John 14:25-27 and Romans 8:14-17; 22-27 Pentecost Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 21 May 2016
We come to the end of our 50 days of Easter with the flash of fire, the fierce blowing wind, the language-shaping mystery that is Pentecost! On the 40th day, we remember the ascension of Jesus. And when the Spirit came on Pentecost, it was dramatic. The believers were bewildered, amazed, astonished, perplexed, filled with power that they did not understand. It is this power that propelled the church forward. It was the power of fire, wind, and language. Think about it. What is more powerful than fire, wind, and language?
After Andrew’s graduation and Mother’s Day with my mom, our young adult children and I went to Montreat for a couple of days of rest. It was cool in the evenings, so we built a fire each night to take the chill out of the house. From one little match in a minute from paper to twigs to sticks to logs, fire is a powerful force, crackling, roaring, warming, enlightening, beautiful, yet dangerous – fire!
Wind is another force, the power of which is amazing. With wind, heavy ships are propelled across the ocean. Every week I pick up branches from the palm trees which have blown down in the ordinary wind. With one wind turbine, you can provide enough electrical power to run over 10,000 refrigerators.
Language is even more powerful than fire or wind. Think about what language can do. With words you can destroy a person’s self-esteem or build it up. With words you can communicate the deepest passions, with words you can explain the most complex problems. Words. From the time of the Tower of Babel, people were separated by language – forced from there to divide themselves. Mysteriously, at Pentecost, there came the power to understand one another, despite language differences.
The Holy Spirit, described with wind, fire, and language – three powerful tools. Wind – an external force, creating change. Fire – an internal force of burning which spreads. Language – a connecting, bridge-building force.
The church by wind, fire, and language was transformed from a scared little band of believers staring up into heaven, wondering where their Lord had gone and when He would return, to being an empowered and impassioned group of witnesses, spreading fire of God’s love everywhere they went. The whole of the Book of Acts tells of how they shared the news of Christ and people were baptized, lives were changed, and the church grew. This Spiritual power is still in the church, at work in the lives of those who are living and breathing God’s life-giving Spirit. Sometimes, we learn from Ezekiel 19 that God is not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in the quiet, gentle breeze, the still small voice of God.
We are reading those types of scriptures today, words of reassurance that God is bringing peace, truth, hope, and strength. Hear now the promise of the Spirit to transform your life. In the Gospel and epistle readings for today, there are prevailing problems of trouble, fear, weakness, and the answer each time is the Spirit, the Spirit that lives in you.
First for our troubles, we have the promise of the PEACE of the Spirit, who teaches and reminds us of what we need to know.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
The next problem addressed by the Holy Spirit is that of fear. Fear enslaves us. The Spirit empowers us. Fear makes us hide. The Spirit tells us who we are. Fear tells us suffering is useless, but the Spirit tells us suffering with Christ means we will also be glorified with him.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Lastly we hear of the Spirit’s power to help us in our weakness. When the troubles and fears of life bear down on us so hard, we cannot even pray, the Spirit helps us to hold onto hope.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercede with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The Spirit of Pentecost came as fire, wind, and language – that all could understand – and this power gave people vision and hope and courage to develop the church in the power of Christ. In the beginning they were keenly aware of this Spirit empowering them. There are big moments in our lives too, when we accomplish something – when we graduate, when we have a new baby, when we make it through a challenging time and we know the Spirit empowered us. It is good at such times to express gratitude for the Spirit bringing you to that place of triumph.
There are other times when trouble, fear, and nagging weakness seem to be getting the best of us and we need reassurance of the quiet Holy Spirit, at work in us, giving us life and breath and all that we need to carry on. So this week, I’ve been reflecting on how the Holy Spirit can be bewildering fire, astounding wind, and amazing language while also being quiet peace, reassuring identity, and comforting presence in prayer.
