This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Today, and over the next five weeks, we’ll be looking together at the work of the Holy Spirit, asking who the Holy Spirit of the Christian faith is and what that Holy Spirit does.
Back in the 90s, as an introduction to a conversation about the Holy Spirit, I asked a group of Confirmation youth how they would define a “spiritual person.” Their answers? They were as different as the number of people in the room. “A spiritual person is someone who prays a lot,” one young person in my class said. “A spiritual person believes in miracles!” said another with a smile. “Someone who is spiritual is someone who is Goth…who wears black all the time,” said yet another. The upshot of these initial impressions about “spiritual people” seemed to be that they were out of the ordinary and perhaps more deeply pious or somehow more visibly enriched by God’s power than others. While I’d like to think that years of seminary training and teaching the Word of God have perfectly removed that yearning for the Holy Spirit to make me and others “spiritual people” who are somehow MORE than ordinary, recipients of an extra measure of human glory, too often I find that my me-centered orientation to the gift of the Holy Spirit is still there.
Pentecost Sunday is a day that the Holy Spirit reorients us to the needs of our neighbors. Pentecost Sunday gives us the chance to read again of the promise of God to pour out His Spirit on “all flesh” so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” and be enlivened, together, by God’s Word. It’s a day to give thanks to God that the proclamation of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins turns the hearts of all who repent and are baptized away from themselves toward others—bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit in the process. It’s a day to notice you cannot completely unravel the work of the Holy Spirit from that of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The closing image of our text for this Sunday (you can read it here) is this: “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” That’s not so much a story that celebrates the piety of the early Christians so much as it is an account of the resurrected Jesus Christ, present among the members of His Body, the Church, through His Spirit, where He was still at work to “[empty] himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
The Holy Spirit used the members of the early church not to build glorious towers to heaven in order to make a name for themselves (compare Acts 2 to the Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11) but to the joy of self-sacrifice on behalf of the name of Jesus. It would bring many of them persecution and even martyrdom. Where is the Holy Spirit calling you, to the joy of serving this week, even though there may be “nothing in it” for you? Whose name will you choose to serve?