It seems that the Holy Spirit was a little bit of a trouble-maker, at least in the book of Acts. The Spirit doesn’t seem to be an unobtrusive guest when entering the gathering of believers. On the day of Pentecost, he entered the room ‘like the rush of a violent wind’. Later, when the disciples had been questioned about the events, they prayed together and “the place in which they were meeting was shaken”. It gives us an interesting insight to the Spirit’s work: both actions carry the connotation of stirring things up a bit. Earthquakes and tornadoes are images which come to mind when I read these passages, and we all know the mess that such things can create.
But is it helpful to see the Holy Spirit in such terms, causing such destruction and reaping such havoc? I suspect that many of us have swallowed the whole “God is a god of order, not chaos” line which was fashioned in modernity. We have been taught to have things “in their place”, and ideas “in their boxes”. The Holy Spirit comes along and loves to play havoc which such neat categories and attitudes, to shake our complacency, and to re-order the often stifling order of our lives. If ever the church needed this work of the Spirit, surely it is now.
But even more than this, that the Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in other languages is a powerful comfort and challenge. The church rarely speaks the world’s language any more, and as a result, our mission in and to the world is impoverished. As the Spirit enables, we can speak into the very spiritual culture of our wider community in language of engagement, where we can hear and understand, as well as be heard and understood.
Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, as it commemorates the time when the Spirit came upon the gathered disciples, and they began proclaiming the good news openly and boldly. At Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and reflect upon the Spirit’s presence in our lives. As we pray and reflect this Pentecost, it may be that we are inviting the Holy Spirit to undertake good shaking and stirring.
And not before time.
May 30, 2004