a pentecost sermon on fire, wind, and power

Day of Pentecost
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Psalm 104:24-34, 35b | Acts 2:1-21 | John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Hagiography Icon Holy Virgin Mary with the Apostles at Pentecost (Santiago de Chile)

The Holy Spirit is fire, and wind, and power.

The Spirit of God is something like a violent, noisy rush of wind that barges into the house where it doesn’t belong. The Spirit of God is something like tongues of fire that ignite us to preach the truth. The Spirit of God is something like the power of all of those people, gathered in one room, all together, organized for a common purpose.

The Holy Spirit is fire, and wind, and power.

I had the honor of celebrating my friend Day’s birthday earlier this week, and we decided to head down to Promontory Point and have a bonfire by the lake. This was on Thursday night, when the wind near the lake was around 30 miles per hour – which is a whopping six on the Beaufort wind force scale. Have you heard of the Beaufort wind force scale? It includes these awesome descriptions for how windy it is. For example, a six is described as: “large branches in motion; whistling heard in telegraph wires; umbrellas used with difficulty.”

And we just could not get this fire started. We had everything you need for a fire – kindling, a lighter, wood arranged in a little log cabin – but a fire just wasn’t happening. Because even though I have successfully started a fire before, I don’t have fire. Fire is not a thing we possess. Fire is an event. An igniting, blazing, burning, glowing, event. Humans have gotten pretty good at controlling fire, but fire is still wild and dangerous.

“The chimney” (Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash)

Fire catches our attention, like the burning bush that appeared to Moses. Fire warms us and assures us of God’s presence, like the pillar of fire guiding Israel through the wilderness by night. Fire purifies and transforms. Fire gathers people around.

The Holy Spirit is fire – and what I mean is that she isn’t something we posses – she is an event. She is happening! The Holy Spirit is igniting the church – kindling our passions and our gifts within us until we are burning with the good news of God. I see the flames in your longing for the reign of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. You talk to each other, and read books, and post on Facebook; you show up to public meetings and sign petitions – and this good news of liberation is spreading like wildfire wherever you go.

The Holy Spirit is fire, and wind, and power.

Across the street from my seminary in Hyde Park they’ve recently built a new dorm complex, which includes this sidewalk corridor that I walk to get to the coffee shop. When it is weathering of any kind, the corridor becomes a full-on wind tunnel with gusts that actually sort of keep you from progressing forward. I have walked through that wind tunnel – hunched over and eyes squinty – and I know the power of wind to move us.

Wind stirs up leaves and dust that have accumulated in the easy places. Wind doesn’t leave things where they started, but carries us away. The words in both Hebrew and Greek for wind are the same words for breath. A gust of wind, like a sharp breath, breathes new life into dry bones.

Rossbeigh, Ireland (Photo by Peter Ogden on Unsplash)

In the first reading from Ezekiel, the prophet is walking around in a valley filled with very many, very dry bones. Ezekiel’s people are oppressed, cut off from their sources of life and hope. They are still technically alive, but their suffering has dried them up, made them sink into despair, as if the breath of life is not in them. God asks the prophet, “Can these bones live?”

Look around… You know the lifeless places of this world. You’ve seen the news. You learned the story that hurt you to the bones this week. If you’re like me, your response is sometimes deep and painfully heartfelt. And sometimes it is a dull head shake, or a hopeless shrug. Look around… Can these bones live?

Ezekiel responds relatably: “O God, only you know.” But this wind, this breath, does not leave things where they are. This breath speaks the words, “You will live. I am going to open you graves and bring you up from your graves. I have spoken and will act.”

The Holy Spirit is wind – and what I mean is she is like an eight on the Beaufort wind force scale, which is described as “whole trees in motion; generally impedes progress.” You may as well not try to walk in the other direction. She is stirring up our synod assemblies to elect the first Black women bishops of the ELCA. She is breathing life into our dinner conversations, and our Bible studies and Council meetings. She blew St. Luke’s right out of your historic building, and is carrying us along into a future that only God knows.

The Holy Spirit hovered like breath over the waters at the beginning, and renews the face of the earth even now. Stop hanging onto the telephone pole, and let go! Just turn around and go the wind’s way. Get swept up in the current of new life.

The Holy Spirit is fire, and wind, and power.

This congregation has said that we want to be a powerful church. What we mean by that is that we will gather people and resources around a shared vision, because we understand power as the ability to act. Power – poder – to be able – means that we are not frozen in place, and we are not just people with nice words and good thoughts and prayers. Being powerful means we can act, and create, and change because of what we believe. This is not a power-over, like the way power works in oppressive governments or abusive relationships; this is power-with.

On Palm Sunday 2018, members of St. Luke’s rally with ecumenical and neighborhood partners in support of a campaign for a new, publicly-funded mental health center in our neighborhood.

The Holy Spirit is power – and what I mean is that she is gathering people and resources around a shared vision. She is proving the world wrong and turning things upside down. She is telling the truth about school shootings, and military occupations, and habitat destruction, and nuclear war, and nationalism. And she is declaring the things that are to come, where violence and children never meet, and all creatures have a safe home, and walls crumble into gardens, and people from all over the place understand one another clear as day.

Nowadays, says the prophet Joel, it seems like all of us are having these visions of a world restored – the young and the old alike. We are dreaming dreams of the world-as-it-should be. The Holy Spirit is giving to us the words that bring people back to life – whenever we talk to each other about these things, we are prophesiers of God’s future.

The Holy Spirit is gathering us together – people and recourses in one place for a reason. It is to make us able to declare the powerful things that God is doing in our midst. And to empower us to act – to head out of that room with the apostles, heads and hearts still on fire, to do this good news thing out in public, in a way that matters. Because of the Spirit, we have the ability to enact the gospel that transforms lives and changes the world.

The Holy Spirit is fire, and she is wind, and she is power.

Come, Holy Spirit!

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