A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Fingerprints of the Holy Spirit
The Policeman looked around the room. It was a scene of confusion - furniture was overturned, the contents of the cupboards and drawers were scattered everywhere. The officer paused, thought, and finally said, “I think there has been a burglary!” He then added that the fingerprints and method of operation meant he knew the name of the intruder. Pentecost is the very day when we should be reminding ourselves that our task is to seek out the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit. His method of operation never changes. It always includes revelation, renewal and reconciliation.
We affirm that revelation is always by and through the Holy Spirit. My memories of my Nana are of a very old lady who was forever wanting us to play a guessing game. As we read the pages of the Old Testament, it seems as if we are eavesdropping on a people in search of God. At times it almost feels as if they too are involved in a guessing game about God. This, of course, is far from the truth. Through the work and the words of the prophets, the history writers and the Psalmists, the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints are there for all to see. Without Him there would be no Old Testament, no prophets, no one declaring the truth of God and hastening the day when the guessing would finally be all over.
So what happened on the day of Pentecost? How was it that the people who had come to Jerusalem for the festival just happened to be in the right place and at the right time to hear of the ‘Mighty Works of God”? We find part of the answer in seeking to discover where the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit took place. The traditional setting is, of course, in the upper room. It must have been a fairly large room to contain all the disciples and followers of Jesus who were present. Assuming that it was an ordinary house in one of the narrow streets of Jerusalem, it is hard to see how the crowd could assemble and how Peter would be able to preach in that confined situation. The place to begin is with the Bible text and not the assumptions we have made. Acts 2 begins “They were all together in the one place”. In the Old Testament ‘The One Place’ always meant one place and one place only - the temple in Jerusalem. If we move the location of the events of the day of Pentecost to the temple courts it is easy to understand how their experience of the Holy Spirit would naturally overflow into the court of the Gentiles. It was where they would have such a great impact on the pilgrims attending the festival from all over the known world and where Peter would find his ‘pulpit and congregation’. As if to clinch this we find in Acts 2: 46 ‘every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts’. They were doing what they had done on the day of Pentecost! Ultimately Peter’s sermon was about the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. So we affirm that revelation is the Holy Spirit’s specialty! Whenever, wherever and however God’s presence, nature, will and power are experienced by anyone anywhere in the world, we declare that we are looking at the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit. Though the Spirit had always been present and active, it was through particular people for particular tasks at a particular time. Pentecost means that now the experience of the Holy Spirit is never a ‘second hand’ experience. Nor is the Holy Spirit for the super religious. God has revealed Himself through His Word. It wasn’t that clever people stumbled on the truth or like my Nana made a good guess. The Scriptures have the fingerprints of the Spirit all over them. They are the written record of God revealed through the Holy Spirit’s work. Because the Holy Spirit was responsible for the scriptures being written, we are not surprised to discover His fingerprints all over it! It means we should not read the Bible as if it were a newspaper to scan read and forget what we have read. We should open the pages expecting our God to make Himself and His will and purposes known. Likewise because He is involved in every part of our lives and the whole of the life of the world, the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints are everywhere! This means that we should delight in the work of scientists, explorers and scholars. Daily they are providing us with more and more reasons to celebrate the wonder of God’s power and glory being revealed, often through the most unlikely of people and the most surprising of situations.
