You received a Spirit

By Jim Vitale

Acts 2:1-21

2,000 years ago the Jewish community in Jerusalem gathered together to celebrate the holy festival of Shavuot. Shavuot, or Pentecost as it came to be known, was the day when the Jewish people celebrated the giving of the law on Mt Sinai. Shavuot was, in a sense, the birthday of Israel, the day when God gave the law to Moses and adopted the Israelites as God’s chosen people. Shavuot was also a day to celebrate and give thanks to God for the harvest.

About 120 Jewish people gathered in a back corner of Jerusalem—but these Jewish people were different. These Jewish people were followers of a Rabbi named Jesus, who had been crucified a couple months ago. But they believed that he had been raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven. So these Jewish people gathered together on Shavuot because they were not sure they would be welcome in any of the other synagogues or gathering places around or outside the city. They gathered together because they needed to be with other people who had experienced and followed this Jesus as well. And, they gathered together because Jesus had promised to send them someone else, an advocate, a helper, a guide; but days and weeks had passed and this person hadn’t come. So they waited. They celebrated Shavuot. And they waited.

I want you to remember the worst storm you’ve ever been caught in. Remember the rumble, maybe even the loud CRACK, of the thunder. Remember how the winds blew and howled, how trees came down across the roads and on power lines. Remember the relief you felt to be safely inside or the fear you felt to be trapped out in it.

Now imagine being gathered here together in this sanctuary with your church. And now imagine that that terrible storm you experienced is happening, not outside, but inside, in the sanctuary. Imagine that while the sun shines brightly across blue skies outside, raging wind and roaring thunder shake the insides of this church. Candles blow out. Bulletins swirl up on wind currents. Thunder claps echo back and forth off this vaulted ceiling.

That is what that small band of Christians felt as they waited. A mighty wind seemingly out of nowhere. A noise like thunder. The arrival of the Holy Spirit. The advocate, the helper, the guide that Jesus promised was finally here.

It’s easy to look back on the events of that first Christian Pentecost and think of them as a one-time thing. The Spirit wasn’t there, and then, in dramatic fashion, the Spirit showed up. And, in some ways, it was a one-time thing because that’s how it happened for the first disciples gathered on Shavuot.

But the arrival of the Spirit isn’t a one-time thing. Not really. Throughout Luke’s gospel (which serves as the prequel to Acts) we hear about the Spirit settling on lots of people: Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna, to name a few. The Spirit had already been busy before Pentecost, blowing around, landing on individual people, preparing the way for Jesus. It’s just that the Spirit hadn’t yet settled on the church. And then, on Pentecost, it finally did for the first time.

I say for the first time because that’s not the only time the Spirit has settled on the gathered community of the faithful. It actually happens every time we get together! Every time we are gathered in the name of Jesus, whether it is to worship, or serve those in need, or even to have a council meeting, the Spirit descends upon us. Like the wind, sometimes the Spirit shows up in quiet ways, a gentle breeze comforting you or nudging you in the right direction. And sometimes the Spirit shows up like a hurricane blasting you with a revelation or pushing you hard in the right direction. Whatever the case, the Spirit comes, not just on those first disciples, but upon all of us.

In Romans 8:14, Paul says that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. That means that everyone upon whom the Spirit falls is one of God’s children; and all of God’s children are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. That means that every person here has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every person here has been claimed as one of God’s children.

Paul goes on to say that we have been given not a Spirit of fear, but a Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). This means that the Holy Spirit does not push us away from God, but rather draws us closer to God. We who have the Spirit have been adopted as God’s children; and if God is your father, your mother, your protector, your provider, then what could you possibly have to fear?

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been made heirs with Christ, Paul says. This means that we, as God’s children, are entitled to everything that is given to Jesus. We have a share in all that is to come. This means that, while we may, and indeed we will suffer in this life, just as Christ suffered in his life, so we too will be given the gift of eternal life, resurrection, reconciliation into perfect, loving relationship with God. Whatever has been granted unto God’s son Jesus will, in time, be granted unto we God’s children.

And perhaps the best gift of all is that the Spirit “intercedes for us”, as Paul says (Romans 8:22-27). The Holy Spirit is not some distant thing. You are now living in an episode of some divine version of Property Brothers or Fixer Upper. The Holy Spirit has evicted whatever malicious things have taken up residence within us, and now she’s begun the renovation. She, the Holy Spirit, is as close to us as we are to ourselves. She is right by our side and she will never leave us. And in those moments when life is too hard and we have no idea what to pray, Paul tells us, it’s okay—because we have the Holy Spirit within us and she will pray to God on our behalf; she will speak to God when we don’t have the words to say.

On the day you were baptized, you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you remember that day or maybe you don’t but either way, when you were baptized into Christ and the church, the Holy Spirit came upon you and has been with you ever since. All these great gifts that Paul and Luke describe—becoming a child of God, receiving eternal life, having a friend beside you, within you, every step of the way—all of these things are yours and have been since the day you were baptized. The Holy Spirit is with you. Believe it.

And, if you listen very, very closely, you can hear the wind stirring.

A holy hurricane is coming.

The Holy Spirit is here!