I once got to teach a PhD course on metaphor theory and theology (talk about fun!). As the final paper approached, one of the students noted that, in his theological tradition, they tend to use fire imagery (and only fire imagery) for the work of the Holy Spirit (he was a Pentecostal). The course was designed to help people recognize the strengths and limitations of any metaphor, and to promote the idea that having more than one way to express even your most important theology is a real benefit. Still, he was somewhat shocked to find pouring and water imagery used for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, since he was sure the Acts 2 text only dealt with the Spirit as fire. When you solely have one way of talking, you tend to see in a biblical text only the things which align with how you talk.
I wish I would have had Sculptor Spirit: Models of Sanctification from Spirit Christology, by Leopoldo A. Sánchez M., to give my new friend, but at the time that book was still a few years away from publication. In it, Sánchez gives us five “models of sanctification.” That is, five unique ways of talking about the Spirit’s work to conform us to the image of Christ. Sánchez is not trying to provide an exhaustive list, but his list at least gives us some new ways of talking (and thinking) about the work of the Spirit, especially at Pentecost. What was true of my Pentecostal friend is true of my Lutheran friends as well: If we have only one way to talk about the work of the Spirit, we will think about the work of the Spirit in only one way (regardless of what the biblical witness actually has to say).
Over the course of the next two Sundays (The Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday) Series C gives us most of Acts 2. Looking at the whole chapter through the lens of Sánchez’s five models for the work of the Spirit might help you see something different, and therefore say something in a new way. A fresh perspective can be a real blessing to preachers as well as to hearers, especially when the text seems so well-known. You probably do not want to preach all of these different models in the same sermon but focusing on one model you often miss will give you a new entry into a familiar text.
A fresh perspective can be a real blessing to preachers as well as to hearers, especially when the text seems so well-known.
1. The Devotional Model
Though it is the last of the models explored in the Sculptor Spirit book, the Devotional Model is the first to show up in Acts 2 (and we will follow the order of the Pentecost story rather than the Sánchez book). In this paradigm, the work of the Spirit is to bring us into “the devotional rhythm of labor and rest,” which avoids workaholism as well as burnout. Setting aside times and seasons for rest and worship is central to this model of the Christian life and Acts 2:1 points us toward that rhythm and invites community: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” The regular, annual pattern fits within the rhythm of work and Sabbath, of Jesus doing the Father’s work and Jesus giving the weary rest. The disciples begin Acts 2 by gathering on a festival day set aside for worship, and by end of the chapter they have a regular pattern of teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer (2:42). Such a rhythm is the work of the Spirit in us and fits the Devotional Model.
2. The Sacrificial (or Pouring) Model
According to Sculptor Spirit, the Sacrificial Model highlights the work of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the sacrificial, self-giving love of Jesus, most often expressed through the verb of pouring. By “sharing each other’s need and gifts,” we grow into a community marked by sacrificial, self-pouring love. The language of filling, pouring, and overflowing all belong to the domain of the Sacrificial Model, and you can clearly see that language in Acts 2:2 and 2:4, where the mighty wind/breath/Spirit “fills” first the house and then the disciples, which results in an outflow of speaking in tongues. The Joel 2 passage quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17-18 uses similar language of the “pouring out” of the Spirit, which leads to filling-to-overflowing, and results in prophesy, visions, and divine dreams. Later (verse 33), we will see Jesus is only “pouring out” what He first received from the Father (the Holy Spirit). Indeed, the title Messiah (verse 36) or Christ denotes the Anointed One, that is, the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, who now pours out what He first received. So, the Spirit is shaping in us a Christ-likeness which receives to the point of overflowing, and then sacrificially pours out for the sake of others.
Indeed, the title Messiah or Christ denotes the Anointed One, that is, the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, who now pours out what He first received.
3. The Hospitality Model
Acts 2:5-13 captures the heart of Jesus’ mission to and through people on the margin. A catalog of different national origins shows how people from literally every corner of the known world have come to worship in Jerusalem. This movement from the margins to the center coupled with a concern for the stranger and foreigner is important for the Hospitality Model. But Jesus’ mission is not only to the marginal and marginalized. Jesus works through the marginal and marginalized. The specific reference to the disciples as Galilean (verse 7) is a kind of slur: Galileans were known to be backwater folk with funny accents (see Matthew 26:73, for example). Jesus (of “can anything good come from Nazareth” fame) extends the message of the Gospel through these marginal disciples. The response is mixed, with some making fun of these marginal outsiders as day-drinking buffoons (verse 13). But the Spirit is still at work through these same funny-speaking, Galilean anglers who once denied Jesus three times. The Spirit shapes in us Jesus’ heart for outsiders, and the Spirit uses us, even when we are not in positions of power or authority (perhaps especially when we are vulnerable and marginalized) to bring the message of salvation to the world, and to bring outsiders from the margin into relationship with God. In fact, the baptismal promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit belongs to those on the margin whom God brings near (verse 38-39).
We still have to cover The Dramatic Model and The Renewal Model from Sculptor Spirit. Luckily, next week’s continuation of the Acts 2 reading provides some clear connections to those models. In the meantime, you can use these first three models of sanctification not as cookie cutters or premixed sermon Hamburger Helper™ but as new lenses through which to view a familiar text.
What might you say differently this Pentecost if you were praying through the text with the Devotional, Pouring, or Hospitality models in mind? How might your sermon engage your hearers’ desire to achieve balance, discover meaning in their vocation, or find a sense of community and belonging? These are some of the topics Sculptor Spirit connects to the first three models. How might your preaching of the work of the Spirit expand your own view of the Spirit’s work, and help your hearers gain an appreciation for the Holy Spirit’s activity in their lives beyond a standalone celebration, one day a year?
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 2:1-21.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 2:1-21.