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Sunday 19 May 2024 Day of Pentecost

The Spirit is here

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21

By Joe Aldred

Bishop in the Pentecostal tradition, semi-retired broadcaster, ecumenist, speaker and writer; author of Flourishing in Babylon – Black British Agency and Self-determination (due to be published by SCM Press, May 2024)

Context: an inner city Black-majority Pentecostal congregation gathered for a Whitsunday service

Aim: to encourage an understanding of the wider working of the Holy Spirit

Sisters and brothers in Christ, greetings! We gather here in the presence of almighty God to worship, fellowship, and reflect upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. My spiritual formation is rooted in the Pentecostal tradition. I believe in the dynamic transcendent presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer. A challenge before us today is the generosity of our understanding of the boundless width, length, height, and depth of the working of God’s Spirit among us.

In the Old Testament Ezekiel, prophesying to the exiled people of God in Babylon, depicts them as a valley of scattered and lifeless dry bones. The metaphor is of a desperate plight of a people separated from the relative stability and security of home in Judah. Alienated in a strange land among strange people and their strange practices, the Jews were experiencing a living death. The prophet in the authority of God spoke life into their plight as the Holy Spirit breathed on their dry proverbial bones, tendons, flesh and skin, engendering new life where death prevailed. A generation would find their way back to the promised land. Brothers and sisters, the Spirit is the restorer of life over death, of hope over hopelessness.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts tells of a gathering in Jerusalem for the annual Jewish Day of Pentecost. Luke says the sound of a violent wind filled the place the disciples were, and what appeared as tongues of fire separated and rested upon them, and they spoke languages previously unlearnt. The commotion caused such a stir that people came to witness the marvel. One disciple, Peter, explained to the astonished onlookers that this was a prophetic move of God’s Spirit in their midst. Greater was to follow and the wind of the Spirit would blow on all people who would prophesy, see visions, dream dreams, and much more.

These texts demonstrate that the Holy Spirit works ecumenically without discrimination as the wind that blows or the rain that falls. God’s life-giving presence avails itself to all people and nations, languages and cultures, energising and transforming them. I hope I don’t shock anyone when I say that the Holy Spirit did not originate on the Day of Pentecost two thousand years ago but is the same Spirit we meet in Genesis turning chaos into order and life.

We humans have a long history of selfish narrowness that resists the breadth, depth, height and width of the Holy Spirit. Our traditions keep trying to colonise the Holy Spirit into our image. Some traditions insist on a formula by which to identify the Spirit, ignoring God’s determination to breathe life into all. I reflect upon a time when I was young and made to spend long hours kneeling at an altar pleading with God to be ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit. Why didn’t anybody tell me the Holy Spirit has already come? Recently I came across a text by Dr Selina Stone titled, Tarry Awhile: Drawing on the Riches of Black Spirituality for the Whole Church. In her book Dr Stone focuses on Jesus’ call to his disciples to tarry or wait with him as a ‘time of surrender to God, in the hope of personal and communal transformation.’ To tarry is to be with God who transforms all our lives.

We tend to err in so many ways that we do well to note Thomas C. Oden’s excellent book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, as he reminds us that the formative Christian understanding of matters such as the nature of God were largely developed in Africa in the patristic era. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on which the Holy Spirit turns. Those of us of African heritage should not miss this opportunity to shout, ‘Praise the Lord!’ We need to recapture the breadth and depth of the ecumenical theological understandings those Fathers of the faith bequeathed us.

In conclusion, sisters and brothers, God the Holy Spirit has been around from eternity to eternity with an intention to give life to all who come under his life-giving breath. Allow the Holy Spirit to blow your way. Take down your umbrella of doubt and let the Day of Pentecost be every day; let our valley of dry bones come together bone upon bone, sinew upon sinew, flesh upon flesh, all given life by the Spirit of God. The Spirit is here!

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