Many thanks to Paul Martin for today’s reflection.
I thought Jonathan’s sermon on Sunday (Pentecost) was timely, not just because I needed some encouragement to dive in and “enjoy the swim”, but also because the weather this last week has reinforced his analogy of the dry ground needing refreshment. The temperatures are rising and the gardens are getting thirstier by the day: a daily reminder that we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Streams of living water are a wonderful symbol of the Spirit but that’s not the only one in the Bible; we also find fire and wind in the account of Pentecost in Acts 2. These symbols are sudden and dramatic, unlike the trickle from the Temple which turned into a “river that no one could cross” in Ezekiel 47. Imagine our homes being invaded by a rushing wind, and fire leaping from one person to another!
So I wonder if I was the only one to ponder how the images of beautiful streams and shady trees fitted in with the story of the first Pentecost. Are these two sides of the Holy Spirit, one supernatural and a bit scary, and the other comforting and refreshing? I don’t think so: I believe you can’t have one without the other – if you want refreshing, you’ll also get shaken up! If you want signs and wonders, be prepared too for the continual re-ordering of your life as the Spirit quietly moulds you into the likeness of Christ.
Here’s how I see it. The 12 apostles were filled with the Spirit. That was a trickle compared with the 120 believers who then received him too and the 3,000 who by the end of the day were caught up in the same outpouring. This was the fast-motion pattern for the entire work of the Spirit in the last 2,000 years: take a small bunch of ordinary men and women, grab hold of them and shake them, then set them loose on a city, a nation, a continent – the stream deepens and widens until the whole earth is flooded. We may wish it was happening quicker in our day but rivers are like that; sometimes faster, sometimes slower. It’s the same Spirit at work whether in white water or the gentle but persistent lapping.
Peter’s sermon on that day was astonishing, wasn’t it? Imagine how he must have felt. Six weeks before, he had denied Jesus. He’d preached many times before that – on the mission when Jesus had sent them out two by two – but would he ever preach again? Could he ever in all honesty look someone in the eye and be a witness for Jesus after thrice denying him? He most likely thought his preaching days were over. Then the Spirit fills him. Now he can’t help praising God – and not just in the upper room, but out on the streets where people think he must be drunk. Now there’s nowhere to hide! He’s gone so far, he may as well let go and start preaching again. So, he stands up, takes a deep breath and . . . wow! Did he ever preach a more effective sermon? Spirit-driven from beginning to end.
The truth is: none of us knows what we are letting ourselves in for when we submit to being filled with the Spirit. The only question is: are you willing to be taken where the Spirit leads? Fast or slow, dramatic or humdrum, we go where the river takes us. If that’s the deal, then count me in! What about you? For our sakes.