The stories of the Old Testament feature some outstanding leaders. Moses – not a natural leader (Ex 4.10, 13) – manages the impossible. Joshua forges forward; David is the ideal king. Even the prophets, who can be forbidding in their more extreme, but often symbolic, behaviour (eg Ezekiel 4, 1 Kinsg 22.11, Hosea 1) have to be listened to by their fellows because they speak and act for God, opening a divine communication channel. For all of these, it is the Spirit of God that makes the difference. When Samuel anoints Saul as King, the Spirit makes the difference (1 Samuel 10, 11.10), and when the Spirit leaves him (1 Samuel 16.14) he is finished.
As we come into the New Testament, we are ready to understand that the coming of God’s Spirit on Jesus at his baptism (Mark 1.10) and John’s recognition of the Spirit with him (John 1.32) point the way to something special. Through his ministry, there is power and purpose, and God is seen at work wonderfully. But still the people, even the disciples, watch and “behave themselves”. It is the rather passive role of the avoidance of evil that many Anglicans over the years seem to have adopted as Christian practice.
Until Pentecost! Fifty days after Easter (so a variable date, which we celebrate this year on 8 June) the Spirit comes to stay with ordinary Christians. Now the power and purpose previously shown in a few, exceptional people, is poured on all who will receive it. In the pages that follow Acts 2, we see a new form of religious life. No longer the negative code of just avoiding evil, but the life lived for, and with God. Ordinary people become agents of transformation, sharing the gifts they now recognise and receive, and being a blessing to others.
In recent years, it seems we have forgotten to celebrate Pentecost (even the numbers in Church reflect that). Disaster! Our life has to be built on it, and nearly half the year is labelled “Sundays after Pentecost” as we work out how it makes a difference.
Andrew Knight ‘14
How often have you complained of being tired, or lacking the “get up and go” factor? Do you use your age, or state of health, as an excuse to avoid some activities? Then Pentecost (27 May, and the season on until November) is a dangerous time. It is a half-truth to say that the Holy Spirit powers the Christian life. Certainly its arrival on the day of Pentecost enlivened the disciples, and gave them an energy that threatened those hoping that, after the death of Jesus, everything would settle down and “go back to normal”.
Yet it would be quite unfair to market the Holy Spirit as some sort of energy pill. The Spirit does energise and direct Christian living; He is a vital ingredient, without which nothing will work properly, but – well, remember Jesus got tired. So, what should we be looking for, as we not only celebrate the Day of Pentecost, but move on to a season counted by Sundays after Pentecost?
It would be wrong to think that we could pray for the Holy Spirit, then sit back and enjoy the ride. To pray for the Spirit is a good idea, but we have to continue to take responsibility for our direction, activities – and mistakes. The Spirit may help us focus, and use energy wisely for the right things and at the right time, which is wonderful as long as you don’t expect to be tireless, or infallible. Sometimes the effect can be to get us into tight corners (read the Acts of the Apostles!).
Again, the Spirit, and “praying in the Spirit”, may help avoid the waste energy of worry and useless anger. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever experience these things – just that there is a way of being helped. Perhaps the best way of thinking about it would be a sporting comparison. If you played tennis doubles with an expert, you would be advised, helped, carried – but could still get in the way, fail to take instructions, or use your head. It would be a hard game, but a rewarding one. Christian life is life with the Holy Spirit; we need to learn how to take full advantage, and play hard.
Andrew Knight ‘12