Images we often see of the Holy Spirit show a dove, wings outstretched and preparing to settle gently. The descriptions of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan tell us that the Spirit hovered over or rested on him like a dove. All very gentle and peaceful. Yet the coming of the Spirit upended his life completely. He left his life as a village carpenter and went from the Jordan into the desert to pray. He emerged from the desert as a teacher, healer, prophet, Messiah.
Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Spirit came again. (Acts 2:1-11) This time, it wasn’t a quiet, gently-settling-like-a-dove event, though how gently a dove settles as it lands is another question. There was a sound “like a strong driving wind” and “tongues of fire” that rested on each of Jesus’ followers who were still gathered together in Jerusalem, praying. The disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues” that were heard and understood by visitors from all over the world. And of what were they speaking in these tongues, these languages? “The mighty acts of God.”
It’s quite a contrast.
Winds, fire, earthquakes, floods, and other natural events that are destructive have consistently been interpreted by peoples around the world as having been caused by divine beings. We see again and again the myths/stories of gods sending fires, thunderbolts, mighty winds, and other terrifying forces when they are angry with each other or the people who worship them. This includes stories we see in the Bible as well. Our ancestors in faith also used stories to explain the powerful and mysterious movements of nature and of human experience. As we have grown in understanding of the forces of nature, the rules of physics, the workings of human psychology, and more, we have developed other ways of explaining what we experience. However, the power of nature when it is raging still brings us to silence.
Over the past few years, we have seen up close and personal the power of fire and the power of wind here on the Central Coast of California. When the fires consumed the forests on the hills and mountains of our region a few years ago, the skies were blackened all day and the sun shining through was the color of a blood orange. Blessedly, the fog returned before too many days and cleaned the air, but it was an enduring experience. Folks who don’t live beside the ocean don’t get such a blessing as fog when they are going through this kind of fire experience. It lasts a lot longer.
When the ocean stormed and the cliffs collapsed into the sea last winter, we saw the power of water. When the winds howled and trees fell over or went “surfing” down hillsides, we saw the power of wind and flood. The landscape was changed. We were also changed. Now when I hear an electric bus climbing up a hill during the night in a big city, I find myself waking and wondering if it’s the wind blowing again and if everyone is OK.
The coming of God into the world is a powerful thing. From the beginning of creation, when our creation story says a mighty wind swept over the waters before there was even light, God has acted with power. (Gn 1:1-3) One of the words used in the original language to describe the movement of the Spirit over the waters in creation conveys the image of a bird flapping its wings and beating its feet against the water to take off in flight or of a bird flying so close to the water that the water itself is stirred up. A word of God brings light to a world that waits in darkness for the divine breath/power to awaken all of creation.
The coming of the God, the Spirit, awakens change. Sometimes God’s presence is revealed quietly, as when Elijah encountered God on the mountainside, not in wind or fire but in a quiet breeze. (1Kgs 19:9-13) Sometimes it’s like a mighty wind and tongues of fire as at Pentecost. But whether through a quiet breeze or a mighty wind, God’s coming into our lives brings powerful change.
The disciples were empowered to tell of all they had seen after the Spirit came upon them. They spoke in tongues, they began to heal people, they preached fearlessly, and eventually, they took the message of God’s love and presence out into the ancient world. It has come to us through the ages.
Did it all end then? Did the Spirit never do anything more for the community? Would God be like a clock-maker who set all going and then simply sat back to watch it work? Not by a long shot.
God has continued to be present in the world. This is the time of the Holy Spirit, a time of action and witness. We continue to receive the Spirit’s gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel/Knowing right from wrong, Fortitude/Courage, Knowledge, Piety/Reverence, Fear/Awe of the wonder of God. These gifts are given to help us, to give us the power to speak of what we have seen and experienced of God’s love and care for us and our world.
We each receive specific callings as well. Some are to preach. Others are to teach. Some are to care for God’s little ones. Others are to lead in service. Many gifts, many works. All, as St. Paul reminds us, are part of the Body of Christ here today. (1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13) We all share of the same Spirit, breathed out long ago (Jn 20:19-23) and upon each member of the community even today.
We celebrate today. We look forward to seeing where the Spirit will take us in this coming year. A holy year is coming soon – 2025 will be here before we know it. The Synod process is continuing. Our leaders are listening to what members of the community have shared of their hopes and dreams for the church and its future direction in service. We continue to gather together at Eucharist to give thanks for all the gifts we have received and to be strengthened to continue in service to the world.
Power has come upon us. Quietly or dramatically, lives are changed and hope renewed.
“Come Holy Spirit, come!” Renew the face of the Earth!
Readings for the Feast of PentecostRead More