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written by Constance Morgenstern
©2011, 2019

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At Pentecost
(study for "Wider Church" version)

The main Bible reference for this song is the account of the “first” Pentecost in Acts 2.

Now this wasn’t really the first Pentecost. Pentecost (or, the Feast of Weeks) was already a longstanding Jewish festival for celebrating the grain harvest and bringing offerings from it (Deuteronomy 16:9-11).  The celebration of this festival explains why Jews “from every nation under heaven” were gathered at the time in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ disciples were also in Jerusalem because the resurrected Christ had told them to remain there until they received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:4-5).

Picture it: Suddenly, around the disciples, the house is filled with sound like a mighty wind, and things like tongues of fire separate and come to rest on each of them.  Then, the disciples begin speaking in diverse languages to the collection of Jews in the city, languages far beyond their own past lives in Galilee.  Finally, the disciple Peter preaches about Christ so powerfully that 3,000 people come to believe and be baptized!  Wow!!! Christians see this as the beginning of the Church, but Peter sees it also as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that God would someday pour the Holy Spirit into people (Joel 2:28-30; Isaiah 32:15, 59:21; Ezekiel 36:27, 39:29).

Can you imagine being there? You would see that the Spirit is powerful, purposeful, and comes to dwell with individuals.  In the Old Testament, when the Spirit of God came upon someone, they did amazing things—as in the case of Samson mightily defeating a young lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6).

Various other images in the Bible portray the Spirit as abundant, life-giving, sustaining, and productive. (See our study for "How Simple is the Washing.") We have that imagery to say what the Spirit is like. When even Jesus talks about the Spirit with Nicodemus, he uses an image of wind (John 3:8) which suggests we won't really be able to put the Spirit neatly into a box of ours.

But we can see what wind does, and the same is true about the Spirit. My favorite study Bible has plenty of references about this, but I’d like to frame this article more personally. Admittedly, I don’t come from a tradition where people talk much about the Spirit, but maybe this can start some conversation.

Here’s what I believe the Holy Spirit does:

I hate to start by mentioning cartoons, but in the cartoons I saw growing up, the main character often had a small angel on one shoulder and a small devil on the other.  The angel would whisper worthy suggestions into one ear, while the devil talked up temptations at the other.  That the Holy Spirit, via our consciences, tries to lead us to good actions, and convicts us of selfish ones, seems apparent to many people besides me.

Often, those little “angel voices” arrive as Bible passages which come to mind.  Jesus actually described this guidance in John 14:26 when he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of things he had taught. The Spirit also reminds us of what Jesus did and how he lived. This is a prime gift! But, there are more actions of the Spirit mentioned in Scripture.  

When a person, alone or in a group, does lectio divina (a prayerful, listening style of Bible reading), it seems that certain passages stand out.  It’s almost as if the words are printed in bold on the page, even though they physically aren’t.  I think the Holy Spirit seems to emphasize things we—at that time and place—need to hear.

When I sin and need to ask forgiveness, the Holy Spirit mentions that, too, prompting me to try to make things right again (John 16:8).

In John 16:13, Jesus makes the interesting claim that the Spirit will tell what is yet to come.  I don’t see this in a fortune-telling sense, but can remember times when a sort of advance knowledge nudged me toward one path of action, which later was validated.

That the Spirit provides us with words for witness is also a promise (Acts 1:8, Luke 12:11-12).  I learned (the slow way) to always pray before teaching my Sunday school class—rather than just when I felt under-prepared—because when I prayed, more amazing things happened.

Speaking of prayer, I’ve also come to experience the meaning of Romans 8:26. This verse describes how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we have prayer needs we can’t even express.  On one subject—despite my work as a writer—my prayer was frequently a deep, wordless sigh.  And God received the message.

So, a lot of Scripture references about the Spirit have rung true for me, and maybe they ring true for your life as well. But here's one of my own: As a Christian writer, I often feel that good ideas for songs or studies are gifts of God, whether they are actual Spirit-promptings or just God's design of our creative brains. Most mornings, on waking, I spend part of my quiet time listening for ideas, answers, and new understandings. I've come to call these "The Daily Blessing."

Now I suppose that just about any occupation gives people specific reasons to see and thank God.  Farmers might give thanks for the miracle of plant growth or a well-timed rain.  For me, the Daily Blessing of ideas is a nourishment, and I become a (relatively!) kinder person for the demands of the day.

The Spirit doesn’t just empower individuals, though, to exceed their abilities or become more gracious.  At Pentecost, the fire-like tongues split and came to rest on everyone, clearly demonstrating the connectedness of everyone there. Even today, the Spirit strengthens Christian kinship and common leading as we work together.

I hope you sense this kinship in your congregation or among Christian friends. A study-friend of mine likes to consider our faith-lives as glowing briquettes of charcoal. When you isolate one coal, separating it from the others, it tends to go cold. When you pile coals together, they continue to put out light and warmth. Even Jesus, when he sent his followers out to witness, sent them two by two (Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1).

A metaphor of Christian kinship that, for me, is better than coals, is the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ. The early missionary Paul wrote of it in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. I like this metaphor especially (see our study for "Connected by Spirit"), because it describes—not only that believers are, together, like a body—but how each believer contributes in different ways to its overall functioning. The different strengths of each member are needed for the full well-being and productivity of the whole.

In another spot (Colossians 1:18), Paul suggests that Jesus Christ is the head of the body. Yes, that's good, but I think it's fair to add that the Holy Spirit is the breath! This is what I've put into the hymn, based on other hints in Scripture (see the wonderful story of Ezekiel 37:1-14 or see John 20:19-22).

In our time, Pentecost marks the birthday of a Church about 2,000 years old. As Jesus intended (Matthew 28:16-20), today the Body of believers generally reaches around the whole Earth. Just as God's Spirit hovered over the waters of the early Earth for the Creation (Genesis 1:2), we know that the powerful, creative, active, life-giving Spirit is moving now for the purposes of God.



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