Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Holy Spirit: A Pentecost Reality Not A Wild Goose Chase

One of the amazing birds that comes to our New Zealand shores  is the Godwit. The Godwit makes the world’s longest non-stop migration to get here. It comes from Siberia and flies down the Alaskan coast and over the pacific to our shores to breed and then in autumn it will reverse the journey to feed in the Artic summer.

When we were in Dunedin we went out to see the Royal Albatrosses at Tareri heads. Being naïve northerners we didn’t realise just how expensive it was. So we ended up sitting in the car park content to gaze out over the panorama of the Otago harbour and the wild coastline. But this albatross graced us by circling round and round over the car park for about twenty minutes never having to flap its wings just gliding and soaring on the cold wind that howls in from the southern ocean, An amazing sight. These birds spend most of their lives on the wind currents over the ocean. Then they find their way home to this same small point of land to breed.

Ancient Celtic Christians of Ireland and Scotland used the wild goose as one of their images for the Holy Spirit. The wild goose is much like our Albatrosses and Godwits a wanderer on the wind, a migratory bird. Susan Leo pastor of the Bridgeport Uniting Church describes her childhood memories of the wild geese like this

"First you hear it: The faraway honking of geese in flight. Relentless honking, as if to clear the sky ahead of errant sparrows and stray robins, lest they be ploughed over by the oncoming steamroll of birds; ceaselessly honking avian encouragements to ‘press on!’ to a destination I would never know.
Then from the north, the vee of birds comes surging into sight high above the buckeye trees: the lead goose, breaking the air and setting the pace, then dropping back as another, then another, leads the way through the ocean of sky.
And then on those evenings when the air is really still, comes the sound of wings: a distant relentless churning of air, mocking gravity’s pull on sleek heavy bodies coursing to their winter home."

While not a biblical image for the Holy Spirit these Bird’s encapsulated what these wandering Celtic people experienced of the Holy Spirit. Not the quite calm stay at home dove but the loud adventurous birds that would leave their shores each year and return again to and from they did not know where.  It picked up for them the Spirit at Pentecost being a strong wind that shock the place where people meet and Jesus some what mystical words to Nicodemus in John 3: 8 ‘the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear it’s sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going so it is with everyone born of the spirit”.  I can’t help but wonder this Pentecost if we haven’t tried to tame the wild goose: to domesticate the Holy Spirit.

We domesticate the Holy Spirit when we say that the Holy Spirit is only for some people and not for others, like it was an optional extra on a luxury car. In the narrative of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the third person of our triune God, falls on and fills all the believers.

IN Acts chapter 1 the disciples had been told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem until they received God’s power and he would then send them out to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the world. They waited by meeting together for prayer and fellowship. The on Pentecost, the Jewish festival for harvest time and new wine, the spirit of God descends on them as they are gathered in the upper room.

What was new about this event was not that the Spirit of God came and filled human beings in the Old Testament God’s spirit was given to specific people for specific tasks. But now at Pentecost we see that all the believers are filled with the spirit. Just like in this image of a candle lit vigil the spirit manifested itself as tongues of fire and descended on all who were present. Not just the twelve, all the believers and they started speaking in different languages and praising God.

As Peter explained to the crowd who had come because of the physical manifestations that accompanied it, this was what God had foretold through the prophet Joel. That in the end days God would pour out his spirit on all his people regardless of gender, age or social standing. I could pray for young Samuel to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit at his baptism this morning we can pray for God to fill us all and he will and does. The more wrinkles the more room there is to expand to accommodate the Spirit's presence.

We can try and domesticate the Holy Spirit when we have a concept of being church where the minister is given some special anointing and gifts to do God’s work and everybody is there just to support them. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul explains the Holy Spirit to a group who were also trying to tame the holy spirit by saying that only their particular group in the church had the spirit and he used a metaphor we have become over familiar with. He called the church the body of Christ. We are happy to see that we all have a place to belong to and we all belong to the church, but Paul also says that the spirit has given us gifts to minister to one another and to achieve the work of the body of Christ which of course is the embodiment of Jesus Christ in the world around us. There are several lists of these gifts in scripture. They range from prophecy and apostles through to gifts of mercy, and helps even administration and generosity are Holy Spirit gifts. I’m ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament which means that my role within the church is to preach and teach so that we as the body may be built up to so that you may be equipped to do the things God has called you to do. It’s one part amongst the many the spirit has given to the church. The spirit gives all of us gifts to function as a body. I believe that baptism is our ordination. We are called and set aside at baptism to witness to Jesus Christ and the wild thing is that the Holy Spirit gives us all gifts and enables and empowers us all to do it.

