In John 14 we read that Jesus promised that God would provide a friend for us so that we would never be alone. This friend was the Spirit of Truth. Today is the season of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Happy Easter everyone, and happy birthday!
In his Interpretation series book Acts, William H. Willimon discusses a number of views and perspectives on the Pentecost reading. It is interesting to note, as he does, that the actual event of Pentecost is far overshadowed the sheer number of verses, by Peter’s immediate interpretation of the events for those shocked disciples and for the even more bewildered crowd. One of the interesting things he spoke about was the value of looking for parallels between the creation story, the birth of Jesus, and the birth of the church. The Spirit was the instrument of God’s power in all three of these events. Setting aside the creation for a moment, both the birth of Jesus and the birth of the church were foretold in the works of the OT prophets. They were both made possible through the power of God and through the work of the Spirit. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The church was the culmination of the promise of Easter and was given life and inspiration by the breath and flame of the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecost scene in Acts concludes with the first Christian sermon proclaimed by Peter. Peter’s sermon followed a three-step pattern which is common in the church even today. He explained the day’s events in terms of scripture, he proclaimed The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he encouraged all in attendance to be baptized.
In The Message translation, Acts 2 says, “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” The power that had breathed creation into being empowered the disciples on the day of Pentecost. They had been in hiding since Jesus arrest and crucifixion, had been with Jesus for 40 days, had the scriptures opened to their understanding, but were still not ready to proclaim the message without this gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wind and flame.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is generally thought of as God’s presence in us. In the reading from John today, Jesus called the Spirit an Advocate which may be translated as: “Comforter”, “Counselor,” “Helper.” He also refers to it as the Spirit of Truth and tells us that not just anyone can receive the Spirit because not everyone sees and knows the Spirit. We are only able to receive the Spirit through first knowing and believing in God (God being in Christ and Christ in God).
Why was the Holy Spirit represented in the Biblical account of the birth of the church as wind and flame? We first met the wind in Genesis 1:2 where the wind swept over the waters. Winds can do many things; they may blow, stream, issue, freshen, gather, bluster, sigh, moan, scream, howl, and whistle. The wind has been called a breath or an aura. We have read throughout the Bible stories with winds, perhaps most notably the two stories of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in a storm. In both cases, Jesus was able to calm the storm and the disciples marveled over his having power even over the wind.
Fire has frequently been used as a symbol of the presence of God in the Bible. We see God in the burning bush as the fire that burns but does not consume. This very image is used as the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Jews were led by God in the form of a pillar of fire in the desert at night. We know that fire is one of the main reasons for the success of the human species on our planet. We cook with it, we heat our homes with it. We think of flames, blazes, conflagrations, but we also think of enthusiasm, verve, kindling, igniting, inspiring, and arousing.
There were Jews and proselytes from all over the world, which is to say from every direction, in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. If each one spoke in their native languages they would have been unable to understand each other because, since the days of Babel, there were many different languages. Most of the people in the Roman Empire were able to speak Latin or Greek in order to communicate, but still, they had not been able to hear the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection in their own native languages until this event. To hear the good news in terms familiar to you since birth. Centuries later, this was the goal of Luther who wanted the Bible translated so that the common people could read it for themselves. This desire to meet the word in our own tongue continues. We have the Bible in its original Hebrew and Biblical Greek, King James English, contemporary language of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. and as of Nov 2014 the Bible Society has translated the whole Bible into 531 languages, and 2,883 languages have at least some portion of the Bible; the work on translation continues.
What was the big news that the disciples began telling in many different languages when the Spirit entered them? This is the good news…that God sent his only son to be one of us. That Jesus suffered and died on the cross to atone for our sins that we may have eternal forgiveness and that Jesus, who returned to the Father in heaven asked God to provide us with a comforter, a supporter, and inspiration to stay with us forever…the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was and is in the Father and the Father was and is in Christ. Those who believe will continue in the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus will do whatever we ask in His name so that the Father will be glorified through Him.
Many of us, here today, were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some of us were baptized as babies, some later on or even as adults. This is the third section of Peter’s sermon, “repent and be baptized every one of you…so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Are we ready to begin a new life today? Are we ready to have the Spirit blow through us, and through our lives, consuming all the dust and waste in the incinerators fire, and refreshing us as a gentle breeze in the summer? For those who may be new to the Good News, are you ready to let that spark ignite into action? Are you ready to follow Peter’s challenge and be baptized? For those of us who have been there and done that, are we ready to be aroused, to feel again the enthusiasm for the work of Christ? How do we receive this gift? Believe in God, and in the precious gift of his son Jesus Christ, and open your heart and you mind to the indwelling Spirit and begin to feel the warmth of the flames in your soul.