McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Tim

Light a candle

Read Acts 2:1-21 and
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

This Sunday, May 23, is the Festival of Pentecost—the 50th day of Easter and one of the major festivals of the church year. On Pentecost, we celebrate the coming and presence of the Holy Spirit, poured out upon followers of the risen Christ. I will be referencing two descriptions of the Holy Spirit in Scripture that we will hear this Sunday: Acts chapter 2:1-21 and John chapters 15:26-27 and 16:4b-15.

First, the Spirit has a wild and untamable quality. Acts describes the Spirit’s arrival like the “rush of a violent wind” and tongues of fire resting on each disciple’s head (2:2-3). The Spirit empowers the disciples to speak—not with unintelligible sounds, as think of “speaking in tongues”—but in languages of other nations so that they can understand the message of God’s love. Humble peasants are transformed by this powerful Spirit into preachers of universal good news!

John’s description of the Spirit—literally the “Paraclete”—has the same untamable and fearless quality. Our translation renders the word for the Spirit as “Advocate” (15:26, 16:7), a courtroom term that signals a powerful attorney pleading our cause. As indicated in verses skipped in the lectionary (16:1-4a), John’s community is facing external and internal threats. During this conflict and duress, the Advocate gives words to testify about Jesus. Seminary Professor Lance Pape writes that the Spirit’s role is “not to advocate in ways that will exonerate the community or keep it from harm, but rather to make sure that they will faithfully tell the truth about Jesus and his mission.” (Pape, “Connections,” Year B, vol. 2, Westminster John Knox Press, 2020, p. 324) The Advocate-Spirit gives us power to tell the story of Jesus with boldness, imagination and courage.

Another translation of Paraclete is “Comforter.” But the comfort the Spirit brings is not passive, but rather transformative for our lives and the world. For Pastor Jason Byassee, the Comforter means that the God who raised Jesus from dead is making all things new. “It is the comfort of One who will get the world God wants, despite whatever opposition or temporary victories are won by death.” (Byassee, “Connections,” p. 327)

What is the world God wants? What is God’s dream for creation? The experience of Pentecost casts a universal vision of the diversity of people and gifts, filled with the Spirit’s inspiration and creativity. In the Acts story, critics sneer at the diverse tongues and fiery speech, comparing it to drunkenness (2:13).

But Peter rises up and proclaims that this is God pouring out the Spirit upon all kinds of people—daughters and sons, slaves and free, young and old, every land (2:16-21). Diversity is a primary sign of God’s community, and the life God breathes into creation. Theologian Wendy Farley says that the “founding event of the new Christian community is the ability to speak to and understand a diversity of people.” (Farley, “Connections,” p. 315)

What an unimaginable gift the Holy Spirit is! The wild, uncontainable Spirit sweeps into our lives, gives us courage to tell the story, and celebrates the diversity of people and voices throughout all of God’s creation. Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Reflection Questions

1) What strikes you in the dramatic story from Acts 2 about the arrival of the Holy Spirit?

2) John’s unique word for the Holy Spirit, Paraclete, can be translated many ways: Advocate, Comforter, Lover, Counselor, Guide. What word resonates with you? How does this speak to your experience of the God the Spirit?

3) How does the Spirit give us courage and creativity to tell the good news of Jesus in new ways?

4) What are ways that our congregation and the wider church can learn to understand people from diverse countries and backgrounds?

Extinguish the candle