SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:1-11
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All 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. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Jana Childers offers an interesting perspective on this passage when sharing that,
‘The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,’ the elders of the Pentecostal church where I grew up were fond of saying: “He never forces his way in, and goes only where he is invited.” But the first few verses of Acts 2 seem to tell a different story. Set up by Jesus’ touting (1:4-8) and by the vivid, almost lurid, imagery used to describe the scene, the Holy Spirit’s entrance in Luke’s story is anything but discreet. No gentleman caller, this violent phenomenon enters the room with a roar. The ruckus draws such a crowd (2:6) and causes such agitation (vv. 6-7, 12-13) that Peter has to raise his voice to be heard. In Acts the coming of the Holy Spirit is associated not with polite murmurs, white gloves, and dainty manners but, as Jesus predicted, with power—the kind of power that could knock a person into orbit, even ‘to the ends of the earth.’
Of course the church elders were not entirely wrong about the Holy Spirit’s nature. (Their metaphor of choice is lamentably male but not wrong.) The ‘gentlemanly’ view not only speaks eloquently of the spiritual experience of many, but resonates with numerous descriptions of the Holy Spirit found in Scripture. In addition, the setting of the Acts story makes it clear that the Holy Spirit was being invited or at least waited for (1:4, 14).
On balance, the kinder, gentler view of the Holy Spirit may well be the more accurate one. Apart from this text, there is little evidence of the Holy Spirit working in any ‘violent’ fashion. Many Christians have become accustomed to thinking of the Holy Spirit as more of a Hawaiian breeze than a Chicago gale. However, this important passage may at least remind contemporary congregations that the Spirit does not always arrive as a still, small voice or a faint stirring in the heart. The Holy Spirit’s power is not always subtle, fragile, or polite. Even today it can be electric, atomic, and volcanic.
Childer’s offering here is an interesting one to me on several levels. Growing up, I do not remember the Holy Spirit ever really having a gender assigned to it and it always did seem to be referenced in that kind of “Hawaiian breeze” kind of way. But when I was in seminary, I often heard the Holy Spirit referred to as Sophia and having a female gender assignment. I later learned that Sophia in Greek means wisdom, which when we think about the role of the Holy Spirit makes perfect sense.
I also remember one of my preaching instructors warning us early in our classes that there would be moments when we would be all ready to go on Sunday morning, thinking we had our best sermon ever, ready to preach, and Sophia would tap us on our shoulder and essentially say, “Yeah, what you have there is all well and good, but I need you to talk about this right now, so let’s switch gears.” And I can honestly say I have had those moments. For me, they were a little more forceful than a “Hawaiian breeze” (or what I assume one is like, I have never been there), but those moments were also not the “Chicago gale” (I DO know what those are like) that we seem to read about in Acts chapter two. I would put those moments somewhere in the middle, leaning closer to that “Hawaiian breeze,” but one that intensifies when ignored.
How have you experienced the Holy Spirit in your own life? Have you had “Hawaiian breeze” interactions or more of the “Chicago gale” kind of experiences?
Triune God, the Holy Spirit comes to continue to lead and guide us in the ways of Jesus Christ and to strengthen our knowledge and relationship with you. Whether through gentle blowing or powerful gusts, the Holy Spirit’s presence is always with us in our lives. Help us to be more intentional about listening for the Holy Spirit’s direction, to open our hearts and minds to the wisdom that is offered. Amen.