In the very opening words of the Bible, the Spirit of God was there, active, creating:
“When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and the Spirit of God swept over the waters”
When the earth was without shape or form, the Holy Spirit hovered over the chaos like a mother bird over her nest: nurturing, protecting, forming, and guiding the cosmos into life.
And today, as we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, the Spirit of God was there, too. “Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting … They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.
The Spirit who was there, the midwife at the creation of the physical universe, was also there in the creation of something new: as God’s Church is born, a spiritual recreation of all things has begun. Nurtured, formed, guided by the Spirit of God.
And they were all filled with the Spirit of God. Filled, each, as individuals, but more than that – filled together, as a community.
So how should we live?
Be filled with the Spirit of God.
We are here because we too have been called to be the Church of God, to be the witnesses and ambassadors and workforce of this new creation, this Kingdom of God, that the Holy Spirit brought to life at Pentecost.
The Spirit, Jesus said, in John’s gospel, is the one who gives life. When we speak of the Spirit, perhaps we tend to focus on the more spectacular works – creation, Pentecost, miracles, prophecy, healing – but the main work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is this: to give life. In the poem of creation, in the incarnation, in the resurrection: the Spirit gives life. The Spirit makes alive, nurtures, calls, comforts, guides, cultivates fellowship, instils hope. All that – that’s the stuff of life.
At Pentecost, the Spirit gives life to the Church. God was beginning to call the scattered families and nations of the earth back together in Christ. When the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in other languages, it tore down barriers to communication. And once you can communicate, you can start to build bridges and relationships. The Spirit bringing life, cultivating community and fostering friendship, breaking down barriers.
And that’s exactly what we then see in Acts 1 and 2. Peter tells the people that they too will received the gift of the Holy Spirit – each one of them – but they didn’t all start to speak in strange tongues or heal the sick or cast out demons. Those things too are the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, in those through whom she so chooses to work; but what happened when these first new converts believed and received the Holy Spirit? We read the story right back at the beginning of this series:
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. … All the believers were united and shared everything. … They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Until the day of Pentecost, most of these people were complete strangers to each other. They came from all four corners of the ancient world! But filled with the Spirit, something new was being created, a new way of life. A new way being.
The Spirit of God took those strangers and turned them into a family. The Spirit of God who, Paul will write to the Church in Galatia, will mark our adoption into God’s family, as daughters and sons of the one God: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God”
You are an adopted child of God. And so am I. God takes strangers and brings them together into family.
Later in the same letter Paul goes on to talk about the fruits of the Spirit in the lives of the believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When we live filled with the Spirit of God, this is transformation that makes this new community possible. The marks of the Spirit at work, the very things that enable us to be this new people, this Kingdom, this family, strangers made one.
The Holy Spirit probably won’t give you the power to do miracles. That might be her way for you, but for the most part the Spirit’s work is much more intimate, personal, relational, and even mundane. We look for the Spirit at work in the pots and pans of everyday life. Inviting us to God. Breaking down barriers to friendship and fellowship. Creating community. Calling us to our work in the world. Nurturing us. Protecting us. Comforting us. Guiding us. Calling us to account. Making us a family. Holding us together.
That is the Spirit of God, who is always creating something new.
The Spirit gives life. The Spirit draws us to God, and calls us to our mission in the world. The Spirit creates community and fosters fellowship. The Spirit makes all these things possible. But at the same time, we remain free. We can choose the way of death, instead of the Spirit who gives us life. Like the prophet Jonah, when the Spirit invites us to God and a mission in the world, we can choose to run away. The Spirit works to create a family out of strangers, but we can continue in self-centred and destructive attitudes and behaviours that tear down community. Through our action, and our inaction, we can break what the Spirit makes.
Paul writes we must make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the bonds of peace. It takes work to maintain the unity the Spirit gives us. Sometimes a lot of work.
But this work must begin, can only begin, with prayer. We should pray for the Spirit’s work among us. We should pray that we will listen to the Spirit, and yield to the work of new life that the Spirit is creating in us.
Perhaps you remember these words of Jesus, spoken in response to the request that he teach his disciples to pray:
Which among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, who would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
So may we confess that we often do not know what we should pray. And may that confession give us humility to ask our heavenly Father to fill us once again with the Holy Spirit, the one who breathes life into us. Fosters friendship and fellowship. Creates community. Nurtures and nourishes our spirits. Shows us when we are wrong, and empowers us to do right. Holds us together in creative tension. Binds us together in peace. Comforts us in times of distress. Calls us to our mission. Invites us on adventures. Shows us what others need, and how to give it to them. All this and so much more. Because the Spirit is God’s presence among us.
So may we go forth from here asking our God for the Holy Spirit, trusting that God will answer. Because the church can’t be the church without the Spirit. We can’t be God’s people except by the power of God.