Now in classical Pentecostal circles there used to be and still are in some places the belief that to be filled with the Holy Spirit you need to speak in tongues. That’s wrong and I’m sorry that has made a lot of saintly people feel like second-class citizens.  It was one of the damaging excesses of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements because instead of promoting unity in the Spirit it caused elitism and disunity. When you read the passage in acts 2 you see that Joel’s prophecy was that all people would prophecy. Not speak in tongues. To prophecy is to tell forth God’s word speaking it out, not to fore tell events. We are all empowered to speak what God puts on our hearts. I speak in tongues I’m not anti tongues but it is only one way God chooses to speak through His people. As Paul says he speaks in tongues more than anyone else but he would rather say one or two words that people understood than a thousand they didn’t. At Pentecost the manifestation of tongues was prophetic it showed that the good news of Jesus Christ was for all people from every tribe and tongue. It foretold the fact that the good news of Jesus Christ would be preached in all the world’s languages. But it wasn’t the only gift God gives to his people by the Holy Spirit.

The other misconception about the Holy Spirit not being for all believers is that all this Holy Spirit stuff was for the first generation of the church, to go back to the motor vehicle analogy it gave a kick start but in the quote from Acts 2 we used in the baptism this morning the promise of God’s spirit was not only for those who believed but for their children as well. That is a Jewish way of saying for succeeding generations. Generation after generation.

We also try to domesticate the Holy Spirit when don’t realise that the Spirits purpose is to testify to Jesus Christ. We often see Pentecost as the birthday of the church but really it is the birthday of a mission movement, of a witnessing community not an institution. We domesticate the Holy Spirit when we don’t realise that the spirit will push us out towards the people Jesus loves in this world. In Acts chapter 2 the disciples had been meeting in the upper room, it was a closed shop they focused on their own agenda. In chapter one they prayed together but they also decided to replace Judas as one of the twelve. Internal structural stuff but the spirit come on them and they are propelled out of the upper room and Peter addresses a holiday crowd of well over three thousand people with boldness he declares the good news of Jesus Christ. He calls people to repent and believe.

In the Old Testament there is a bird image of God as a mother eagle pushing her children out of the nest and off the high cliffs they live on to teach them to fly and as they plummet to the ground the mother eagle swoops down to pick them up before they hit the rocks below and carry them back to the nest only to do it again and again until they learn to fly. (New Zeaalnd Poet James K Baxter uses the image of the mother eagle for the Holy Spirit in his poem 'The Song Of The Holy Spirit ) Throughout the book of acts we can see a pattern of the Holy Spirit pushing the Christians out of their nest. Through persecution they are pushed out of Jerusalem and share the good news with other towns in Judea. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit pushes Peter out of the Jewish nest to the gentile Cornelius’s house. The Spirit pushes Paul across the Aegean sea to Macedonia. Down through history when Christians have become inward focused and thinking its all about what happens in here, the spirit has stirred people up to follow the wild goose out to the people and world that God loves.

We can domesticate the Holy Spirit when we think it is simply for someone else and not for me. So let me ask have you had your Pentecost and allowed the spirit to come and roost in your lives, empowering you. Maybe you are still in Acts chapter 1 and just waiting or you are worried that the Spirit is too wild, you’ve been put off. But we know enough of God’s character to know that while God is not tame, God is Good. Remember the biblical image of the Spirit is the dove.  The wild thing is that God will fill us with his holy spirit if we ask him to. Its a promise he made through the prophet Joel. In Luke 11:11-13 Jesus says

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, 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!’

Maybe the spirit is calling you to take flight today. What are the dreams that God is giving you. The visions he has instilled in your hearts. What are the words and the actions that the spirit has placed in you to speak to the world of Christ? We often talk about a wild goose chase as an act of futility, like we talk about chasing the wind. Yet As Christians it’s not futile the Spirit of God wants to be found in us wants us to catch hold of what he wants us to do and calls us to follow him for the sake of the world that God loves.

Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn responds to that call like this:

I’m too old for the term but I’ll use it any way

I’ll be a child of the wind till the end of my days.

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