Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pentecost

Although I am in the throes of qualifying exams the next two weeks, as a preacher and and an all around churchy kind of guy I try not to let my own schedule overwhelm the rhythms of the church year. Other than letting you know you can see my ethics exam essays over at The Writing of John Drury, I will keep my attention on this week's high festival: Pentecost.

On the fiftieth day after passover, and thus a few days after Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out on a small gathering of Christ-followers in Jerusalem. Although the Spirit had done many might works before, this time the Spirit came to stay, establishing a new covenant with God's people. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the promised gift of the Father (Ac 1:4). The Holy Spirit is the promised gift of the Father. This is the promise spoken of in Isa 65, Jer 31, Joel 2, etc., where God says he will dwell in peace with his people. The Holy Spirit is the promised gift of the Father. The concrete content of this promised relation is participation in the sonship of Jesus Christ, for by the Spirit we are adopted as children of God the Father (cf. Gal 4:4-7). The Holy Spirit is the promised gift of the Father. The promised outpouring of this Spirit of adoption comes as a gift, and thus is not something we can control or earn or predict, but a gift which comes freely and graciously and surprisingly.

Since the Spirit comes as a gift, we cannot force or coerce the pentecostal outpouring necessary for the continued mission of the church in our time. But that does not necessarily mean we cannot prepare ourselves for when the Spirit comes. In view of the gift-character of the Spirit's coming at Pentecost, how can we best prepare ourselves?

First, we must wait. This is what Jesus commands his disciples to do (Ac 1:4). Waiting requires time. Waiting requires patience. Waiting requires attention. When we are waiting on God, we are not just passing time but keeping watch for him and his work.

Second, we must wait together. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples are gathered together in one place (Ac 2:1). Waiting for the outpouring of the Spirit is not primarily an individual endeavor, although it may be that as well. Waiting for the promised gift of the Father is the activity of the church, patiently opening itself up to what God will do through her. One need not find a community where the Spirit is "felt" or "seen," but one should at least find a community that waits together for the Spirit.

Finally, we must wait together poised for witness to the risen Christ. Before the Spirit came, the disciples knew what the Spirit was coming to do. It is not that the Spirit gives them the idea of being Christ's witnesses to the ends of the earth, but rather than the Spirit gives them the strength to be the witnesses Christ commanded them to be. The Father does not send the Spirit primarily for the purpose of displaying power or improving our lives, though he may very well do such things. The Father sends his Spirit to equip his people to bear witness to his Son whom he has raised from the dead. When the Spirit comes, we ought to be ready to bear witness to Christ. Thus we do not have to wait for signs and wonders to becoming acquainted with this Jesus by hearing his story. Perhaps we have previously overlooked the Spirit's outpouring because we were looking for something other than his primary work of equipping the church for witness to Christ.

So, the best way to prepare for the coming of the Spirit is to wait together poised.

Any thoughts?
What other implications can be drawn from the gift-character of the Spirit's coming?
What other aspects of our preparation could be added?
What other insights from the story of Pentecost to you have to share?
_

7 comments:

David Drury said...

Well, just a comment from me tonight: you continually prove to me that I know no one better at wringing so many drops of theology out of just three words. You could write a book called "three words at a time" and have each chapter cover three words a piece and how crucial they are.

It is a trend I see developing.

Not that you're trendy or anything.

Congrats on your first comp!

-DD

vanilla said...

Wait. Together. Poised.
Wait together poised!

The nature of the Gift of the Holy Spirit intrigues me from this perspective; viz., the role of each of the members of the Holy Trinity. He is given by the Father at the behest of the Son. (John 14)
And the Gift is given to fit us for service, as we were told to preach the gospel after that the Holy Spirit came upon us.

A few years ago my stepson, a young military officer stationed in Europe, sent a Christmas gift to his father. Some months later the father died and the son returned home for the funeral. Later, as the decedent's children were going through his belongings, they discovered the Christmas package, still in postal wrapping, unopened.

The giver was grieved; and of what use was the gift to the recipient.
(A gift is not a gift until it is received.)
Not only must we receive the gift, we must use it.

Amanda said...

Great post!

And thanks for the story, Vanilla.

Amanda

Keith Drury said...

Pentecost??? What's that? I thought the c"hurch year" had "Memorial day" for this Sunday--you know the ancient tradition of worsip with flags and honoring our troops and that sort of sacred ritual?
;-)

Anonymous said...

K.D., you certainly nailed that one. The 'sacred ritual' was carried out in our church this a.m. just as you predicted it would be! Heard no mention of 'Pentecost!'

Anonymous said...

We wait by becoming familiar with the Jesus event. Then we are empowered to witness. This is a key point of Pentecost, which I think is heightened by the "language" miracle.

The disciples were empowered witnesses and spoke boldly and clearly. Peter denied knowledge of Jesus, prior to the crucifixion. Now with the help of the spirit, his timidity is overcome. Second, they all spoke AND everyone heard them clearly even over the barrier of learned languages.

We wait, the Spirit empowers, we witness BOLDLY and CLEARLY. Else our witness is ineffective.

Chris Shinn

P.S. Keith, love ya man.

I thought the liturgical calendar called for a gathering of the faithful in Indianapolis and a sacred "kissing the bricks" ritual...

Scott Hendricks said...

Thanks a bunch for these thoughts! For some reason, we don't much ever think about waiting for the Spirit of God together, poised! We ought to do that. But what about how in the book of Acts the apostles just "transmit" the gift of the spirit as Jesus did at the end of John's gospel? How do we mesh these two modes of spirit reception together, e.g., like baptism or chrismation/confirmation/entire sanctification and the prayerful, waiting together poised community?