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The wind and fire in our lives

Genesis 11:1-9
Acts 2:1-21

May 24, 2015


Today is Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost is the Greek name given to the Jewish Festival of
Shavuot, which occurs 50 days after Passover. In biblical times Jews from all over the Roman Empire would congregate in Jerusalem for the festival.

And so the Jews were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. While they were gathered the spirit came and swept through the room and then people spoke in many languages just like in the Genesis reading. It’s
Midrash - the retelling of the story so it made sense for the people. Remember, there is yet no church, but this story of Shavuot/Pentecost marks the beginning of the church - new church, new religion, new story - a story that was and is Shavuot, but becomes Pentecost which serves the Christian story.

If you like Bible stories, then there is no better story that portrays what Jesus taught his disciples than this one. It’s like before-and-after pictures. Before Pentecost, the disciples were dense, timid bumblers who fled at the least sign of trouble. Afterwards, they were fearless leaders. They healed the sick and cast out demons. They went to jail gladly, where they sang hymns until the walls fell down. How did this transformation occur? You can read all about it in the book of Acts.

The last thing Jesus told his disciples to do before he left them was to go back to Jerusalem and wait there for God’s promise to come true. They would be baptised by the Holy Spirit, he told them and they would be clothed by power from on high. With little or no idea of what any of that meant, they did as they were told. They went back to Jerusalem - not to the temple, but to an ordinary room in an ordinary house - and there they waited, along with the women who had come with them, including Jesus’ mother and his brothers.

For the most part, I suppose they prayed while they waited and I expect some of them were asking God to tell them a little bit about what they were waiting for. How would they know when the power had fallen on them? Would it tingle? Would it hurt? How did the Holy Spirit go about baptising people, exactly? Jesus had said something about fire which sounded dangerous. Did he mean real fire or spiritual fire? Maybe they should fill some jars with water just in case things got out of hand.

They did not have to wait long for the answer to their questions. On the day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival set 50 days after Passover, they were all together in one place when they got a crash course in power. First there was wind, and then there was fire, then they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and overflowed with strange languages: One spoke Parthian while another spoke Latin and two others found their tongues curling around exotic sounds of Egyptian and Arabic.

They may not have known what they were saying, but the crowd did. Devout Jews from all over the ancient world stood in the doorways, and windows, listening to a bunch of Galileans tell about the power of God in their own tongues so that no one was left out. The Holy Spirit turned out to be a phenomenal linguist, whom everyone present could understand.

Still it baffled them all, the speakers as well as the listeners. They were in the grips of something that bypassed reason and some of them could not bear it, so they started hunting for a reason.
“They are filled with new wine,” someone said (drunk in other words), but Peter said, “No, it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Meaning I suppose, that if it had been later in the day drunk might have been a real possibility.

Then Peter got up and delivered a sensational sermon, based on the second chapter of Joel.
“In the last days,” he proclaimed, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

That is what is happening now, Peter tells them. The holy spirit of God is being poured out on them and this is how it looks: wind like the wind that revived the valley of dry bones, and fire like the fire that led Israel through the desert.

This celebration, this church birthday party happened by the power of the Holy Spirit, which we hear about in two ways: First, with the idea that the Spirit is with us, with all the safety and comfort that the relationship offers. This is the spirit that most of us know and love - the spirit of peace and hope - the one that soothes our ruffled feathers and revives our weary souls. The one that is always with us if we just remember to breathe in and say thank you.

But there is another way the spirit acts - not another spirit, but another manifestation of the same spirit - that is not nearly so comforting. This is the spirit who blows and burns, it comes howling down the chimney and turns all the lawn furniture upside down, like a good prairie storm.

Ask Job about the whirlwind, or Ezekiel about the chariot of fire. Ask anyone who was in the room on Pentecost what it was like to be caught up in the spirit, and whether it is something they would like to see happen every Sunday morning.

“Only a fool would pray for the Holy Spirit,” says
Alan Jones, dean of a theological college in the US. He suggests that the Holy Spirit is present at three open spaces in our lives, “In the unpredictable, in the place of risk, and in those areas over which we have no control.”

This is where the disciples were and often that is where we are, more times than we would like to admit - and we find ourselves in this situation not only as individuals, but also as members of the church, that was born over two thousand years ago. It’s no crime to mutter a word or two to the One, who creates, asking for stability, or to remove us from risk, and please give us back the comfortable illusion of control that helps us sleep at night.

We all know what that day at Pentecost felt like, that moment when the wind sweeps us away and we are consumed by fire. Maybe when a loved one dies, or when we realise a long relationship has ended, or our children are in crisis, or we lose our job; the list is long and it changes over and over through a life time. We get through it - at least for the most part we do. Sometimes there are scars left on our injured spirits. It is that same spirit that nourishes us back to wholeness, that will look different for each one of us.

Some of us will find nourishment for our spirit in nature, in community, in relationship with likeminded people, or in ways we sometimes can’t imagine if we are open to the Spirit at work in our midst - whatever way we choose to seek wholeness, it should sometimes eliminate risk, sometimes we should feel we can trust the predictable to happen, and sometimes, we want to experience the feeling that we are in control. We want to sleep at night.

On Pentecost Sunday we are reminded that there is another side to God’s Spirit - one that can set us on fire, transform our lives, turn the world upside down. It is not predictable, it is very risky and it is beyond our control, but one thing we can do is head out straight into it, and be grateful that we are alive, and well, and able to feel the wind and the fire in our lives.

May we embrace the spirit in our lives and welcome the challenge of wind and fire. I invite you this week to write about the wind and fire in your lives.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood