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To Become Part of the Wind

20 May

(a sermon for May 20, 2018, Pentecost Sunday, based on Acts 2:1-21 and John 20:19-23)

Dr. Ron Lawrence is, at 92 years young, a retired professor of neurosurgery at UCLA Medical School; but he is perhaps even better known as a devout long distance runner, having run over 200 marathons in his lifetime, many of these even as he was well into his 80’s; an impressive achievement by any standard, so he’s also become something of a guru amongst marathoners.  I mention him today because some years ago, I read a magazine article he wrote about his running regimen that, though I’ll never be confused with someone who has ever had any kind of running regimen (!), it really hit me where I live.

The piece actually had to do with the various mental images that Ron Lawrence himself used to help him with the stamina and mental focus it takes to get through a difficult marathon.  He wrote in the article that “if [for instance] I’m going out for an 18-mile run, I will use a mental image in which I see my body as a collection of separate molecules.  [As I’m running] I’ll actually envision the air rushing through my body, until it’s as if I’ve become part of the wind.”  It was this image that not only fueled but enhanced his experience of running the marathon; and I remember reading that article and immediately thinking to myself, Yeah!  I get that!   I understood what Lawrence was talking about there, because that’s exactly how it is when I’m sailing!

Now, I know I’ve shared with you a few of my sailing stories over the years, but understand that most of my sailing experience has been on lakes as opposed to the ocean; and since most of our lakes in this part of the world are surrounded by hills and notches, the wind by which we sail tends to be rather gusty, whipping down around the hills, through the valleys and across the lake.  Sometimes, quite literally, the wind just seems to come out of nowhere; it makes for great sailing, but the thing is, you have to pay attention lest you be caught off guard, and you and your sailboat end up capsized in the water!

Let me tell you that some of these gusts of wind are so intense that you literally begin to feel the force of that wind pushing the boat both ahead and to the side.  You hear the sound of the bow slicing through the waves and the shudder of the bilge boards as you pick up a bit of speed.  And before long, you’re experiencing the sheer power of it:  the job and mainsail lines are pulling at your hands and making them burn; your arms growing tense and tired as you work to trim the sails; your whole body aching from having leaned out over the high side of the boat to keep it from heeling over too far!

But more than something merely physical, in that moment of what I would consider to be perfect sailing it’s almost like you’ve been picked up and carried by some invisible force!  You want to yell – and trust me, you do (!) – but mostly, you just keep focusing on the task at hand, doing what you have to do so that the wind will take you where it will.  You’re in control, but at the same time you’re not; in that moment, you really do become part of the wind!

Of course, the other side of lake sailing comes in those moments when the gusts disappear, the wind dies as quickly as it arises and now you’re out on the lake seemingly without a breath of breeze!   And when that happens – trust me again (!) – you either start paddling, or you wait, sometimes for hours at a time (!), for the wind to return.  But even then… even when you’ve been sitting out there on a glassy pond all afternoon thinking there’s nothing more that’s going to happen today, you look up and notice that the sails have just begun to move; first they flutter and “luff,” then they begin, ever so gently and slowly, to billow out.  Then you look down and see that your boat is just beginning to cut through the mirror image of the water.  Understand, it’s barely perceptible, but you are moving; there is a breeze at work and you’ve just become a part of it!  Just a little breath of hope, but I can vouch for the fact that those little wisps of air can bring you home in a way that’s every bit as incredible as the rushes of wind you experience on a gusty afternoon.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same source moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

…which actually, when you think about it, is an apt description of the Holy Spirit; for after all, isn’t this how God comes to us, both on the rush of a mighty wind as well as on the breath of a single breeze?  Friends, I’m here to tell you this morning that this is the dual nature of this amazing gift of Spirit that God bestows upon his people; and this is what this Day of Pentecost is all about.

It’s all borne out in scripture, of course.  The “mighty wind” of the Spirit is described for us in the Acts of the Apostles as “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” coming from heaven itself!  In The Message, it’s described as a “gale force” wind (a sailor’s reference, there!) so pervasive that no one could tell where it came from, but which could be felt even in the upper room where the disciples themselves were gathered.  And it wasn’t to be dismissed or ignored; we’re told that “like a wildfire, [this Spirit] spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” [The Message] And before any of them could even begin to understand or process what was going on, here were all these people on the streets, all these devout Jews staying in Jerusalem for the festival, suddenly bewildered and dumbfounded that they’re hearing the “God’s deeds of power” declared in their own mother tongues!

Now, some would dismiss it as drunken behavior; others were so confused they couldn’t begin to make sense of it; but a few of them somehow knew that this strange occurrence had to be of God.  They listened with awe to the proclamation given by Peter that God would “pour out [his] Spirit on all [people], that [their] sons and daughters [would] prophesy, [their] young men [would] see visions, and [their] old men [would] dream dreams.”   It was the stuff of high drama, no doubt; as literally and spiritually, God’s own Spirit came to them with the power of a hurricane.  And best of all?  All those who would let that raging wind touch them, blow through them, and carry them became a part of that Spirit; they became a part of the wind.

