Week of April 14: Empowerment of the Holy Spirit is a dynamic presence
By Dr. Hal Brady
Week of April 14
Scripture: Acts 2:1-13
What do we think of when we think of Pentecost? Many of us think of fire and wind and the rush of a violent storm. We think of speaking in tongues and that unusual experience of “foreigners” hearing and understanding the “great things of God” without the benefit of interpretation. But there is so much more to Pentecost.
There is no question that the Holy Spirit was manifested at Pentecost in a dramatic way. The fire, the wind, the storm, the tongues - they are all symbols of that unique manifestation. But the manifestation itself is not nearly as important as the reality. The reality is that the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ followers at Pentecost.
As the Bishop James Thomas observed, “Pentecost was not meant to be simply cherished or enjoyed, but to be our base of experience for living our lives in our own time.” So what does Pentecost really mean?
Jesus is forever present
The ascension has occurred, and Jesus has gone. The ineffectual followers of the now-departed Jesus are in Jerusalem. Like numbers of others, they plan to participate in the Hebrew Harvest festival known as Pentecost. This Pentecost festival was one of three pilgrimage feasts along with Passover and Tabernacles/Booths. Pentecost, as its prefix suggests, comes 50 days following Passover. At any rate, these followers of Jesus simply have no clue as to how they could carry out Jesus’ last directive “to be His witnesses to the end of the earth.”
Suddenly, as unpredictable as last night’s weather forecast, He’s present with them. Mysterious and powerful, he’s alive and near.
So who is this dynamic invisible presence? The followers speak of Him as the Holy Spirit. The same God who moved and worked through the earthly Jesus is moving and working still.
The late Dr. Albert Outler expressed this truth beautifully when he said, “Pentecost’s consequence was that Jesus became alive again, and powerful and forever thereafter present, where two or three are gathered in His name … Jesus was no longer a has been.’”
The community is primary
Scholars tell us that the detail of the Apostolic community being “all together” (2:1) reminds us that the day of Pentecost has a specific community context: preparation and expectation. This community context is mentioned in Acts 1:14 where the followers of Jesus are said to be “all united in their devotion to prayer.” In addition, it is also stated in Luke 24:49 where Jesus invited his followers “to stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
It is almost as if being together in the community context, prepared and expectant, provides the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit. While there is some truth here, the fact is that we do not control the very surprising ways of the Holy Spirit’s invasion. We do not manipulate the Holy Spirit’s coming in the community context or otherwise.
But while it is true that the Holy Spirit blows where it will, it is clearly in the direction of community building. The Spirit blows in the direction of overcoming divisions, removing the barriers that separate people and bringing them together. As we recall, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. All are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). At Pentecost, being in community, prepared and expectant, gave birth to the church.
Languages understood by all
One of the real miracles of Pentecost was not so much charismatic speaking but charismatic listening. The listeners heard about “God’s deeds of power” in their own multiple tongues or languages. Thus, Pentecost was a powerful miracle of hearing as well as speaking.
Now, this truth should also speak loud and clear to the contemporary church. For sure, preachers should preach the Gospel of Christ in a biblical, relevant and vital way. The Gospel message should also address the people where they actually live. But the Pentecost narrative is also linked to the preparation and expectation of the hearers. Do the hearers listen with any sort of amazement or astonishment? In the thrilling excitement of those early followers, modern-day hearers should also be asking “what does this mean?” (12:12)
Clearly, it means that everybody understands the common languages of concern, compassion, presence and burden-bearing. Consequently, our task as God’s people is to share God’s story in languages that people who have never heard it can understand. Halford Luccock, the noted homiletician, stated it well when he said, “The point most often forgotten (about Pentecost) is this: the disciples received the Pentecostal power when they faced the Pentecostal task.”
Let me close with this true story. There is a Lutheran Church in Columbia, S.C. One Sunday the congregation was at worship in the sanctuary singing, “Look Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious.” While singing, unknown to them, a fire had broken out in the educational building. Smoke was pouring out of the windows, fire engines, with sirens screaming, raced to the church. The church had caught fire and the congregation was singing, “Look Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious.” In reality, that’s the way it ought to be! So we sing and pray, “Breathe on us, breath of God, fill us with life anew.”
1. Ask the class how they experience the Spirit’s transforming power working in the church today.
2. Discuss with the class what the Holy Spirit expects of the contemporary church.