Sunday, June 4, 2017

Not the Same Anymore: The Power of the Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our risen and ascended Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last December, before I was called here to Grace and Glory, I came for the weekend, if you recall, to interview with the council and also to meet all of you.

The weekend I came it was particularly chilly, in the high 20s. There was also a pretty brisk wind, which drove the temperature down to a windchill in the mid-teens. It led to a conversation with one of the council about how much wind there was in Kentucky.

Now, I recognize that I have not been here for very long. And, since I’ve lived here, I have definitely experienced some windy days. But, I have to say, that, up to this point, when it comes to wind. Kentucky just doesn’t compare to my home state of South Dakota. You really can’t claim to know wind until you’ve lived west of the Missouri River in South Dakota.

Growing up on the plains, wind was an everyday experience for us. A good wind day meant that there were gentle breezes in the 10-12 mph category. A bad wind day meant that those gentle breezes turned into gale force winds, in the 50-60 mph category, sometimes even higher. 

In the winter, wind chill temperatures were brutal. Spring and fall were always gusty, blowing leaves and dust everywhere. And, in the summer--well, in the summer, afternoon winds almost always blew in a thunderstorm.

The days that were good wind days--well, they were magnificent. I can still remember, as a little girl, walking in our pastures in the summertime, feeling the gentle breeze that just seemed to lift the air up, especially on days that could be hot and humid.

I also remember the smells they brought to me, especially the wonderful smell of prairie grasses to my nose (I wonder if bluegrass has a similar smell!). It was a sweet, rather exotic smell that, if close my eyes right now, I can still smell it in my imagination.

It was there, in our pasture filled with prairie grasses, tickled with gentle breezes, that I think I first experienced a sense of oneness with God and all creation. Thinking about those experiences today takes me to the same sense of deep peace that I felt as a child.

Yet, that same gentle breeze can turn into something that feels unexpected or risky or even terrifying, can’t it? I’ve experienced this sense many times throughout my life. I’m thinking you have, too. I’ve had experiences with tornadoes, eyeing a few that have come dangerously close, praying that they would switch direction. Or driving 200 miles in the midst of a winder blizzard, guiding my mother as she drove in near-zero visibility by opening my door ever so slightly to watch the lines painted on the highway.

As an adult,  I’ve stood close to the edges of cliffs as a hard wind blew off the ocean, risking a fall as I leaned into it, knowing fully that if it should stop suddenly, I might easily go over the edge. Or even flying kites over the years with my son, confident in my own abilities until suddenly, with little warning, the wind would send my kite crashing to the ground.

I feel intimately acquainted with the wind. 

So, imagine my delight when, in my first years of seminary, I learned that the word in scripture used for the Spirit means wind and, more specifically, breath of God.  It seemed fitting somehow.  That the Holy Spirit--this mysterious third person of the Godhead, this unseen presence sent by God into the world that appears in the most unexpected places, this Comforter that both reminds us of what God has said and continues to teach us about God, this Advocate through whom God has claimed us as God’s own and has formed us into the body of Christ--well, it seems only fitting that this Holy Spirit should be characterized as wind.  That natural, contradictory, unexpected force that, for me, can mean both deep peace and unexpected danger or risk.  As John writes in the third chapter of his gospel, “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes.  You hear her sound, but you don’t know where she comes from or where she is going.”

Perhaps that is what is most unsettling about the Holy Spirit.  It seems fairly easy to understand and categorize God the Father as creator and loving parent.  It seems easier to understand and categorize God the Son as redeemer and savior of the world.   

But, it is really hard to easily understand and categorize the Holy Spirit, isn’t it?  This Being who works in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion to bring us to faith, to forgive our sin, and to bring us into community with one another.  This Breath who speaks through the words of Scripture to us in our own language to further reveal to us who God is.  This Person who shows up when we least expect her and most need her through the kind words of a stranger, the supportive presence of a faith community, or the challenge of a close friend.  This Unseen Force who nudges us to act as we seek to “walk our talk” in our daily lives instead of just on Sunday mornings.  And this being, who works in our hearts and in our lives, broken as we are, and is continually creating and re-creating us more deeply into the people who God wants us to be. This Spirit Wind who, in one moment, carries us peacefully like a kite in the blue sky and who, in the very next moment, pushes us forward into new and sometimes terrifying places. Who continues to weave new life throughout the fabric of our lives and our world and all creation to renew the face of the whole earth.

This is the Holy Spirit.

And we are all her children.  Children of the Wind. Children of the Holy Spirit.  

So, let us pray then. Using the words of contemporary theologian, Walter Brueggeman, let us pray that the Holy Spirit might continue to come--to work in us and in our world. In this time of the Spirit, let us pray that she might continue to transform us, our church, our community and all creation.  So that all people might come to know and praise the goodness and love of our God, who comes to us through the Spirit in both ordinary and unexpected ways.

Let us pray:

We name you wind, power, force, and then,
    imaginatively, "Third Person."
We name you and you blow...
    blow hard,
    blow cold,
    blow hot,
    blow strong,
    blow gentle,
    blow new...
Blowing the world out of nothing to abundance,
blowing the church out of despair to new life,
blowing little David from shepherd boy to messiah,
blowing to make things new that never were.
    So blow this day, wind,
        blow here and there, power,
        blow even us, force,
Rush us beyond ourselves,
Rush us beyond our hopes,
Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world.
    Come, come spirit.  Amen.

Preached June 4, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23.

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