Acts 2:1-21 The dynamic, powerful presence of God!
Reflection by David Coster
Walker Percy in Lost in the Cosmos mused ironically about the fate of we post modern people who spend literally millions trying to get chimps to talk and billions on space stations attentively listening for an extraterrestrial blip that might speak to us or be an indicator that life in some form exists somewhere else in space.
He went on to comment that as we spend billions upon billions upon such scientific ventures, we are very sheepish about the possibility of a personal God and positively sceptical about whether God has anything important to say to us. In this age of personal deconstruction, we seem impoverished in our search for meaning and value. In the Western world the prevailing world view would seem to hold that there is no author and there is no text. We are all there is – which is secular humanism.
Walker Percy says that how we view the world has extreme significance not only for us but for future generations. He says that question have to be asked and answers sought not only by academics and politicians, but by all of us.
What is at the bottom of things? Is the grind of impersonal machinery doomed to the laws of nature? (as we understand them to be) Is the answer to be found in survival of the fittest, the endless cycle of nature marked by convulsion, evolutionary chance and final destruction of all? Are we the final makers of our own destiny?
How would you answer those sorts of questions? Do you agree with Walker Percy’s assessment of the post-modern outlook, world view and values of our fellow citizens of the world as the driving force behind how we view and live our lives?
Those of us who are followers of Jesus also have a voice in this debate as to what is the ultimate purpose and destiny of the world and humankind – what it is that lies behind our existence and the values by which we should live our lives. We also have a voice to add to the ultimate destiny of the world and humankind. This cannot be left to the realm of the scientist, the politicians and the military strategists of the world as if it is only their viewpoint that matters
Strange as it may seem to us the questions being asked by Walker Percy are not new ones. In the Book of Deuteronomy, written to tell of the foundations of the nation of Israel/Judea thousands of years ago, we find similar questions.
The questions are worded differently but still have the same intent.
The answer Moses gave to such questions was answered with a question. “Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Have people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire and live?”
The answer given by many people to the question of Moses was, “Don’t be silly. Such things don’t happen.” But the Moses interpretation was totally different. He said that he did hear God speaking from the midst of the fire and he lived. For him the absolute not only had a voice, but was also mother and father to all, protector, nurturer and guide.
For Moses we are not mere effluent or excrescence of the silent aeons of the cosmos and its earth. We are God’s children – with all that that entails in the parent child relationship.
Let me explain – firstly by way of reference to the Day of Pentecost and then by taking us back in to the history of the nation of Judea/Israel.
Pentecost is a Harvest Festival in Judaism. It was one of the three pilgrimage feasts that drew all Jews who were able to, to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the occasion. It is for this reason that the crowd gathered in Jerusalem was diverse – coming from many nations around the Mediterranean. The word Pentecost derives its name from the prefix (the Greek pente-) because it fell on the fiftieth day after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during the Passover observances.
It was on this occasion that the Holy Spirit was gifted by God to the disciples of Jesus and the church was born. The description by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles is one of metaphor rather than literal assertion. In the New Revised Standard Version, the Greek is translated, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…” At the centre of the passage’s verses and meaning is the speaking in other languages. Note, first it is a tongue as of fire resting on each of them, and then the disciples using their tongue to speak in other languages. Unlike the ‘speaking in tongues” (glossolalia) or speaking in ecstatic tongues which Paul mention in 1 Corinthians 14:2 as not being understood by anybody, the language used on the Day of Pentecost enables communication with the diverse crowd that has gathered from many different nations. The list of people and nations goes in an East-West flow, a detail reflective of Genesis 11.
The Spirit’s gathering thus reaches not only beyond borders and different peoples but even beyond time.
The focal event of the gathering was Peter’s preaching to the people gathered when many accused the disciples of being intoxicated. In a way the disciples are not drunk with wine but drunk with the possibilities of a world cracked open by the descent of the power of God – the power or presence we know as the Holy Spirit. This is an unexpected occurrence both for the disciples and the crowd. The detractors say that what they are witnessing cannot be a Godly activity but a human one. The disciples are not filled with the Spirit of God – they are filled with alcoholic spirit. In other words, they are saying, “God does not act in this way.”
The fact that God acts in this way shouldn’t have surprised the Jews or the disciples. Right from the opening Genesis story where God is making a dwelling place for himself amongst the people the story continues as an interaction between God and God’s people. The ancient ‘six’ days, or ‘stages’ of creation indicate to people of the ancient Near East, that creation itself, heaven and earth together, is a kind of temple, a dwelling place for God. Heaven and earth are the place of God’s activity.
In the Exodus, the story of the people being released from bondage and slavery in Egypt, the astonishing thing is not only that God, through Moses, enables his people to be freed but also that God accompanies the people on the journey through the wilderness. God does not leave them to their own resources. He gives them God’s law – the Ten Commandments – their way of living. God also gives instruction for the building of the Tabernacle where God will “dwell in their midst.”
Despite idolatry and rebellion God does not give up on his people. They are his and he will not let them go. God’s love is greater than their sinfulness – the human ability to stuff things up. This is the story of the Old Testament from beginning to end. This pattern of God intending to live among his people, being rejected because of the rebellion of the people, but coming back in grace to do so is, in a measure, the whole story of the Old Testament. Magnify the Exodus story and project it on to the whole screen of history and you have the larger story of God active in the world.
God being present in Jesus and the gifting of the Spirit of God to the disciples at the Pentecostal festival is simply a continuation of the Old Testament story.
For us the story of God’s activity in our world did not finish with Pentecost. That same spirit of God is active in our world, in your life and mine. We may not speak in other languages; we may not get accused of being drunk – but the reality is still the same: this is God’s world, we are God’s people, God is with us through his Spirit.
To God be the glory. Amen