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Church talk: The age of the spirit

Friday 26 May 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features

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Church talk: The age of the spirit
Today as we celebrate Pentecost, we recall another promise made and kept by God. John the Baptist promised: “There is one to come mightier than I … he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”. Biblword/23052545

Our world needs witnesses to the love Jesus preached and exhibited from the cross. We are a Spirit-filled church and must transcend all barriers of race, gender, economic class, languages and cultures, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

On Sunday the 28th of May which comes 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter, we celebrate in most churches, the sending of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit as our helper (John 14;17). This Helper is to be with us forever. When Jesus was taken up into heaven (Luke 24:51) Jesus assured his followers that he would not be leaving them as orphans as he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them (John 14: 18).

Four symbols stand out for me which we use to represent the Holy Spirit today. The dove, the tongues of fire, the wind, and the fact that the disciples spoke in different tongues.

“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Acts 2:2–4

The dove

St Luke describes the coming of the Spirit at Jesus’ baptism as a dove descending on Him. So the dove has often been the symbol for the Spirit in religious art and architecture. That is a love image and it captures the gentleness of God’s coming amongst us. Recall the appearance of the dove to Noah as a sign of the Flood’s ending and of peace. In the New Testament the dove is the offering of the poor in the temple. If the Spirit descended on Jesus in visible form like a dove it shows the Gospel using a symbol that identifies where God’s heart lies – with the poor.

Tongues of fire

In Acts, the tongues of fire represent the presence of God the Holy Spirit. This fulfils John the Baptist’s prophecy that the Messiah would baptise “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). This also means that the purifying work of the Holy Spirit carries on in our lives today.

The wind

However, we don’t meet the gentle dove in today’s Pentecost event from Acts. Instead we get a vivid and action-packed story with a sound like driving wind, tongues of fire and immediate animated activity by the community. In the text above the Spirit is noisy, very public, felt and accompanied by public signs.

They spoke in different tongues

The Bible tells us when humans, filled with pride, attempted to build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1 – 9) there were divisions and a multitude of unintelligible languages. Now Pentecost restores unity, and with the Spirit the Church goes out to preach the Gospel. Before the coming of the Spirit, the assembled disciples were a shattered and confused collection of would-be disciples. After the Spirit came the group became bold and articulate, ready to respond to their original calling, to be fishers of men.

Pentecost today

Today as we celebrate Pentecost, we recall another promise made and kept by God. John the Baptist promised: “There is one to come mightier than I … he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”. The Risen Christ speaking to the Eleven, before he was taken up to heaven promised, “See, I send down upon you the promise of my Father. Remain here in the city unto you are clothed with power from on high”.

Once again God has seen our need, and in Christ keeps a promise. Today we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to the apostles and 120 disciples. (Acts 2: 15)

The early church, found in the Acts of the Apostles, frequently asked this question. “Whose baptism did you receive?” Were you baptised in water by John or did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” (Acts 19; 1-3). This question is relevant today. If we are influenced by John, religion is all about repenting of our sinfulness. If of the Spirit we will be focused on witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ.

For me this distinction between water and spirit comes out in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In speaking of the fruits of the Holy Spirit Paul named the following fruits: Charity, joy and peace, patience, understanding of others, kindness and fidelity, gentleness and self-control. Whereas if we allow the flesh to dominate then we are facing fornication, impurity and shamelessness, idol worship and sorcery, hatred, jealousy and violence, anger, ambition, division, factions and envy, drunkenness and orgies and the like (Galatians 5.16 – 24). While we would have all been disturbed by a recent murder, hopefully it has reminded us to seek the way of the spirit and to control the flesh. Let us live dominated by the spirit.

Our world needs witnesses to the love Jesus preached and exhibited from the cross. We are a Spirit-filled church and must transcend all barriers of race, gender, economic class, languages and cultures. God needs us and so supplies us with the Spirit so we can like Jesus proclaim God’s love and peace to the world through our actions and words.