On being affected/infected by the Spirit.
by Neal D. Presa
New Testament Reading: Acts 2:1-21
For Sunday, May 27, Year B − Pentecost
We would expect no less from God than purely phenomenal, surreal, out-of-this world events as Acts 2 and the writer of Ezekiel present: talking tongues of fire and skin-grafted bones rising from the ground, images that could easily fit in a remake of the movie The Poltergeist or a future finale episode of the hit TV series, The Walking Dead.
The disciples have witnessed some pretty crazy moments since following Jesus: multiplication of loaves and fishes, walking on water, healings, exorcisms, just to name a few. A modern ear listening to such tales would dispatch 911 to send those disciples to an insane asylum for fanciful imaginations.
But this is Pentecost, this is God’s world, this is the Holy Spirit on the move. Of course the tectonic plates of our fixed expectations and calcified thoughts need to be shaken up and stirred.
Whole Lotta Shaking
It happened before with the creation narratives, the flood, the exodus, the exile, Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ ascension.
Name the event, name the person, including your own experiences. We find whenever and wherever God intrudes, God introduces God’s self to change thinking, challenge belief, convert and convict the heart, and send those who witness these events (both those who are present and those who are hearing or reading the accounts) to testify of what they have seen and heard turning the world all topsy-turvy.
The promised gift-Advocate, the Holy Spirit, has appeared. Like unseen air, but like wind that makes its presence known with what it stirs, the mighty Spirit of God moves among the gathered people, causing acclamations of praise and prophecy.
What we see in the text are doubtless amazing signs of the wonder-working power of God. The difference between previous signs and this one is that the Spirit is penetrating the inward being of the ones speaking. The implication is that the Spirit has so bathed the gathered people with God’s breath, there is no part in that space, there is no one who is present, who will not be affected/infected by the Spirit.
Everything’s At Stake
The Spirit’s sheer presence and power demonstrates the comprehensiveness of God’s total rule and reign, and the summoning of the total praise of every person, place in heaven and earth. That be the case, preacher and professor Mark Labberton aptly inquires in The Dangerous Act of Worship, “What is at stake?” to which he replies, “Everything.”
God has been drawing a people to God’s self so that all of creation will, likewise, be drawn to God’s self, a total, complete, comprehensive reconciliation; the Spirit powerfully demonstrates that everything/everyone is at stake.
The vastness of God, of God’s agenda, of God’s will, of God’s work, and of God’s ways are too immense for us to grasp. And even if we could, it’s too overwhelming we wouldn’t know what to do with it.
It’s no wonder that even Jesus warned the disciples in John’s Gospel that what he has to say is too much to bear (John 16:12). The Spirit will, therefore, instruct us and guide us, will gradually introduce us, as if holding us by the hand to take a walking tour of the grandeur of God’s kingdom. God’s Spirit is, indeed, needed when everything is at stake.
The Hardest Question
The Church as we have known it is changing. Whenever God acts, the historic response is amazement, perplexity, and an attempt to interpret and understand. But with everything still on the line, will history repeat itself once again, in our generation? Is the Church ever beyond the point of Spiritual reanimation?
Neal Presa is pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in Middlesex, New Jersey, and a member of the residential faculty of New Brunswick Theological Seminary in the capacity of Affiliated Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship. Neal is a candidate for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He and his wife have two sons, and have traveled to six continents, including the Caribbean. He loves black coffee, running, Banana Republic suits, and NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.” He dabbles in the world of liturgical and ecumenical theology through writings, meetings, and teaching. Visit www.NealPresa.com