It’s an amazing story, no doubt; but compare this to the other account we have of the Spirit’s “gifting” from John’s gospel.  It’s a real study in contrasts, for whereas Luke tells his story in Acts with excitement and electricity and vigor, John’s account is quiet, serene, a bit understated and well, rather mysterious.  You know the story:  it’s Easter night, the disciples are still hidden away, fearful for their lives; and yet reeling not only from everything that had transpired in the past few days, but from the very real possibility that Jesus may have actually risen from the dead!

So think of it for a moment: it’s quiet and dark, there’s this group of grieving, fearful people huddled together because they had nowhere else to be, no one else to go to… but and now, suddenly and without warning, there in the midst of them is Jesus, standing among them, greeting them, as most certainly he always did, with the Hebrew greeting of Shalom“Peace be with you.”  So, as opposed to the rush of a mighty wind out of heaven, we’re told here that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’” giving these scared disciples life in much the same manner as God breathed life into clay at the time of creation; and when that happened, immediately, hopelessness gave way to assurance and joy!  It was the gentle breeze that blows across what seems to be a dead calm; the almost imperceptible momentum moving you from sea to shore and home.  Jesus breathed the breath of God upon them, and the disciples became part of that breeze, imbued with power to forgive and to heal as they had been forgiven.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same Spirit moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

Now I realize that these two stories offer up the kind of contradictory biblical conundrum that both skeptics and biblical scholars love to debate!  But I would suggest to you this morning that the point is not whether one version of the story is of more accuracy or importance than the other; rather it’s the abiding truth that God’s Spirit does come, with creative and renewing power!  It’s how God’s Spirit was given to us in two different, yet entirely unified ways; but then, that’s how it’s always been with God.  It’s there in Holy Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and it’s the resounding theme of our Christian faith: that God comes to his people in a variety of ways and means, and those people are moved and changed in their encounter with the living God.

And friends, the good news is that continues in you, and in me.

So yes… God comes to us like a mighty wind, making us part of God’s own powerful presence of love.  God storms us at times like fire, with rough and cleansing gusts:  the addict who bottoms out; the couple who suddenly recognize in sharp detail the tensions that are pulling their marriage and family apart; the cancer patient who somehow garners the fighting spirit he or she needs to live.  These are people who just might have experienced the gale force of God in their lives in a truth discerned in the midst of the fray, or a presence discovered while the wind is blowing strong around them.  Maybe it’s a mountaintop experience when in one, incredible moment, all of life just seems to come together at once; or perhaps, more likely, it comes in the times spent meandering in the valley, the moments we feel so low that only a great stirring could ever possibly lift you up.  Either way, friends, these are the doors, the windows, the cracks and the crevices through which God’s Spirit pushes through, carrying us to freedom; and making us aware that we’ve become part of the wind.

Yet, God also comes to us quietly, at times almost imperceptive, in a way as unnoticed yet as intimate as breathing itself:  the realization that finally, after a long siege of life’s challenges, the struggle is… over!  The beauty of a sunset setting the sky ablaze in orange, the magnificence of a star-filled sky in mid-summer, or a precious early morning moment of quiet before the day begins; those times in which, much to our surprise and wonder, we’re suddenly seeing things in perfect clarity, and maybe for the first time it all makes sense!  Even when it doesn’t make sense, but still you know it’s going to be okay, because you’re palpably aware that you have that peace that the world neither gives nor takes away.  These are the treasured moments of our lives in which for reasons we can’t explain or describe or rationalize away, we know in deepest part of our souls that we are embraced, lifted, sheltered and loved; the times in which we’ve become part of the quiet Spirit of God; we’ve become part of the wind.

Two different kinds of experiences, but the same wind; the same Spirit moving us in one direction, but with a different kind of intensity that blows us along in a different way…

That’s the message we need to take home with us on this Pentecost Sunday.  The Holy Spirit is God’s divine gift, and we need to open ourselves to receiving it with gladness and in anticipation of what God wants to do in and through our lives.  Perhaps the storms that blow in our midst are more than storms; and, maybe the profound silence we’re experiencing at the moment is much more than it seems as well.  It could well be that for each and all of us, God is moving, stirring… blowing.

That’s our good news, beloved, so let us open ourselves to God’s stirrings, not only now as we worship together, and but most especially as we head out into the challenge and uncertainty of another week.  Who knows how God’s wind will blow through us this week, and how we might find ourselves becoming a part of that wind?

Come, Holy Spirit… Come!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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1 Comment

Posted by on May 20, 2018 in Holy Spirit, Jesus, Maine, Sermon

 

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One response to “To Become Part of the Wind

  1. katbraden

    May 21, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    ❤ The answer, my friend is blowin' in the wind!

     

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