For many, Pentecost calls to mind images of fire, a recounting of the disciples of Christ speaking in tongues, and a lot of talk of the not often mentioned member of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Some of you may be recalling pew after pew of church grandmas dressed head to toe in their finest red clothes.
The day of Pentecost as we see it in Acts 2 involves all of those things (except maybe the red sweaters): fire, speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit, and about 3,000 people being saved through baptism after hearing the word of God in their own native tongue. Can you imagine? It must have been an amazing and terrifying sight! As the passage says, tongues of fire came and rested on those gathered and they were able to speak in all sorts of languages. Languages that were understood by those gathered. Languages that apparently the disciples should not have been able to speak, but they did. And, in looking closely at this passage, it is not so much what the people do as it is what the Spirit does through them. Let that sink in for a minute.
God uses the ordinary Jesus follower to do his work. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit and he did. All the disciples did was wait for God to keep his word. The Spirit did not require those gathered to have the best church growth strategy, to be a dynamic speaker, or even to have the most rockin’ music. A quick look at the disciples (not unlike an honest glance in the mirror) reveals that the expectations of awesomeness from them (as from us) were fairly minimal. In fact, as Ephesians 2:10 shows us, God is not only the creator of us, he even creates in advance the “good works” for us to do. By his Spirit, he works through us in many ordinary, yet extraordinary ways.
In my tradition, we don’t talk a whole lot about the Holy Spirit on a regular basis. We save it for Pentecost and even then we kind of distract ourselves by fixating on how much red we are all wearing. For many, the Holy Spirit’s work is more difficult to understand, and we don’t always like to grapple with difficult things, but Pentecost brings us the opportunity to put the work of the Holy Spirit right out front. Pentecost reminds us of not only what happened on that day described in Acts 2 but what is happening every day: the Spirit of God working in and through God’s people, according to his word. It’s the Holy Spirit that moves us to acts of love and service to our neighbor, causes us to provide for the needs of others, brings comfort to those who are hurting, and creates faith where God’s word of forgiveness and grace on account of Christ is spoken.
Pentecost reminds us of not only what happened on that day described in Acts 2 but what is happening every day: the Spirit of God working in and through God’s people, according to his word.
Several years ago, songwriter Derek Webb released a song titled, The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum. During the song, he lays out various ways we try to manipulate God into what we want. While we might want the Spirit to physically move us, to cause our bodies to move, to elicit a strong emotional response, that is not always how God works. Yet, often we try to create moves of the Spirit, or even over-spiritualize situations as if the Spirit were not enough.
God will move how he wishes. Perhaps we will see him in flames and speaking in tongues, or speaking in that still small voice. But where we are told he works, and where we can trust he is refreshing us through faith in Christ, is where his word is spoken and heard. The Spirit is present and active regardless of whether he seems to work in ways too ordinary for our liking.
So let’s celebrate! Let’s celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit to work through some nobodies in Jerusalem and bring about 3,000 people to be saved through baptism. Let’s celebrate that in baptism, when water is connected with God’s word, God pours out his grace and gives his Spirit to nobodies like you and me. And now, as forgiven members of the body of Christ, the Spirit works through us everyday to love and serve our neighbor to the glory of God.
Happy Pentecost. Red sweater, optional.