We need to affirm that not some, not many, not even most - but all signs of renewal are the work of the Holy Spirit. This means that whenever there is an experience of renewal, we can know for certain we are looking at the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 tells us that the disciples were all together in the one place and that one place was the temple. This was where sacrifices were brought and offered. It was there that the worship of the people was offered to God. Whilst most sacrifices were peace or thank offerings many were brought for cleansing, forgiveness and renewal. There were a series of ‘courts’ and depending on whether you were male or female, a Jew or a Gentile or a priest, it was made very clear just how near or far you were from God. The Holy of Holies was only entered on the Day of Atonement and that only after great preparations and cleansing. When you entered the Temple you were made aware that God was very Holy and you were in need of cleansing, forgiveness and renewal. The problem was that no matter how worthy or costly your sacrifice you knew it was something you would need to repeat again and again. Renewal was something to strive for but never personally experienced. In Acts 2, we read of the tongues of fire. It was the traditional way of speaking of the cleansing power of God’s presence. For the disciples it was the fingerprints of the Spirit showering them with a deep, heartfelt, life-changing experience of renewal. We should not be surprised because renewal, change, liberation and transformation are at the heart of life. The molten metal that flows from the fiery blast furnace bears little resemblance to the iron ore that went in! For a number of years I lived in Pilling on the Fylde coast. A number of my members grew tomatoes commercially in huge glass houses. It was hard to see the link between the plants growing to thirty feet (9.23 metres for the converted!) and the tiny seed that was planted. It was Henry Newman who said, ‘To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often’. But the truth is, to live is to change and to be perfect is to have been changed, for we can’t change ourselves. Change and renewal are the work of the Holy Spirit. When people say ‘you are not the person you used to be’ we should cry, “Amen, thanks be to God!” Not only do all the experiences of life have their impact upon us, but supremely so does the Holy Spirit. His fingerprints should be all over our lives – touching, changing, healing and renewing. If we ask why did the renewing work of the Holy Spirit touch those people on the Day of Pentecost, part of the answer is not only were they in the right place, but their hearts and minds were facing in the right direction. The disciples were, in obedience to Christ, all together in the one place. Those who were in Peter’s ‘congregation’ were pilgrims attending the festival with their hearts and minds focused on God. Ask yourself why is it that so many people have been touched and their lives overturned through Alpha. Part of the reason is they came with their questions and their doubts but also with their hearts and minds being opened up by the Holy Spirit. This was made possible by what Wesley called ‘Prevenient Grace’. The grace that goes before - reaching out through the Holy Spirit turning hearts and minds to God. I am excited by the growth and development of Fresh Expressions in the life of the church. I see again the fingerprints of the Spirit. But it will not be the decision to create Fresh Expressions that will renew the nation. It may be a tool, but the driving force is the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. He is the conductor of the orchestra of Fresh Expressions and all things being made new.
We affirm that all reconciliation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever and wherever we see people or nations that have been divided being restored, we know we are looking at the fingerprints of the Spirit. Acts 2 tells us that the disciples were all together in the one place. That one place was the temple. We are not surprised that the Spirit drove them out of the Temple and into the community. It was to be through their words and actions that the Spirit would break down walls of division and barriers to hope. The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a picture of how people tried to build their own way to God and to be equal with Him. As a result their relationships were destroyed by bitterness, jealousy and greed. It was seen as the cause of the divisions between neighbours and nations. Acts 2 demonstrates the reconciling mission and ministry of the Holy Spirit as He reverses the divisions created by the sinfulness of the human race. Wherever reconciliation takes place we are looking at the fingerprints of the Spirit. We have yet to learn the difference between what we like and what we need. We may like to be many things. What we need is to be in the place and doing what God intended. We may like to achieve many things. What we need as individuals and as the whole people of God is to seek, strive and work at the ministry of reconciliation. The gospel, the good news of Christ’s life, death and resurrection lays down the challenge to all our attitudes, values, thoughts and relationships. In this we are called to be ambassadors for Christ which takes us to the heart of the matter. The crucial task laid upon us remains reconciliation with God through Christ. Whatever else we do or seek to achieve without reconciliation we have achieved nothing. It is the bottom line. As individual Christians and as a church we are required by the gospel to be at the forefront of those seeking, working and praying for reconciliation. We should rejoice whenever and wherever we witness it, for we are looking at the fingerprints of the Spirit. All signs of reconciliation - east and west, north and south, black and white, within the church and in the local community - are ultimately all signs of the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit because He is the Spirit who reconciles us to God and therefore to each other. We can go further. As Christians, we should be those who are seeking to build bridges of hope and destroying walls of division that are erected by the Sin which Christ nailed to the cross. We can go further still. We should be leading the way in healing wounds, restoring hope, speaking of faith, seeking always to be peacemakers and offering the love of God. If this sounds a vague but an unattainable ideal then we can go further still. Each of us are required by God to be those, who, like Himself, are forever taking the initiative that we might be the vehicle of the fingerprints of the Spirit. This means that we will not seek to have our own way in the pattern of mission or the style of worship we prefer or the songs we sing. Our life and worship is to demonstrate that we have been reconciled through Christ. To be reconciled does not mean that the hurt caused by what was said or done isn’t important. But it does mean that removing the barriers and breaking down the wall between us matters more. If we ask why, the answer is being reconciled is a sign of being the fingerprints of the Spirit. Revelation, renewal and reconciliation are the fingerprints of the Spirit. The challenge of Pentecost is to ensure that the fingerprints we find all over our hearts and lives are those of the Holy Spirit . . .and no one else’s!