Pentecost and the Public Life
What has Pentecost to do with public life? As Paul would say, much in every way.
The Bible does not permit us to confine the work of the Spirit to the inner man or to private experience. Through Isaiah (44:3), the Lord promised to pour out water on the land of Israel and his Spirit upon Israel’s seed. When the Spirit is poured out like water, he turns desolate places to fruitfulness, transforms the dry land into a grove, transfigures the withered leaf into a green (Isa. 32:15; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:29; Zech. 12:10; Acts 2:17–18, 33; 10:45). Restoration of nature symbolizes cultural flourishing. When the Spirit is poured out on Israel, the Lord promises, the nation will be renewed.
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What does a Spirit-filled society look like? We should ask what it sounds like. For the first thing Paul says is that the Spirit makes us noisy. “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” he says (Eph. 5:18). Though he condemns drunkenness, Paul implies that the result of being filled with the Spirit is quite similar to the result of being filled with spirits. “They are filled with new wine,” said the skeptics about the babbling disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:13). It was a plausible mistake.
For Paul, the Spirit doesn’t make us placid and mild, quiet and retiring. When we’re filled with the Spirit, we cannot not speak, and our speech breaks out in boisterous psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Being filled with the Spirit means being filled with music, in our mouths and in our hearts. A marriage filled with the Spirit is full of noise, harmonious and melodious noise, joyful noise. C.S. Lewis wrote that a Christian society would be a joyful society, rollicking, lighthearted, exuberant. Paul agreed.
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The Holy Spirit is the creative Alpha Spirit of the first day, the one who begins to form the stuff of the creation into beauty. He is the re-creative Omega Spirit of the Sabbath who brings everything to completion. In between, he is the re-creative Spirit who renews the earth and gives life to the world. Christians confess that the Spirit is the “Lord and Giver of Life.” As Alexander Schmemann pointed out decades ago, “life” does not mean a “religious life” erected on a foundation of secular life. Life means life in the fullest, most extensive sense—physical, cultural, social, aesthetic. And of this the Spirit is the Lord and Giver.
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