First, let’s reflect on fire in the Bible. It was the God speaking in the burning bush, calling Moses and a pillar of fire that led them out of their suffering in Egypt. Jeremiah spoke of fire as truth burning in him. He said of God, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
So fire seems to be burning truth, so it is also said in James that the tongue can be a fire.
The Spirit gives us the fire of passion. That passion can be harnessed for good, giving us courage to speak truth, to act bravely, or that passion can be unleashed for harm, doing damage. The question is always this: are your passions guarding human dignity or damaging it? The fire of the Spirit is for protecting humanity. Passion should gratify desires of the Spirit, not of the flesh, the Apostle Paul told the Galatians when he challenged them to bear the fruit of the Spirit – fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control.
The word for Spirit, ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek, is translated wind, breath, or spirit. In the beginning of creation, it is said that a ruach, a wind, breath, spirit of God swept over the face of the waters. When Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, it was a wind from God blowing across the sea that made a path by which they could cross. Yet, it was also a wind storm that scared the fishermen while Jesus slept on the boat.
We like the disciples both the power and the fear of wind. Not too long ago, tornadoes came near. Twelve years ago, hurricanes ripped through Florida, doing great damage to homes, businesses, and churches. The wind storm that shook me to my core was the tornado that hit the Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont, Alabama back in 1994. Richard and I were serving in nearby Montgomery. I remember the horror of learning that the tornado hit as the children’s choir was singing, and Pastor Kelly Clem’s preschool daughter (who would be the same age as our Catherine), died along with nineteen others in that community. And I remember reading later that people called Pastor Kelly and said, “Will we have church on Easter?” And, of course, more than ever, they needed to have church on Easter to remember in the midst of all that death and destruction, that the Resurrection promises life. And so more powerful than the wind that destroyed that church was the hope that raised that congregation on Easter to worship in the church yard, amid all the rubble and despair. Yes, Kelly said, we will have church on Easter, after having funeral services for her daughter and so many others.
Wind harnessed for good can do so much. Joan Gray speaks of wind harnessed for good in her book “Sailboat Church” Rowboat churches depend largely on human effort. When church budgets shrink and membership declines, rowboat churches frantically row harder against a current, often frustrated and disappointed at their efforts. Sailboat churches, on the other hand, take up the oars, hoist sails, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them. That’s what we intend to be is a sailboat church, hoasting up sails, not just rowing harder and wearing ourselves out in frustration. Wind harnessed for good. Wind of the Spirit. Wind that can bend a tree, but when harnessed, makes that tree stronger.
Fire is the internal power of Holy Spirit within to propel our passions toward the good. Wind is the external power of the Spirit to be harnessed for good, and then language is the amazing spiritual connecting power between people.
Language is the means by which the Spirit in us connects with the Spirit in another. Think of the amazing gift of someone listening to you and showing compassion. Language is the power of proclamation and prayer in worship. Language is the means by which we offer care, especially by the body language and caring presence of listening and reflecting back carefully what we are hearing. There is no greater healing power than being heard, understood, and valued through shared language. It is this power of language that the Spirit uses to bring peace to our trouble, hope to our fear, and strength for our weakness.
Yet when language falls short of meeting our needs, we still have the bread, which rises by air and bakes in the warmth of fire. This bread of life, this body of Christ, mediated Presence of God coming to us at table, communicated by smell, touch, taste as well as by sight and hearing. God the Spirit coming to us in all our five senses in worship.
Marianne Williamson said: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Paul says the Spirit liberates you to know that you are a child of God and do not need to see yourself as small and insignificant. In fact, if you are a joint heir with Christ, you are an amazingly powerful person. Know this and use the fire of your passion for the good of humanity, harness the wind of the Spirit for God’s noble purposes, and dwell in the language of love by listening to one another and mediating God’s presence to one another.
Let us pray: Breathe on us, breath of God, fill us with the fire of your Spirit’s truth, send upon us the wind to propel our faith and strengthen our character, and embolden us with the language of love to deeply connect with others.