In the gospels we have two different accounts of “the giving of the Spirit”. The most familiar one, because it lends itself more easily to a church calendar of services is the one placed by Luke (who wrote the book of Acts) on the feast of Pentecost. The less familiar one is from John’s gospel where the Spirit is breathed on the disciples on Easter Sunday.
The meaning that Luke means to convey by placing this event on the Jewish feast of Pentecost is nowadays lost on most modern Christians but by the time Luke was writing the feast had also gained a significance as a festival celebrating the giving of the law to the Jewish people.
Luke wanted to say load and clear that the New Covenant (the new law) is to be written on our hearts, and is available to all people. By placing the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost Luke is saying The New Covenant surpasses (or fulfils) the old covenant.
The version that comes to us in John’s gospel is much more Christological. In John’s gospel the Spirit of God is breathed through Jesus to the disciples whereas in Luke’s account there is a sound from heaven like a rushing wind followed by tongues of fire.
But in both, the Spirit is the Spirit of God, an immediate presence, a counsellor , a comforter. To use picture language, If the Father is God outside of us, Jesus is God beside us, then The Holy Spirit is God within us.
We are to listen to the promptings of the Spirit of God who will guide us into all truth. Discerning the voice of God in our life is the true work of the Christian. Why? Because that is what Jesus did.
He prayed with others, he prayed on his own, and constantly sought the will of God in any situation. As he prayed in the garden of Gethsemene “Yet not my will but yours”.
Jesus interpreted the commandments in the light of the Spirit of God prompting him to do so. Instead of making the commandments looser, it made them even stronger. For example, hating someone in your heart became as bad as murder in an individual’s soul because both things were caused by the same impulse!
Praying for yourself or someone else to receive the Spirit of God is the highest spiritual work you can do. A prayer like that is like a voice crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of God, to carve out of the moral, social, political and personal wildernesses that we find ourselves a place for God, for his will and character to be worked out through us, to build God’s kingdom on earth, to continue the work started by Jesus 2000 years ago.
That is our work. Both individually and as part of the corporate entity we call the church. That is our mission. In choosing to listen to and be directed by God’s Spirit, discerned through prayer and attentive and insightful attention to scripture, we become agents of God’s will in the world, just as Jesus was a vessel used to reveal God’s character and will in the world.
This is what I mean when I say that all Christian witness must be “Pentecostal” to be truly Christian. Pentecostal is understood as being led by the Spirit of God.
Given that I’ve already said that praying for either ourselves or others to receive the Spirit of God is the highest spiritual work any of us can do it would be odd if that wasn’t exactly what we are going to do now.
So let us pray.
First let us still ourselves and consciously open ourselves to the possibility of God making himself known to you and to others in our lives and allowing ourselves to be changed by that encounter, to become spiritually alive to the Spirit of God;
Ask God to show you who to pray for. It might be yourself, you might want to name a friend or family member, you might want to pray for people in your street, or this village; make your request known, and as we sit in openness and anticipation let me pray this familiar, ancient, catholic yet thoroughly Pentecostal prayer on behalf of us all.
Unto whom all hearts are open,
All desires known, and no secrets are hidden.
Cleanse the thought of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
That we may perfectly love you
And worthily magnify your Holy name
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.