When the Spirit came, it came without warning, with “a sound like a strong wind, gale force – no one could tell where it came from,”( The Message) nor could they even begin to comprehend the scope of it. But as it “filled the whole building” and spread through their ranks “like a wildfire,” there was no denying its power or its prodding. Suddenly, they were all speaking languages they’d barely even heard before, and “God’s mighty works” were being proclaimed in such a way that every single “God fearing Jew from every nation under heaven” heard that word in their own native tongue. To say that all this was pretty amazing was to put it mildly: in truth of fact, “their heads were spinning.” Some in the crowd had even dismissed it all as drunken behavior, simply because they couldn’t come up with any other rational explanation for what was happening!
But then Peter got up to speak – boldly telling the hundreds who were gathered how what had happened was no less than the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, a time when God’s Spirit would be poured out on every kind of people, when all those who serve God would know what it is to be filled up with the spirit of the Lord. Such was the power of Peter’s words and the Spirit that fueled them that just a few verses later we’re told that nearly 3,000 people were baptized that day, and they, in turn, “committed themselves to the teachings of the apostles, the life together,” to the breaking of bread and prayer.
It was the Day of Pentecost – the day on which the first believers came alive in their faith, the day when the Rock upon which Christ planted his church began to support and uphold a community of faith, a community that has grown and has taken shape ever since. The day of Pentecost – the day in which God was amongst us in power and made us not merely a group of believers, but “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” a people set apart to be Christ’s disciples in the world.
But we don’t celebrate the day of Pentecost in the church because of a long ago, one-time-only event; on Pentecost we affirm the fact that God’s Holy Spirit is still loose in the church and in the world. Well, today we celebrate the triumph of the Spirit that makes us the church and propels us forward as his people! Today we celebrate the church that God intends for us to be: a community filled with his Spirit and achieving amazing things by that Spirit’s power; a church alive and vibrant, bound together by the love of Christ and driven by the conviction that we are part of God’s continuing story of love and redemption.
It is the day of Pentecost, friends …and God’s Spirit has come in power. The question, however, is this: have we forgotten?
There’s a book by Paul Nixon entitled Healing Spiritual Amnesia; and the rather disturbing thesis of this book is that in these times “churches stagnate, decline and die …principally because they have forgotten who they are.” Nixon, who is an expert on church development, says that in most churches what he sees is a life without a fully developed sense of Christian identity; a spiritual amnesia, as it were, in which congregations are caught up in the mechanics and routines of church life, and yet are distracted “from the holy purposes for which God has called them together as a church.” They’ve forgotten, you see; forgotten who they are and what God has called them to be and to do.
And so, again, the question is, have we forgotten, forgotten how the church of Jesus Christ was borne on the rush of a mighty wind rather than a faint breeze; forgotten that the church is called to live as people outside of the world’s mainstream culture and dedicated to demonstrating God’s love in tangible ways to all those around. Have we forgotten our call to be disciples and the mandate to live our faith authentically before a watching world?
Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives?
You know, it’s very interesting to note that in the Celtic tradition, the symbol of the Holy Spirit is a bird – but not, as you might imagine, a dove that’s peaceful and serene. Rather, the Holy Spirit is represented by the wild goose – and the reason for this is that wild geese are not controllable! You can’t contain geese and bend them to your command; they are unpredictable and will very often go exactly in the opposite direction you expect them to go – likewise, as Jesus himself said, just as “the wind blows where it chooses,” so it is with the Spirit! What’s more, rather than the sweet and calm coo of a dove, the songs of wild geese are raucous and loud, honking in a way that’s strong, challenging and sometimes even annoying – but very often, that’s exactly the way that the Spirit of God will demand our attention!
By the same token, however, wild geese always travel further and better in a flock than alone, and the wild goose is known for its passion and devotion to others in the flock – just as the Spirit is promised to us as we move out of our safe places to proclaim the gospel both in word and deed.
The Holy Spirit is, aptly, a wild goose – and one of the great tragedies of the Christian church today is that we have tried with all our might to domesticate that goose! But the Spirit of God will not be domesticated, friends, and to quote Paul Nixon again, “when we open the doors and windows of a church [and our lives] to let the wind of God blow through, our faith becomes fresh and firsthand in quality …and life is never the same again!” We would do well to let the wild goose that is the Spirit of God fly as free and as wild as it was born to be, so it might inspire us to do the same in faith.
Just imagine what it would be for us, as persons and as a people, if we did just that! Leonard Sweet is a writer, preacher, and in my opinion, a spiritual visionary – and he’s written an absolutely wonderful piece entitled “A Magna Charta of Trust by an Out-of-Control Disciple.” It’s quite a manifesto, to be sure, but it really says it all, some strong advice we could all take to heart! Sweet says:
“I once was a control junkie, but now am an Out-of-Control Disciple. I’ve given up my control to God. I trust and obey the Spirit. I’ve jumped off the fence. I’ve stepped over the line. I’ve pulled out all the stops. There’s no turning back, looking around, slowing down, backing away, letting up, or shutting up. I am not here to please the dominant culture. I live to please my Lord and Savior. My spiritual taste buds have graduated from fizz to froth to Fire and Ice. Don’t give me that old-time religion. Don’t give me that new-time religion. Give me that all-time religion that’s as hard as rock and as soft as snow.
“I’ve stopped trying to make life work, and started trying to make life sing …I no longer live by and for anything but everything God-breathed, Christ-centered, and Spirit-driven…
“My fundamental identity is as a disciple of Jesus – but even more, as a disciple of Jesus who lives in Christ, who doesn’t walk through history simply ‘in his steps,’ but seeks to travel more deeply IN HIS SPIRIT. Until he comes again or calls me home, you can find me filling not killing time, so that one day he will pick me out in the lineup of the ages as one of his own. And then it will be worth it all to hear these words, the most precious words I can ever hear: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful, Out-of-Control Disciple.’”
It’s the day of Pentecost, beloved, and today we need to remember what it means for us to trust and live in the Spirit of God – that is what will make us, individually, true disciples, and collectively, the vibrant church that God intends for us to be. Let us not forget, friends, that like the goose, we too were born to be wild.
Thanks be to God for sending his Spirit.
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry