Last week I was watching my grandson learning to push a little trolley around. As I watched him I thought, “How on earth am going to tell people about this?” I could tell you that he was the cutest baby in the world, but that wouldn’t tell you much. All grandparents say things like that. I could say he had a grin from ear to ear but that might just be because he has a huge mouth. I could say that he was so proud of himself, but I am note sure about that. I know his parents were proud of him and I know that his grandparents are proud of him, but how do I know what he is feeling? It is just not possible to put into words the miracle of a baby learning to walk.
So how do we Christians tell people about the Holy Spirit? In the book of Genesis we hear that the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters. In my imagination I think of a great, dark mass of thought, churning like a thundercloud, waiting to burst open with life, so that light and darkness, day and night, dry land and oceans, all the plants and fish and breathing animals and humans come pouring out like a roaring flood of creativity.
Or maybe we translate those same words as, “The wind from God moved over the face of the waters.” Again my imagination takes over and I can see the dark waves stirred like a storm, the foam flying and the dark curving surface of the waves rising and falling in the force of the wind. Creation is at work and soon the universe will come into being as God’s voice roars over the water-flood – LET THERE BE LIGHT!
What I have just described could be made into a film – I am always amazed by what they can do with special effects. We can see fires, earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes on the television or at the movies and after we’ve recovered from the shock we smile and look around and the world is the same. We turn away from the TV and our room is still the same. Special effects have no real power.
But God’s Holy Spirit does have power. God’s Holy Spirit is not just a special effect. Ask people who have been caught up in the creative forces of the earth, a tsunami, a flood or a bushfire. A burst water pipe can make a mess of a road, but a tsunami can sweep a whole community away. We’re talking about forces which humans cannot control. With all our knowledge and skill, with our computers and flights into space, the forces of creation can terrify, overwhelm and destroy us.
We are never going to control God’s Holy Spirit any more than we can walk naked on the surface of the sun. The people of the Old Testament knew this very well. They knew that if they saw the face of God then they would die. “It is a terrible thing,” they said, “to fall into the hands of the Living God.”
Let us remember that God’s Holy Spirit is not given to us to play with; it is not a toy; it is not a tool for us to use; God’s Holy Spirit is the power of God and God alone understands and uses it.
The New Testament readings show God using the Holy Spirit. The disciples knew perfectly well that God could overwhelm them in a moment in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They knew that God could send down fire to consume them. But here in the reading from the book of acts we see something unexpected.
The fire comes, but it is not to destroy. The fire comes to give power from on high. The Holy Spirit of creation comes to be the creative spirit in the lives of ordinary humans. God’s Holy Spirit, which binds together all creation, is seen now as the key to human communication. Parthians, Medes and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrgia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, and we could add, Enmore and Stanmore, Liverpool and Hurlstone Park as well. All these people can hear the good news of God’s mighty deeds of power in their own language. Pentecost is a wonderful, powerful, amazing and joyful proclamation. God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” And to emphasisze the power of God’s Holy Psirit, the prophet Joel reminds us that this is the power of creation at work, heaven and earth are shaken, there is blood and fire and smoky mist.
And yet this awe inspiring power comes not to destroy but to save, to comfort and to clarify. The Holy Spirit testifies on Christ’s behalf to give us faith and confidence and hope. The Holy Spirit proves that our old ideas about sin and righteousness and judgement are wrong and misguided. The Holy Spirit comes to lead us into all truth. God knows that what we call truth now is only like a murky image in a dull mirror. The real truth is so bright and glorious that it will be an everlasting joy to know.
St Paul tells the Romans that they are like orphans in an orphanage, groaning with longing for a family to adopt them. At first the Holy Spirit shows us the possibility of everlasting joy, then we receive hope. Can it possibly be that I am going to receive new life? Is it possible that those who are caught in bushfires or floods or tsunamis will be restored? Is there any hope for them?
The Spirit answers, “Of course” because the Spirit helps us in our weakness, prays for us and keeps us in the mind of God. The truth that the Spirit brings is that every one of God’s children is kept safe in the heart of God, even those who are destroyed by the disastrous powers of creation.