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Day 9—Friday, February 23

Acts 2:2-4

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

To state a generality subject to many exceptions, Presbyterians are people of the word. We emphasize the event of kerygma, the proclamation of the Good News, and an echo of the proclamation that God himself made in coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ. It is the echo that we are called to make by Matthew 28:16–20, the Great Commission to go out to the world and proclaim the good news.

But kerygma, in only the form of proclamation of the Good News in Jesus Christ, is in a way a limitation, because it is proclamation primarily—sometimes exclusively—of the Second Person of the Trinity. Almost all Presbyterian (and other) theologies focus on the Second Person. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the very early theologian Irenaeus of Lyons (130–202 C.E.), in a position that has been held by almost all theologians since, pointed out that God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, has two hands: The Second Person of Jesus, and the Third Person of the Holy Spirit.

When the Apostles gathered to figure out what to do next after Jesus had ascended, as related in this passage from the Book of Acts, they were deeply confused, and I think this is where a theology of the Third Person begins. The Apostles knew, as we do, the stories of God’s interaction with the Jewish people for thousands of years. They knew the stories of God’s interaction with them in Jesus. These were theologies of two-party communication. They did not know the story of the Third Person that makes a community.

In the physical absence of God the Father and God the Son, the Apostles made a proclamation of the Good News that was not from themselves, not from a decision they made, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12), as John the Evangelist put it. It must have been astonishing to them; the house of a poor person in Palestine would have had few, if any, windows. A wind rushing through the house would have been, itself, cause for surprise or alarm. And tongues of fire would have been a sign of danger in a time before fire departments when an out-of-control cooking fire could burn down an entire closely packed city. But to speak in other tongues—well, that could only be the work of God.

What God did through them was to carry out the kerygma we echo, in proclamation to the people around them in many different tongues, and in proclamation through their subsequent preaching and foundation of an organization that we know as the Church, and that has continued for 2,000 years, longer than any country on earth. Is it just possible that the theology of the Spirit can be described, but cannot be captured in words, the form fitting for the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Its role is activity that cannot be stated and defined in words, but only in God’s own action—something constantly changing, one in kind but different for every one of us, that preaches in a different way?

-Mike Lockaby



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