Pentecost – Forming and Filling | Genesis 1:1-27 & Acts 2:1-4, 42-47
A reflection by Dan Spragg
Today is the day all around the globe that many Christians will be gathering to celebrate the event of Pentecost – that promised day in which the Spirit of God descended on that gathering of Jesus’ followers and gave birth in a spectacular way to the church. This is the day we might focus on the tongues of fire or on the outpouring of many languages but I’m kind of interested in something else. You would have noticed in the reading that we skipped a whole lot of the chapter and ended up landing on the description of that first Christian Community – that somewhat idyllic picture of the early church. There seems to me to be a few characteristics of that community that could be worth paying attention to for us as we gather here today as a Christian community on Pentecost Sunday. Before we get into those however it is worth noting that this moment here in the book of Acts isn’t of course the first time the Spirit has moved… so before we take a look at the characteristics of that early Christian community which seem to me to be a result of the Sprit’s coming at Pentecost, I’d like us to pick up an important thread from the very first move of the Spirit captured for us in that poem of creation from Genesis 1.
You may or may not have noticed that there is a certain symmetry to this poem. It’s quite a rhythmic piece of work. I really am in debt to the Pastor and Teacher Rob Bell for first alerting me to this idea. There is this rhythm and groove to this poem… firstly the refrain of evening/morning… evening/morning, first day… evening/morning, second day… also the sense of word and action… God spoke, and it was… God spoke, and it was… but the big one which I think is helpful to us today is the sense of forming and filling. Light, dark, sky, water, land and sea – all these things are formed… this is the first three days. Then sun, moon, birds, fish, animals and humans fill these spaces that have been formed. Forming and filling – it seems that the Spirit of God which hovers over the deep as a dynamic presence right at the beginning then goes about forming and filling, forming and filling, forming and filling until we, humankind are brought to life with the breath of God as it is breathed into us. We are formed and filled with the Spirit of God.
There is also another aspect to this poem that is helpful – It seems in this forming and filling and in the instructions to fill the earth and multiply, to be and to eat food, there is a certain amount of structure and rhythm to it. There is a sense of harmony in this poem. There is forming and there is filling and there is function – work to do – and in it there seems to be a sort of hum… The sense is that it works, that it weaves together to create a world of existence of plenty and of flourishing. Of course when humanity is being formed in the image and likeness of God and filled with the Spirit we are given a specific purpose. We are to have dominion over all that has been created. With regards to this dominion there is a strong argument that all our English translations get that word ‘over’ wrong though. The Hebrew word reads ‘beth’ which is ‘with’. So it would be better to say that we are to have dominion ‘with’ all of creation. Another way to say dominion of course is to call it ‘power’. It certainly doesn’t take long to realise that power ‘over’ could be the cause of a number of terrible
things throughout history and today. Power ‘over’ looks very different to power ‘with’. Exercising power over things tends to lead to abuse, exercising power with things tends to lead towards partnership, collaboration and empowerment. The theologian Marva Dawn writes: “Just imagine what difference it would make in the earth if we Christians always understood that we are to have dominion with the creatures, that together we would continue to live in the harmony that is suggested by the structure and rhythms of the Genesis 1 liturgy. What would happen if we translated ‘dominion over’ with ‘leadership in harmony with’ instead?”
What I take from all this, is that the Spirit’s work, that very early movement of the Spirit was the work of forming and filling, of giving life, function and identity all for the purpose of the rhythmic, harmonic interweaving good and flourishing of all that was. All creation is an artwork of God and we are tasked with the job of leading in harmony with as the image and likeness of God in the world. That is the legacy of that first move of the Spirit. Let’s keep this in mind as we jump now back to the book of Acts.
