One of the implications of the Spirit being poured out on all flesh is that The Spirit’s influence won’t be limited to people you hang out with. And Acts isn’t the story it is without people who transgress the perceived boundaries of the group. There border crossings may very well be instigated by the Holy Spirit.
The big example here is Peter and Cornelius. Peter, staying at Simon the tanner’s house (we’re already in iffy territory), has a vision in which he is told to kill and eat food considered unclean. But Peter is a good church kid and refuses the offer of a little guilt-free bacon. But the Spirit has bigger ideas than Peter and has been working on the Gentile, Cornelius, to send for Peter. Peter provides lodging for them and then travels to stay with Cornelius and enjoy his hospitality, all border crossings. And the Holy Spirit shows up.
As Peter returns to Jerusalem, he is encountered by the boundary police. They care little for a report about the Spirit, or speaking in tongues, or baptism. They want to know if Peter ate with Gentiles. Peter’s story about his time with Cornelius ends up becoming a major part of the reasoning of the church to accept the Gentiles as Gentiles.
My favorite story of boundary transgression comes after the persecution breaks out after the stoning of Stephen. This sends some believers “as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but they spoke only to Jews.” Except for these guys from Cyprus and Cyrene. They didn’t get the memo. They were low level operatives. They thought “Go, Ye, means Go-im.” (Give it a minute). And so they preached to the Hellenists, and low and behold the Spirit was with them and they became obedient to the gospel. And in Antioch these Gentiles began worshipping with Jews, and Luke tells us this is the first place the early believers were called Christians.
And the boundary police send Barnabas to Antioch to make sure everything is kosher. And later, Christian Pharisees travel to Antioch to insist Gentile believers receive circumcision, the dispute that became the immediate occasion for the Jerusalem conference. The Spirit drew early believers beyond the recognized boundaries of the faithful and drew the church to the moment where a decision had to be made, to the “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” moment.
Apart from disruptions, apart from surprises or things that don’t fit into our framework of understanding, there is simply no need to discern anything, to make sense of anything. All that work has been done and boundaries suitably erected. The status quo rules. This is why I teach my ministry students that one of their evaluative questions should always be, “what was surprising?” This may be a disruption caused by the Spirit that leads to fresh discernment.
This will also require that congregations find ways to value their boundary crossers, people who may feel more comfortable with non-church people than with the Saints, who make the faithful develop a little purity rash, the voices of dissent.
Holy Spirit, Come!