As today is Pentecost, I thought it would be appropriate to think about the Holy Spirit.
For many years I have had a bicycle that I have been meaning to fix. It started off living in our shed, but as the years passed the space was needed for other things and the bicycle found its way to the side of the house. It has sat, neglected, sometimes getting in the way, unused and increasingly weathered. At one time some climbing plant or another grew over part of the bicycle and dried out remnants remain encrusted around wheel spokes. The rubber on the tires has deteriorated and cracked, rain has caused rust, the paint work is tired and the cables frayed. The bicycle continues to look like a bicycle, it has the shape of a bicycle, but it has not been ridden and could not be ridden for years.
In recent weeks I have finally made the time to begin the process of assessing whether the bicycle is salvageable. Even the lock was rusted closed, so before I could inspect the components, I was faced with releasing the lock. Once loosened I attempted to move the bicycle but found the wheels would not turn. Not only were the tires flatten but the brakes were seized and the wheel bearings congealed. One by one the various components of the bicycle needed to be removed. Some parts literally fell off whilst others required coaxing, lubricating, releasing and occasionally brute force.
For the wheels to spin bearings are required. In this example there are a series of small metal ball bearings that sit within a casing and enable the wheel to spin. To enable the bearing to spin smoothly it is lubricated with grease to reduce the friction of metal rubbing on metal. What I discovered when I came to bearings on this bicycle was a far cry from anything that would run smoothly. The grease had dried up, the bearing filled with sand or grit and there was no movement whatsoever. Just as I’d done with the lock I sprayed the bearing with lubricant help it release. With some time and effort and repeated spraying and cleaning the grit and the old grease was removed and the bearing transformed from a brown congealed mess and renewed to shiny smooth steel. When the all of the wheel was cleaned up it was put back together and now spins as a wheel should. New tyres and inner tube were required to replace those which had decayed and the bicycle is beginning to take shape, with the hope it will be usable and useful once again.
Psalm 24:7 (NLT) says,
‘Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.’Psalm 24:7 (NLT)
As I was fixing that bicycle I was struck by how a small amount of lubrication could find its way into all the nooks and crannies of the bicycle components, releasing built up and clotted muck. The lubricant worked its way into the places that were otherwise unreachable, provided the opportunity for the old and seized bearings to be cleaned, renewed and reused. I can imagine an ancient gate. I can picture those I have seen which have been well cared for, tended and respected over the years. I can envisage those which have been used, opened and closed on a regular basis, still working as they should with free movement as they are used as they were intended. I can visualise gates which have been locked for many years and now look like they would not be easily opened. To open up the ancient gate requires the hinges to be lubricated so that they can move freely. However, the longer a hinge or a bearing has been left unused, getting weathered and picking up the dust and grit as it blows on the wind.
The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost in a new way. It’s not that the Holy Spirit came into being on that day, no, the Holy Spirit has been present with God the Father as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. But on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came afresh. Poured out onto and into the disciples who had followed Jesus, experienced his ministry, witnessed his death, celebrated his resurrection, gazed in wonder as he ascended into heaven and who then waited as instructed to prepare for the gift of God’s Spirit. We are told in Acts 2:1-4 that when the Spirit of God came upon the disciples it sounded like rushing wind, it appeared like fire that rested on them and when they were filled with the Spirit they spoke in different tongues or languages. The Holy Spirit filled their very beings and compelled them to go out from where they were hidden away into the streets, from within the safety of the walls of the room they were in and out into the world.
Peter speaks to what is described as crowds of people, from different countries, each understanding in their own language. He shares the gospel, the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection, and they are ‘cut to the heart’ (Acts 2:37) so they ask what they must do. Peter tells them,
‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’(Acts 2:38-39)
Peter and the apostles allowed themselves to be filled, they prepared and their ancient gates of culture, faith, and tradition were opened. We are now members of the ‘for all who are far way’ and the promise of the Holy Spirit remains to this day.
Each year around Pentecost I hear people in churches say they have an expectancy that God is doing or going to do a new thing. This year is no different. Typically, the expectation is talked about in a way that reflects the outpouring of God’s Spirit on that first day of Pentecost, that Christian’s will suddenly receive an overwhelming outpouring of God’s Spirit and thousands will join the church. My doubt about this is that it takes responsibility away from ourselves, we might earnestly hope and even plead with God to do a wonderous miracle to grow our churches. We might hope to be filled with the Spirit in such a way that we suddenly gain confidence to share our faith and speak in such a way that people will join our cause. I don’t doubt that God could do it, but I believe God chooses to work with and through us.
God has been filling the church for more than 2000 years with the Holy Spirit. However, we also allow the church and our lives to be polluted with other spirits (such as greed, selfishness, slander) and turn our faces away from the call to care for the widow and the orphan (James 1:27). The church becomes like my old bicycle, it looks like a bicycle but it does not function as a bicycle, the church looks like a church but it does not function as a church. We need the Holy Spirit to seep into the bearings of our lives to both clean us out and to help us move. We need to heed Peter’s call to repentance (which is not to say sorry and then carry on as we were, but to change our actions). Repentance can be painful as it causes us to recognise where we have been at fault, it can be hard work, but it is also liberating and with the Holy Spirit’s help it causes us to shine like new and enables us to rediscover the actions we are called to followers of Christ. Those actions are described by the prophet Isaiah and echoed by Jesus (Luke 4:16-21),
‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.’(Isaiah 61:1-4 NRSVA)
To keep a bearing, or a hinge, or other moving parts in good working order requires regular cleaning and lubrication. To keep our lives in good order, to maintain healthy relationships, and to live as witnesses of Christ requires repentance and a willingness to allow God’s Spirit to flow, even into the places we would rather keep hidden.
A gate marks the way in or out of a place that has a boundary. The Holy Spirit respects our lives boundaries doing a new thing only if we are prepared to open up the ancient gates of our lives and those of the church, and with repentant hearts and minds, let the King of glory enter.