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The Unifying Power of the Holy Spirit

May 30, 2022
The southern steps of the temple in Jerusalem where Peter preached his Pentecost sermon and baptized 3,000. (DCR 3/16/22)

When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting . . . They were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .”   (Excerpts, Acts 2: 1

The Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It was finished in 2016 and is listed as the 15th tallest building in the United States.  Like the ancient city of Babylon, cities, states, and countries continue to vie for having the tallest building.  It is a matter of pride.

The story about the Tower of Babel in Sunday’s Old Testament lesson is a story of how pride separates people.[1]  The ruins of the ancient city of Babylon are just south of present-day Baghdad in Iraq. 

Our pride alienates us from others.  In the Old Testament lesson, the folks decided to make a name for themselves—they would build a tower that was unrivaled anywhere. They could do it better than anyone else and they would be subservient to no one—not even God: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4b). But when God saw that their achievement caused them to forget God, he took them down a notch. Their language became confused, they couldn’t understand each other, and scattered, speaking different languages. 

There are consequences to our pride and to thinking that we don’t need God, or anyone else.  We all need God and those he entrusts to help us.  We all need his help. 

Jesus understood that, and he did everything he could to comfort the disciples before he was crucified to assure them over and over that they would not be alone.  He promised that the Holy Spirit would come—their advocate, their helper, their comforter: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14: 26-27).  

The disciples still didn’t fully understand what was to happen, but they knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that he could be trusted.  That was confirmed again when they witnessed his ascension into heaven (Luke 24: 50-51). God hasn’t changed.  He is the same as he was yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow.  You can trust that. When you believe in the resurrected Christ, you have a permanent helper, companion, advocate, who is with you always and will protect and guide you.  You will never be alone.  

The helper came during the Pentecost festival.  The three main pilgrimage festivals celebrated in Jesus’ day were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  Passover remembers the exodus; Pentecost remembers the giving of the law, and Tabernacles remembers the years of wandering.  Observant Jews were not required to come to all three festivals, but many came to one of the festivals each year.  It was the reason why believers of so many different countries were gathered in one place on Pentecost in AD 32: “There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world.  . . Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs!” (Acts 2: 5, 9, The Message).  

God sent the promised helper, the advocate–the Holy Spirit—to the church on Pentecost: “When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky, which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire, which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . .”  (Acts 2: 1-4).  

The southern steps were the main entrance to the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that Peter preached his Pentecost sermon and it was there that the Holy Spirit brought together 3,000 people who were baptized that day in the mikvahs around the temple.

The Spirit unifies. The proud people of Babylon were scattered and couldn’t understand each other, but the Holy Spirit came upon the diverse group in Jerusalem and they could understand each other perfectly because they were one in the Spirit.  The unifying power of the Holy Spirit is awesome for those who believe. No matter the differences of skin color, language, skill, culture, education, title, or socio-economic status, the Holy Spirit unites those who approach the cross with humility seeking God. 

We know from experience that God hears us when we turn to him.  We echo David’s plea: “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief “(Psalm 143:1).

 We know that Jesus prayed for us before we were born, and continues to pray for us (John 17:20).  Jesus told his disciples (and us) to turn to God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me (John 14:1).  He promised to ask the Father to send another Counselor: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14: 15-17).  

You can’t make it on your own.  You need God and you need other people.  There is a God-shaped vacuum in your heart just the right size for the Counselor. The more you open up to him, the more space he will occupy in your life. You are never alone. Trust God. Do not be afraid, and turn to the Counselor.  Open your heart to the Counselor sent by God to help, guide, and comfort you. 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I open my heart to you today.  Teach me, lead me, comfort me, help me, and rescue me.  I cannot live my life without you.  I need you. Bring us together as One in the Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Come. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Pentecost Sunday are Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31.

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