Pastor Ray Minniecon reflects on the animating and dynamic power of the Holy Spirit to reset the world from dark to light, from despair to promise and beauty.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” These powerful words, first heard in Isaiah 61 and echoed in Luke 4, are both a promise and the fulfilment of a promise. Here, Pastor Ray Minniecon reflects on the animating and dynamic power of the Holy Spirit to reset the world from dark to light, from hopelessness to beauty, from despair to promise. Ray weaves together reflections on the biblical story, the story of Indigenous people in this country and on his own personal faith journey as he considers how the Holy Spirit is good news for people facing situations of turmoil, darkness, and confusion – now, and throughout human history.
We start by observing the Holy Spirit’s work in so many different beginnings points in the biblical story: the Holy Spirit commences and originates events and actions in creation. He also resets things, creates new things, creates new hope, sets new directions. The Spirit of the Living God demonstrates His power and influence in so many different contexts and locations, and settings and I would like to explore some of those activities of the Holy Spirit throughout the Biblical narrative.
Our first encounter with the Holy Spirit is in the creation of the world. You'll find the Holy Spirit right at the beginning points of the Biblical story. In the first two verses of the Bible it states: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. And darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the world, hovering over the waters.”
As the Holy Spirit hovers over this formless, desolate, confusing and empty space, the Spirit of God begins to create an entire universe as we know it.
This beginning time Indigenous people call The Dreaming; others call it other things. But here, in the beginning, God's Spirit was there in the creation of what we know as our universe, our world, our cosmos.
The second place we encounter the Spirit of the Living God is in the creation of a nation. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 32:10-12: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him.”
Like an eagle, so too the Lord. In this situation of confusion and unreality, where the children of Israel had found themselves, God, by the Spirit, starts to work.
As the story unfolds in the book of Exodus, the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt by God's mighty hand. After 420 years in Egypt, they now have to spend 40 years in a desert as former slaves. In this environment, they had not yet become a nation; they had no government structure or system of governance. No constitution. No leadership style that would support the new nation state. Only a promise of some promised land, which they had never seen nor entered into at this stage of their nation’s development. This would have been a very dark, confusing and challenging period of time for the immature, inexperienced, and undeveloped new nation of Israel!
And yet we find the Spirit of the Lord hovers over this desolate and confused people and place and creates a brand-new nation, in this desert place! An extraordinary achievement!
The third encounter with the Spirit of the Lord is in the recreation of a nation, in Ezekiel 37, we read about the story of “the valley of dry bones”. Once again, the children of Israel are in captivity. They were invaded by another very powerful nation. They have lost their nationhood! They were enslaved again! Why? Because they disobeyed God's laws, including the law of Jubilee. Once again, they're dispossessed, conquered, dominated and oppressed and ruled by a very fierce nation. They’ve lost their nationhood and they're living as exiles. Once again they are facing an unknown future. They are in darkness and they find themselves in another deep empty void, this time of their own doing.
And yet the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord hovers over this desperate and dark period to recreate a nation. Through His servant Ezekiel he declares: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” And through the enormous power of the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord, he hovers over this desperate and dark period in the life of His chosen people to recreate a nation.
Our next encounter with the Holy Spirit is revealed in the birth, life, death work and ministry of Jesus. Once again, the Nation of Israel are again dispossessed, conquered, dominated and oppressed and ruled by another very fierce nation. They’ve lost their nationhood and they're living as exiles in their own land. Once again, they are facing an unknown and bleak future. They are in darkness and they find themselves in another deep empty void, again by their own doing. And into this dark and dire situation the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord hovers over this space and place and sends God’s only Son, born of a woman, and born by the Spirit of God, as we read in Luke 1:35: The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Also, John the Baptist declared, John 1:32-34: “... I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’”
It was in Nazareth that Jesus made that great Jubilee declaration: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
That the Spirit of the Lord could hover over such a dark and confusing space, and bring into existence our Saviour and Lord, the new reign of God's kingdom, is beyond human comprehension.
The fifth encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Biblical narrative, is found and experienced in the creation of God's Church. After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were lost and leaderless. Once again the people of Israel and His disciples are facing an unknown and bleak future. They are in darkness and they find themselves in another deep empty void, not knowing what to do or where to go. It was in this setting that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord brings into existence His Church. God sends the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit to his called-out ones. As the Scriptures say: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4). The people who were there on that day were amazed and perplexed. But God sends the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit into these dark and confusing times when the disciples were lost and leaderless. They are in darkness and they find themselves in another deep empty void, not knowing what to do or where to go.
The Holy Spirit empowers and authorises His called-out ones, to take the message of God’s kingdom into all the world, thus creating the multicultural, multinational, universal Church of Christ.
The next encounter with the Holy Spirit is more personal and intimate. We know that our world is lost in sin and darkness, without a compass. We have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and standards. And yet the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord hovers over every one of the followers of the Jesus way. From every tribe and nation, he calls us out of our sin, darkness and our confusion. In our disobedience, our desolation, our emptiness, our own darkness. God creates a new humanity made in His image, the new Adam. Like Corinthians says: “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit …”.
Finally, we encounter the Holy Spirit at the end of all things. We still live in a world tainted by sin and death. The Doomsday Clock says humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers: nuclear war and climate change. We live in a bleak time in the history of the world and the human race. We seem to have destroyed our world, our environment, our physical, mental and spiritual health. It seems we have created a world formless and empty. We seem to love darkness rather than light. We are spiritually empty and full of fear about our future. These thoughts and fears can overwhelm us.
But it’s within this context that we need to look to and rely on the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord to give us hope, to give us direction, to give us clarity. In this context, we see the Spirit of the Lord in the creation of the new earth and new creation, as we read of in Revelation 21:
a “new heaven and a new earth”, where there will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, “for the old order of things has passed away”.
This is our hope. God's always resetting the pathway before us.
I want to close by sharing a very personal way in which the Holy Spirit has moved, not just in my life, but in my history. A young lady named Florence Young came amongst our people back in 1886. Her two brothers, who came over from New Zealand to Bundaberg, where I was born, bought some land and had some sugarcane fields there. And 60,000 South Sea Islanders were brought into Queensland and New South Wales to build the economy of those places.
Within this particular context for our people, this dark and confusing time, this woman came and wanted to teach God’s word to the 200 people who were working as slaves on her brothers’ land. They couldn't speak English, but she started. And she used the scriptures as a means of doing that. In one of those meetings, she said: “God’s Spirit so fell on the six or eight present, that one after another fell on their knees and poured out their souls to God, laughing and crying for very joy.”
In 1886, in that meeting as those slaves of my ancestors began to respond to the Good News of Jesus, I was born again. Today, I identify and realise that this was the first encounter that my ancestors had with God’s Holy Spirit. And historically, it can be traced back to this time and historical moment that the Kanaka Christian Mission was born and the South Sea Evangelical Mission was established. Out of that encounter with the Holy Spirit, the South Sea Evangelical Church was birthed, created and established.
It's within that context, under these incredible conditions of my people, the circumstances that they had to endure, that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord showed mercy and grace to my people. And I’m a result of that Holy Spirit encounter, three generations later.
Pastor Ray Minniecon is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi nation and the Gurang Gurang nation of south-east Queensland. He is also a descendant of the South Sea Islander people, with deep and abiding connections to the people of Ambrym Island. He leads Scarred Tree, an Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Australian South Sea Islander ministry based in St John’s Glebe, Sydney. Pastor Ray has a BA in Theology from Murdoch University in Western Australia.