This sermon was originally published on June 1, 2009.
She has been here from the beginning, stirring, creating, bringing form to chaos, and life to dust. In the beginning she brooded over the watery chaos waiting for God to give the word. In the fire, thunder, and smoke of Sinai she guarded the holiness of God and showed that approaching this god should not be taken lightly. When Elijah looked for God in fire, earthquake, and a storm, she came in sheer silence to show that she didn’t always appear with the flash and panache that human beings expect.
She gave birth to the church and is the One who gives us our unity, giftings, and words. But we don’t talk about her that much. In fact, the Church has never talked about the Holy Spirit much at all. She gets brushed to the side. She’s the runt of the Trinity no one wants to claim. And there’s a reason for this. The Holy Spirit scares us. We can’t control her. We can’t put restraints on her. We have our nice neat boxes for the other two members of the Trinity. God the Father and Mother is categorized with all of the attributes of God and put in the appropriate box. God the Son is neatly categorized by word and deed and placed in his box. For centuries theologians, scholars, teachers, and preachers have tried to do the same thing with the Spirit. But how do you put wind into a box?
A Violent Wind
I don’t think it’s an accident that in the Hebrew and Greek spirit, wind, and breath are the same word. All three are taken forgranted and none are really under our control. My favorite metaphor for the Spirit is wind. I’m originally from Oklahoma and have lived in the Midwest for 27 years, so I know something about wind. Wind is unpredictable. You don’t know what it’s going to do. It can give you a wonderful cool breeze on a hot summer day. It can also destroy acres of land and flatten towns and part of cities. As Jesus told Nicodemus you can’t see either the wind or the Spirit but you can feel them. You don’t know where either comes from or where they are going. Wind is not something anyone can control. It decides when it blows and how. It can choose to be still and silent or roaring hundreds of miles per hour. No one tells the wind where to blow, but it will blow you a few blocks up the street on certain days. It’s wonderful when it acts like we think it should, and it’s disastrous when it decides to show its power in straight line winds and tornadoes.
I think this is why we don’t hear too much about the Holy Spirit. We just can’t fit her into those nice, neat systematic theology boxes we put God the Father and Mother and God the Son in. We can’t even pretend to control her. What do we do with this wonky member of the Trinity who doesn’t fit into all of our nice, neat little boxes with the nice neat little attributes fixed to her box? The Spirit does what she wants and blows where she wants. When she gives a nice breeze of inspiration during private prayer, we love her. When she blows us out of our comfort zones to be peacemakers and love those we’d rather not, we’re not too sure about her and her methods.
Fire and New Life
Just like the wind, fire cannot be controlled either. We love the illusion we control fire in the pits and fireplaces of life, but then a bush fire starts and devastates thousands of square miles. It burns everything it comes across, blown by the unpredictable wind. We like to think the Spirit enriches our lives. We don’t like to think about the devastation that same Spirit can cause. Like the wind and the fire we cannot control God’s Spirit. She blows where she wills, convicts where she wills, redeems where she wills, and blows us kicking and screaming into obeying the Beatitudes instead of just giving them lip service.
We see the unpredictable and powerful side of God in both the Ezekiel and Acts readings for today. In a vision Ezekiel sees a field of dried, strewn out bones. It looks as if they died in battle, no one buried them. This was an ancient way of making sure people didn’t move onto the next world after death. This is how the Jews saw themselves. They were in captivity, and their land was gone. They had no hope. They would always be captives in a strange land.
But God gives Ezekiel a vision, an incredible vision. God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and tell them to come together and become bodies once again. But the bodies are not living just as the human made of clay in Genesis was not living. Then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the four winds and tell them to blow life back into these corpses. The wind comes and blows through the bodies giving those who had been long dead new life just as God’s breath gave life to the first human. God’s Spirit once again blows through the earth and gives life. Just as the Spirit gave new life to these long dead people, so will the Spirit blow into the lives of the Jews and restore them as a people in their land.
Bringing God Back to Earth
In Acts the Spirit is blowing again. This time it’s a huddled little group in a room who have been hiding out and praying for 10 days. Their Messiah has been crucified, resurrected, and now has ascended into heaven. He’s gone again, and left them the responsibility to build the Kingdom of God on earth. No pressure there. Jesus told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came. But what exactly did that mean?
It meant something they could not control. She came blowing through the room they were in and blew them out into the streets to proclaim what they had been hiding: the power of God in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. She inspired them with her fire and put her words in their mouths. They spoke in different languages with their Galillean accents to show that it was not the disciples alone who were doing this.
She gave them a new understanding of Scriptures. In Joel’s prophecy the day of the Yahweh is a day of judgment and disaster. God vindicates Israel but the nations around Israel suffer God’s fury. Now God’s Spirit comes to proclaim salvation to all who believe. And God’s Spirit is no longer limited to just anointed leaders like kings and priests. God’s Spirit is poured out on all to proclaim what God has done. The young and old, male and female, free and slave are in-spirited to tell those around them about God’s love and compassion shown in Jesus. No one is left out.
At this point it appears that the Spirit will once again just be for Israel, for the Jews. But this is just the beginning, and the Spirit is going to show that she cannot be restrained and held in one nation, race, or group of people. She blows where she wills among the Gentiles showing them God’s love and mercy, and they too will be saved.
Last week in her sermon Vicki noted that as the disciples go and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah they bring God back to earth. As the disciples proclaim and show the love of Christ, God comes back to earth for good, never to leave again. We see this in this week’s readings. The Holy Spirit does not act without a human counterpart. Ezekiel has to prophesy to the bones and the four winds for life to be resurrected. The apostles and disciples are praying and waiting when the Spirit comes and impels them out into the street.
I’m still not sure whether it’s to God’s credit or discredit that she insists on working through us. But that’s what she does. We might never know which way the Holy Spirit is going to blow, but we do know that she is going to blow around and through us. Blowing us out of our rooms and sanctuaries. Blowing us out of our regular haunts and the normal people we hang out with. She blows us onto new roads and into new places to continue to bring God’s presence into our world. She continues to empower people to shout out the good news that judgment is not God’s last word. That God’s last word has always been and will always be forgiveness, love, and mercy. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” God’s Spirit blows into our lives, so that we can live Christ-like lives in our world, and that is God’s final word.