Pentecost, June 12, 2011
John 7:37-39, Acts 2:1-21
In the text we read that Jesus promised the Spirit would come after Him. The outpouring of the Spirit happened on what is known as the Day of Pentecost, some 50 days after the resurrection, which we observe this Sunday. Sadly, this day often goes unnoticed in many churches. To be sure there is plenty of bad theology out there regarding the Holy Spirit and the whole subject can be confusing, but the knee jerk reaction not to talk about it is just as bad if not worse. We need to understand what the Bible actually says about it. As simply as I can put it, the Spirit is the living Christ at work in our lives. There are three symbols of the Spirit in these texts that reveal the work of the living Christ in us.
First we read that the Spirit is like water.
We should not overlook that Jesus stood up and said these words on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Given the terrible drought that we are experiencing across the South, we might consider holding a Feast of Tabernacles ourselves.
You see, it was tradition during this feast that they would put up booths or tents as a reminder of their journey through the wilderness during the exodus and how God was faithful to deliver them from Egypt. As part of that observance they would gather palm branches and make a leaf canopy over the altar. Every day of the feast the priest would gather water from the pool of Siloam and carry it to the altar in procession with trumpets blowing then pour the water in a bowl next to the altar and pour wine in an another bowl on the other side. Thanksgiving prayers were offered for the water God gave Moses when he struck the rock and for the rain that has sustained them since. They also prayed for rain for the next year and a fruitful harvest. This was the biggest feast of the Jewish year and this was the culmination of that feast on the last day when people are praying for rain that Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in Me.”
In dry desert communities water is life. Likewise, the Spirit gives life and sustains us through the desert places in our lives. For those worshippers at the feast they knew all too well the struggles of survival, finding water, drawing it several times a day to keep your family and livestock alive, like the Samaritan woman at the well. They reacted much like she did at first when she He heard the offer of this “living water.” A lot of Christians think grace must be too good to be true, because they keep trying to do something to earn God’s love and forgiveness. It seems like the cross just wasn’t enough. They need to feel as though they’ve earned it. Jesus is offering living water to quench our spiritual thrists, yet so many feel compelled to attach strings to this offer that Jesus never did.
Specifically, it is “living water” that gives life. There are places like the ocean or the Dead Sea that cannot sustain us because they are full of “dead water.” Meaning, fresh water flows into them, but it does not flow out.
“Dead water” is synonymous with “dead churches” and “dead Christians.” That sounds like an oxymoron, an impossibility. How can churches and Christians be dead? They are dead because they do not have the living water of the Spirit flowing in and out of their lives. We cannot soak up the grace of God continually and not share it with others. At the wedding at Cana and on the hillside feeding the multitudes the wine, the bread, and the fish did not run out as long as it was being given away. Jesus said that “streams of living water flow from within Him.” It is an inexhaustible supply of grace. If we want to experience the life-giving Spirit of the Christ, we have to give our lives away to the thirsty among us, sharing God’s love and grace with others. If we don’t, our well will run dry, our waters will stagnate, and we will wither.
In Acts 2 we find that the Spirit is like wind.
When the day had come for the promise of the Spirit to be realized, the disciples and other followers of Jesus were in Jerusalem gathered together in one place when, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting,” Acts 2:2.
It’s really hard to try to explain the Holy Spirit to someone. How does all this work? What does it mean? Those can be hard questions to answer sometime, but the Spirit is like the wind. We don’t see the wind, but we see what the wind blows. We can tell where it’s coming from and feel where it’s going. When Jesus was trying to explain spiritual things to Nicodemus, a highly educated man, He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit,” John 3:8.
Still, you have to wonder why it’s not easier at times. There are times when you just wish God would write on the wall what you should do, because you just don’t know anymore. David Lose wrote:
The Holy Spirit does not come to solve our problems but to create them. Think about it: absent the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples could go back to their previous careers as fishermen. I can almost hearing James and John explaining, “Sure, it was a wild and crazy three-year-ride, and that Jesus sure was a heck of a guy, but maybe we needed to get that out of our system before we could settle down and take on Dad’s business.” Once the Spirit comes, however, that return to normalcy is no longer an option.
The Spirit is also the rushing wind that comes into our lives and shakes them up, moves us out of our comfort zones, and calls us to the great adventure of walking by faith and not by sight. It’s worth noting that the wind “filled the whole house.” That means that there is no place where it is not. That’s exactly like God. God isn’t impossible to find. God is impossible to avoid. God is everywhere. There is no place that God is not. So no matter wherever we are, God is with us. There is no place or no situation we may find ourselves in where God is not with us and able to see us through it.
Lastly, the Spirit is like fire.
Just like God provided a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, the Spirit is the fire that lights our way.
It can be hard to understand what God is doing in our lives a lot of times, even on the good days. I’ve often told people that the hardest choices we have to make in life are not the choices between good and bad. Those are easy. We may not always want to the right thing, but if we know this is good and the other is bad, we know what we should do even if we don’t want to do it. The really hard choices in life are between good and better. Those are the choices we have to pray hard about. We ask God to show us what He wants for our lives, because often we don’t know which way is best. In those moments we “lean not on our own understanding.” We trust God, seek His direction. What we are doing is asking for the Spirit to show us what to do, to help us find peace in the middle of a difficult time in our lives.
The Spirit is also like the “consuming fire” that burned on the mountain with Moses. It consumes everything in us that pollutes our character and dilutes our message. It convicts us, grips our hearts and turns them to God and to the least, the lost, and the lonely among us. Were it not for the conviction of the Spirit we might withdraw into ourselves and spend our lives only on our pleasures, but the Spirit of God compels us, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It moves us out of selfishness and into selflessness. On the Day of Pentecost the tongues of fire consumed the pride and prejudice that threatened the first church and brought unity and peace between everyone gathered there.
Lastly, just as a fire burned over the tabernacle in the wilderness to remind the Israelites of God’s presence with them, the Spirit burns within us assuring us that God is with us. Church membership is no guarantee of a person’s character. There are just as many rascals inside the church as there are outside it. The one and only evidence that someone is following the living Christ is the Spirit that shines through their life.
The greatest evidence of the arrival of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was unity among all the different Christians that were gathered there. When we are all following the Spirit, seeking God’s will and our neighbor’s interests above our own, there will be peace and unity in the fellowship. That’s the Church the world needs to see. One that is alive, healthy, and full of grace.
May the Spirit of the living Christ fill us with living water overflowing with His grace. May the Spirit of the resurrected Christ blow a fresh wind into our lives wakening us to His call. May the Spirit of the coming Christ light a fire within our hearts that may burn brightly with His love. Amen.