While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
This passage continues to astound me.
It doesn’t astound me that God’s Spirit falls upon all who heard the word preached by Peter. Pentecost teaches us that God’s Holy Spirit falls upon an array of people of many tongues and backgrounds. It teaches us that the Holy Spirit fills the people with abilities to speak to one another about God’s grace and love. It teaches us that the Spirit’s gifts can be shared equally among all those who hear.
It’s not astounding that God’s Holy Spirit would rest upon those who have heard the Word preached.
But rather, what is astounding is the response of the ‘circumcised’ – the people of faith who were with Peter. They ‘were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles.’ They were a people who could not understand that the Spirit might actually be about more than just those who filled the pews and already called the local Synagogue their own. They were unable to see how it might be possible for God’s Spirit to touch those who weren’t already in the family. They were astounded that God’s action might not actually be restricted to their own blinkered expression of faith.
It’s not astounding that the Holy Spirit can be received by all who hear the Word. It’s not astounding that the message of the gospel is one of love and compassion and community and welcome.
But what astounds me – and I continue to see it in the Church – is the idea that what we expect, as people of faith, is that God’s grace, mercy, peace, and love to be confined to our ways of doing things and our type of people. I’m not astounded that God might speak to people through pop music or sports or visiting an art gallery; but I am astounded that we don’t do more to help people who have the encounter with God’s Holy Spirit to know that they too might be part of God’s communion.
We may not be withholding the welcome of the Church in the way Peter’s ‘circumcised believers’ might have wished, but are we really doing enough to look beyond our own ways of doing things and our type of people to see and respond to how God Spirit is speaking to the world?
Astounding God, who speaks beyond our imaginings, help us to open our eyes to the remarkable ways you speak to all who hear your word and open our hearts to the astonishing acts of witness that come from your Spirit. Astound us so that we might see in others the gifts that come from you and welcome into your family those who have received of your Holy Spirit. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett is the minister of St Andrew’s URC, Monkseaton and Northern Synod Minister