On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, not only to the disciples but to all of God’s people. It can be hard to understand the workings of this invisible, powerful force. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives in a vague, amorphous, undefinable way. We can no more wrap our hands around it than we can capture the wind.
I heard of a very serious little six year old boy who was learning about the Trinity like this: In the name of the Father (who is God), the Son (who is Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (who is a cousin or a uncle or something).
The Spirit is often referred to as wind in the Bible. In ancient times, when people thought of God, they thought of the wind because, well, think of the wind: it is invisible, powerful and mysterious, just like God. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit are these: ruach and pneumatos. These same words also mean wind and breath. Spirit, wind, breath.
Let’s figure out how this spirit comes into our story today: The followers of Jesus have been through a lot. They’ve just seen their beloved friend leave them and ascend into heaven. They must have been sad, grieving and confused about what was next.
Jesus had given them clear instructions: “he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the father.” (Acts 1: 4-5) Then Jesus left. The disciples returned to Jerusalem and went to a room upstairs. They didn’t just sit there waiting. From Acts 1: 12-14: Jesus’ disciples “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women including Mary the mother of Jesus as well as his brothers.” Can you imagine the intensity of that room? The intensity of their prayers?
As the disciples waited and prayed, the Holy Spirit burst upon them: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Tongues of fire appeared on their heads. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit!”
Think about this for a minute: this is a huge change. Up until now in the Bible, only a few people had been given the Holy Spirit and only for brief times: Saul got a bit, David got a bit, the prophets too, etc. Very carefully meted out Spirit. Contrast that with this: the Spirit comes pouring through this room and everyone gets some flame on their heads.
The disciples were moved from sadness to joy by the Spirit, they rushed outside into the crowd and began to speak of God’s deeds of power in many languages. Now, forget the wind, the flames, the different languages for a minute and think of what they did: they left their safe place where they sat with friends and went out into the world full of gusto to speak of God with strangers. They shared what they knew of God.
Filled with the Spirit, they must have been quite a sight, rushing about, so excited and joyful and full of love, they were thought to be drunk, at nine in the morning! Peter shouts down the crowd and just lets it be known that these people are simply fulfilling a biblical prophesy: “God will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even slaves, both men and women shall prophesy!” Everybody, everybody shall be filled with the Spirit.
Think of these followers of Jesus. Most were simple fishermen. They had not been to seminary, they were not ordained. They were like us; normal men and women who, because of the Holy Spirit, were able to share their own truth of God. We must never think we are not qualified to speak of God to others because each of us is as able as these followers of Christ. We are as able as the young men and women, old men and slaves referred to in scripture.
Why? Because of the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. Without this Pentecostal event, we would just be people who could tell the story of Jesus but because of Pentecost, we are also people who can live the story of Jesus! Jesus lives in us through the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is here with us right now. I feel the Spirit at times of great joy, this feeling that life is almost too big, too wonderful to be explained away in concrete terms. I have also felt the Holy Spirit at the lowest times in my life, giving me courage to endure, strength to go on, courage to know that this time will pass and I can make it through with God’s help.
Think of the Holy Spirit as the wind of God blowing around in our lives. Our church school kids used to sing a hymn where they stood and waved their arms gracefully back and forth as they sang: “Wind, wind blow on me, wind, wind set me free” ... I always felt the Spirit so present with us as we sang.
It’s amazing that something as powerful as wind can’t be seen. We can see leaves drawn up by wind and whirled around, the poor people in Texas this past week, saw dirt and debris swirling around in violent tornadoes that left many people homeless, but they didn’t see the wind. We don’t see the Holy Spirit but we can feel it, can’t we?
Last week, Jeff and I were driving to Olympia in a nasty, windy storm. Jeff kept pointing out how the trees were being bent over by the strong wind. We noticed how some trees bent more than others. We can allow ourselves to be blown by the Spirit and moved to loving action or we can stand firm, rooted like a massive tree, resisting the call. I say, let’s bend like willows in the face of God’s Holy Spirit. Let’s allow the mighty wind of the Spirit to blow us out into the world to do the will of God.