Changed from Glory into Glory: Windy
Yesterday afternoon I had the joy of attending my nephew Sam’s Fifth Birthday Party. He is getting to be quite grown up. Children’s birthday parties are an interesting mixture of planned and unplanned happenings. For example, my brother and sister-in-law had almost everything set up out on their back deck, expecting to sit and eat with adults while the kids played in the yard and on the swing set. But slowly, person by person, people seemed to decide that sitting inside, in air conditioning, near fans, was preferable to being outside on a beautiful but very hot day. Jim and Jen ordered more than twice as much pizza as the guests ate, although we went through drinks like crazy. The plastic lightsabers that were set out never got played with – kids opted instead for playing with Batman’s batcave, which was just sitting in its usual spot in the living room. And Sam never reacts quite how you think he will to presents you get for him. His parents told him on his birthday that they were going to take him to the store to buy him a “big boy bike.” Sam responded, “No thank you.” He’s since had a change of heart, but his original response was a little disheartening to his parents who had planned for quite a while!
Today we celebrate a birthday here, too, and this one is for all of us. Like Sam’s birthday, it was both planned and unplanned, the way things unfolded. In the Christian Church we celebrate Pentecost Day as the birthday of the church universal. Pentecost is the biggest birthday celebration I can think of, next to that birthday we celebrate on December 25th. Today is the birthday of the Church. Today, we read about the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. Today we read about that strange experience where the sound of a mighty rushing wind broke into the house where the followers of Jesus were celebrating Pentecost. Today, we read about the beginnings of Church as we know it – where Peter steps up and finally does what Jesus had been preparing him and the others to do all along: he shares the gospel – tells the Good News about God’s grace to anyone and everyone he can get to listen. Today is meant to be a day of celebration, this day of Pentecost.
Our text from Acts opens with the disciples already gathered together. They are gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost, a Jewish festival set out in the Torah, the law books for the Jews, which make the first five books of our Bible today. Pentecost was a celebration taking place fifty days after Passover, and was called also “the feast of weeks” or Shavuot. The festival celebrated the “first fruits” of the early harvest in spring. So the disciples were gathered together for this traditional celebration – this is what was planned. Everyone was gathered for a purpose, and had an idea what to expect. But suddenly, the unexpected started happening. We read that a sound like the rush of a violent wind came, and filled the gathering place, and the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, which seemed to them like divided tongues of fire. And they began to speak the gospel message to all who were gathered in such a way that everyone in the city could understand them. Many people from many places were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, and it seemed that everyone could understand the disciples. Some were amazed at this, but others were a bit cynical, and accused the disciples of being drunk. Peter stands and raises his voice to the crowds: We’re not drunk – we are speaking as the prophets spoke – and he goes on to speak to them of visions and power that will come to all – young and old, men and women, slaves and free.
Today, when we celebrate Pentecost, our focus is on not on the feast originally celebrated, the planned part, but on the out-of-control wind that swept through and stirred up the celebration – the giving of the Holy Spirit. This is the gift that Jesus has promised the disciples they would receive, the thing that would be their Advocate, their Comforter, helping them to make the transition from followers of Jesus to those who would be leading and guiding and sharing with others. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helps them with all their other gifts, in a way. It’s the foundation for their work, the source of their confidence in their abilities. After all, being filled with the Holy Spirit is being filled up with God’s own self, right inside of you. God dwelling in you certainly should inspire you with confidence! On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is the gift that is available to each one of us.
Personally, though, I have always found this Spirit thing a bit hard to explain and understand. It all sounds so ambiguous, doesn’t it? How do we connect to an event that had a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire, and people speaking in other languages? Maybe we get that something special happened on that day, but how can we relate to it? What does the Holy Spirit mean to us?
When I was in 8th grade, I accidentally pinned my leg under our minivan. It’s a long story, and doesn’t make me look very brilliant, but suffice it to say, I was laying on the ground outside a small market in Rome in the parking lot, pinned underneath our Dodge Caravan. My mother was in the store, and when my friend, who was with me, conveyed to her what happened, and my mother came out and saw me under the van, she didn’t look for help. What she did was push the van off me. Now, maybe she could have done this on a normal day, but I suspect that the level of adrenaline coursing through her body in an emergency situation made it suddenly easy for her to get me, her child, out of such a dangerous situation.
I think the Holy Spirit is a little like that – like adrenaline that suddenly shows up when you need it. Did you ever sing the Sunday School song, Give Me Oil for My Lamp? Give Me Oil for My Lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning, Give me oil for my lamp, I pray! Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning, keep it burning til the break of day! The song continues in more verse, but some of my favorites were: Give me wax for my board, kepe me surfing for the Lord, and Give me gas for my Ford, keep me truckin’ for the Lord. I mention this song because the verses all suggest that there is something we need, something God can give us, that can inspire us, move us, help us to act with faith and boldness. Give me oil for my lamp is not so different from saying: Come, Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s coming in Acts is described as a violent rushing wind. Wind is powerful. It can set a boat to sailing across the water, or it can destroy and damage, or it can be harnessed for electricity. Sometimes we know when to expect a windy day, but often, the wind catches us by surprise. We can’t see the wind, but we can see what it does. Wind is a great image for how Spirit moves through us. But if the Spirit is so unpredictable, can we do more than say, Come, Holy Spirit, and wait for the Spirit to show up, if it will?
When I think about the apostles receiving the Spirit, I remember that they were in Jerusalem, waiting for the Spirit, because that is where Jesus told them to be. They made sure they followed the instructions they had, so that they could be ready for the unknown. Thinking about my nephew’s birthday party, I think: It would never have done if my brother and sister-in-law refused to let the party take shape as it did. They could have tried to force everyone to stay outside or play with certain toys or eat certain things. But it wouldn’t have been much of a party if they did that, if they tried to refuse to let the wind blow. At the same time, if they hadn’t had all their plans in place, if they didn’t have food ready and games ready and the yard ready, well, that would have meant that they had no foundation ready for a good party, and I can’t imagine people would have been able to have the fun they had.
Last week, Rev. Lauren Swanson came and talked to us about things we can do to help ourselves in the transition to a new pastor, things we can do to help ourselves look forward, for the congregation to move in the direction it hopes. It’s a way to prepare, to be ready, to create a space in which the Spirit can move. For sure, we cannot map out what will happen here in the next year, five years, ten years. Only God knows that. But we can be ready, create a space, so that when the wind comes – and the wind always comes eventually – we will be ready for the wind not to tear us down, but to help us set sail.
Yesterday I happened to see on facebook, that fount of wisdom, a post about 12 Signs of Spiritual Awakening. On this Pentecost Sunday, I think they make a good to-do list:
12 Signs of Spiritual Awakening
1. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
2. Frequent attacks of joy, unexplained smiling and random bursts of laughter.
3. Feelings of being closely connected with others and nature.
4. Frequent overwhelming, almost dizzying, episodes of appreciation.
5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience
6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
7. A loss of ability to worry.
8. A loss of desire for conflict.
9. A loss of interest in taking things personally.
10. A loss of appetite for drama and judgment.
11. A loss of interest in judging yourself.
12. Prone to give love without expecting anything in return.
If we prepare our hearts, when the wind comes, when the Holy Spirit fills us, when the day of Pentecost arrives, God will find us ready. Come, Holy Spirit Come. Amen.