2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Growing up I thought the Holy Spirit’s only real function was to tell us when we were doing something wrong. The idea was that I was so depraved that I could never understand how sinful I might be without the Holy Spirit letting me know. Oh, the Holy Spirit was also useful for telling me what things I should be doing. Generally things I was terrified of like “witnessing” to strangers.
The Holy Spirit was a mystical entity. I didn’t really understand how he (and yes, even the Holy Spirit got a male pronoun) was really supposed to work. There were complicated explanations about how all three members of the Trinity were one and the same; the Holy Spirit was some part of an egg (you know, the shell, egg white, and yolk are all the same egg but different parts). Plus, a sin against the Holy Spirit was the only one that could damn you for all eternity with no hope of salvation. I was always worried about that one even as I wasn’t sure how, exactly, one sinned against the Holy Spirit.
As an adult I still don’t really get all of it. It’s like we trot out this mysterious third person of the trinity when we need some fireworks and then other times we just ignore it. It’s complicated to read this passage in Acts. People speaking in different languages, accusations of being drunk and then Peter speechifying about visions and prophecies. What the heck? And we couple it with passages about Jesus sending a comforter and Jesus breathing on his disciples. What are we to make of all of this?
I know there are fancy exegetical pieces about the language used. Jesus’ breathing on the disciples is the same word used for the breath of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. But what really interests me is this idea of who gets the Holy Spirit. In my youth it was only the saved who got the Holy Spirit. It was like a magical infusion when you “accepted Jesus into your heart”.
But I wonder if instead the Holy Spirit is recognizing the spark of divinity that we all have within us? Instead of being so depraved that we can’t even know when we’re sinning, what if instead we are so jaded that we can’t see when we’re being holy? We need someone to remind us of the goodness they see inside of us. It’s like the disciples thought that without Jesus they wouldn’t have the courage to stand up the Empire and so Jesus breathes on them and say, I’m leaving a part of myself with you. You have the courage you just need to recognize it.
There’s an oft quoted piece by Marrianne WIlliamson where she says that our biggest fear isn’t that we’re inadequate, it’s that we’re powerful beyond all measure. I think there is a lot of truth in that. I spent a lot of my youth so worried about being prideful and worrying about stepping out of bounds that reigned myself in. I was so worried about making other people unhappy that I couldn’t listen to the voice inside myself telling me what the right thing to do was. I stayed closeted for far too long, compromised what I believed for far too long, hid myself away.
Instead I should have been living life in all of its fulness, living up to my full potential, being everything that I am created to be. Being bold about what I believe and who I am. That, to me, is the work of the Holy Spirit within a life. And the work of life is to always be trying to embrace that spark inside of us. To listen to the voice that tells us when we’re not being our best, not negatively, but as a push to live into our wholeness.
May the spirit fall upon us and light the flame in our hearts. May we have the courage and the energy to dream a new world into being. May we have the courage and the energy to embrace our truest selves and by that embrace to bring about healing.