The Pentecost event is a moment when the Spirit moved once again. As Jesus promised the Spirit came and I would say, continued in the tradition of the Spirit’s work. That early Christian community was formed and filled on that Pentecost day. The Christian community, the Church or the Body of Christ was formed into being and filled with the breath of the Spirit, the life of God. A little bit like the dry bones from Ezekiel 37, the body was drawn together and infused with a new life to be the body of Christ in the world. The point of which of course was to bear witness to Christ, to that new creation born on Easter Sunday, to be and to point to the life of God in the world – there are massive similarities at play here.
In Genesis it looked like exercising leadership in harmony with all things. A sense of care-taking, stewarding, working with and working for, bringing all things to flourish. In Acts and the description of this early church there are four characteristics that I believe existed because of the Spirit’s forming and filling work, there is a sense in which the community lived and acted as they did because of the Spirit’s life in their midst. They were devoted to worship, teaching and prayer; they were committed to sharing their resources so that none went without; they hosted one another in their homes sharing their lives and their tables; they proclaimed the Good News of Jesus through both word and deed. Devotion, resource, hospitality and proclamation, these were the Spirit filled characteristics that gave shape to that early Christian community as a result of the forming and filling of God and what are these things if they aren’t a continuation of living in harmony with all for the flourishing of all. It seems as far as I can tell that the creative act of the Spirit of God on that Pentecost day was a continuation of that creative work testified to in Genesis. The Spirit of God if we were to put it simply, seems to be about the forming and filling of the world to establish the beautiful and harmonious order of God that enables all creation to live and to flourish. We’ve mentioned two instances of the Spirit’s forming and filling but there’s an old doxology that to me sums up the full timeline of this forming and filling activity… ‘As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.’ If you catch my drift, I’m working on the assumption that the Spirit’s forming and filling work is an ongoing thing…yes in the beginning, yes in the midst of many biblical stories, yes on that day of Pentecost, but also yes with us where we are today. I say this because it’s hard to imagine that we are, let alone the whole creation, is fully matured, formed and filled in the love of God yet. I believe there’s very much a sense of forming and filling that is ongoing. We simply have to ask a simple question to sort that issue out: ‘Are all people in every place and is all creation in every place living and growing in complete harmony towards full and abundant flourishing?’ God it seems to me is still in the business of forming and filling… the world doesn’t seem to be finished yet… I for one, certainly aren’t fully grown in the maturity and character of who God calls me to be, are you? There is yet forming and filling to do!
The work at Pentecost is obviously work that is in the same kind as that at creation. It is the forming of Christian community in its fullness and filling it with the life of God which gives birth to that which enables the blessing of all in and through that community. Do we see this among us? Do we see the visible results of the Spirit’s forming and filling – devotion in worship, teaching and prayer; the sharing of resource so that none go without; hospitality and true sharing of our lives together; proclamation in word and deed of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Of course we see these things in our midst for the Spirit after all is our enabler and has grown the life of God within us but have we reached the end yet? The point being for us is as The Village as a still newly formed Christian community, do we welcome and allow God’s Spirit to fill us with the breath and power of God? Do we each as individuals and we as a collective step into what the Spirit wishes to enable in and through us? Do we allow our hearts to be continually formed and filled so that our lives are lived as a blessing to one another and to the world? Do we ask, seek and knock? Are we open, attentive and inviting to the Spirit? As we continue to form together and our life is filled, can we be open to the ongoing forming and filling that God wants to lead us into, to breathe into us?
As we go about being the body of Christ where we are – a community forming and being filled by the Spirit of God – my prayer is that we be open, that we seek more of the forming and filling of the Spirit, that we be willing to learn, to grow and to adapt so that we may take on that old command of leading in harmony with all that is around us. May we grow continually in devotion in worship, teaching and prayer, may we grow in our sharing so that none go without, may we grow in true hospitality, the deep sharing of life and may we proclaim in word and in deed the Good News of Christ for the flourishing of not only ourselves but for those around us and indeed for the world.
 Marva Dawn, In the Beginning God: Creation, Culture and the Spiritual Life, p46.