and amazed, because each one heard them speaking in their native languages about God's deeds of power.
This Holy Spirit provided the strength and courage and power necessary for the followers of Jesus to spread the message of Jesus throughout the world and to begin a movement we know today as “The Church.” St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth (12:3b-13) describes how the Spirit of God empowered the Church and changed the world.
No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Humans make distinctions, God does not. God recognizes all of us as God’s children. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to all of us, different gifts to each of us as the Spirit itself chooses. The point of Pentecost is that we all have gifts from God through the Holy Spirit and that different gifts are given to each of us. So whether you are a teacher or a preacher or scientist or business person or have other talents and skills, we all have gifts to use in church, society and community for the common good.
Friend and church organist Ralph Strawn shared with me some of his reflections on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost which helped me see more clearly the presence of God in our lives. Acts talks about the Spirit as sounding like a rushing wind and appearing as tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples, changing their lives and the church forever. Ralph sees the feather that lights on the shoe of Forrest Gump in the beginning of the movie by the same name, and appearing throughout the movie, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
According to Strawn, Forrest never uses God’s name in the stories he tells with those who share the bench with him, but the love of God is clearly revealed in them. His stories of war, death and despair reveal the courage God gives us to rescue each other from all sorts of danger. In the past two weeks with terror attacks and shootings around the world in Manchester, Portland, London, Afghanistan and Chicago, just to name a few, this Spirit of God helps us comfort and encourage one another as we seek to bring peace and justice to our world and to overcome the fear and anger that draw us away from God and from one another.
My friend suggests that the Gospel message, the healing message of the Holy Spirit, is spoken loudest, not through a rushing wind or a roaring fire, but through the quiet voices of people sharing stories from their lives.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be created, and so you shall renew the face of the Earth.