“But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.”
Ex 4:10 Pentecost
Sunday: Wind and Fire! Wonder and Worship!
The first reading for the feast of Pentecost is from the Acts of The Apostles (2:1-11) The Spirit comes with 'wind and fire' ancient signs of God's powerful presence. The "devout" at the sound assembled and those from many countries were "amazed and astonished" to hear God's word spoken in their own native language by unlearned men. St Luke mentions 16 different places like “Phrygia and Pamphylia.” The Holy Spirit then and many times since has given this gift of what is called 'Apostolic Tongues' (not to be confused with 'Prayer Tongues' or 'Prophetic Tongues'). This gift of 'Apostolic Tongues' has often been given to many missionaries who have spoken in their own native language the word of God, only to be surprised to know that people they were preaching to understand them in their own. This wonderful gift enables God to overcome the universal language of bigotry and violence. In whatever way we understand the historical 'Day of Pentecost' the meaning could not be clearer. The lines of language that have divided humanity were erased as the prophet Joel predicted by the “Spirit poured out on all flesh.” Of course the language that was understood on that day was discounted by some cynics as "drunkenness" but in this moment the confusion of the Tower of Babel in Genesis was reversed. The reversal was so that every tongue could know of the powerful deed of God - that is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately it didn't take long for the universal language of love and mercy to be confused and confined and the ability to speak in tongues become more important than understanding what was said. But the Day of Pentecost was not just about speaking in tongues. It was about declaring the "powerful deeds of God" in ways that people could understand no matter where they came from or what language they spoke.
It is clear that the Spirit does not leave the fearful disciples comfortable, safe, and locked away in a sheltered world. When the Spirit comes those who were huddled together are driven out into the market place. That’s how the gospel message stared to spread and continues to be spread throughout the world, through many expressions of language and cultures. The Spirit gathered the disciples into one church - gathered weakness for Spirit formed strength. But the Spirit also pushed the believers beyond their normal, accustomed comfortable boundaries. God is making a point and fulfilling the promise that, in messianic time (time after Jesus), the Spirit would be poured out on ALL people. Luke's spectacular account might give us the impression that the Spirit comes only at certain moments and recedes to wait for another important time to come again. But, Pentecost teaches us that the Spirit does not pop in and out of our lives. If that were true then, when facing a difficult challenge we might be hesitant to step forward and do what needs to be done. In ALL situations the Spirit will not hold back but will come to enable and guide. Perhaps praying for the Spirit to “come” is more about our need. The Spirit is always present and the prayer reminds us of that. What we need to do is to pray and then step out to do what needs doing knowing that the Spirit will be there each step of the way.
Saint Paul under the influence of the Holy Spirit teaches the Galatian (5:16-25) Christians not to "... yield to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit" but to be "led by the Spirit ... since the Spirit is our life." He teaches about those behaviours that are not from the Spirit. He then gives a list of sure signs of the Holy Spirit's presence in an individual; "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Jesus assures us that these Spirit formed abilities and qualities are necessary so that we can "witness" to the presence of Christ in our lives. The 12th century CE Islamic Sufi mystic wrote; "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I Am wise, so I am changing myself." The Holy Spirit who Jesus called the "Advocate" in John's gospel (15:26) comes not only to defend us but to transform us so that we can let go our ego-conditioned self-preoccupied way of life and to lives that radiate like perfume the presence of Jesus by changing ourselves. "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave ..." The Spirit-filled Jesus shows us what can be our when we surrender ourselves to the power greater than ourselves. May this feast of the Holy Spirit's coming to birth the church, find us not only filled with joyful praise for what God is doing but also loving power to serve with true selfless joy.