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The Wind of the Spirit

I think I have always loved the imagery of wind to describe the action of the Holy Spirit, but that association took on a special power for me after spending 10 days on the Greek Island of Tinos with my family when we lived in Europe.

The wind is an inescapable companion on Tinos, demanding attention with its compelling voice and modulating touch. I delighted in the way the wind seemed to blow every stress and worry from my mind, but for my daughter, Alaina, the wind evoked more than delight.

Alaina fell in love. At just 5 years old, she would sit out on the porch of our rental, eyes closed, letting the wind tangle itself in her hair and breathing in peace. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

One afternoon she asked me to sit and listen to the wind with her. That’s not the kind of invitation a mother turns down. And as we sat in silence I was drawn into prayer. Prayer that was less about specific petitions than it was about communing with God’s Spirit.

In Hebrew[1] the word for Spirit and wind, and also breath, are all the same: Ruach. It is a feminine word that is used numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures to describe the action of God’s Spirit. It’s one of the first names for God in the Bible. In the second verse of the creation myth in Genesis 1, we read the description of God’s Spirit – Ruach - hovering over the primordial waters.

As I sat with my daughter in Tinos, soaking in the wind, and watching it play over the surface of the ocean waves in the distance, I knew God in a new way. I experienced God’s creative, nurturing, mothering Spirit for this world that God birthed out of pure love. It was an experience of the Spirit that shifted something in my faith. I felt intimately connected to God’s mothering love for this fragile, vulnerable world over which Ruach hovers; but underneath that connection I was also conscious of the uncontrollable enormity of God’s power – blowing with the force of a wind that we can’t grab hold of, or direct. A force that can blow the world into being, or blow us irresistibly in directions we may not have expected or intended.

Today’s reading from Acts about the church’s first Pentecost begins with the description that “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2)

God’s Spirit – the Spirit Jesus had promised and for which the disciples were waiting – came as wind. And not as a gentle breeze, but as a violent rush filling up the room; overwhelming them with its power.

Jesus had promised his followers power from on high (Luke 24:49) – but I wonder if this is the kind of power that they expected? In the first chapter of Acts, as we read last week, the disciples asked whether this was the time that Jesus would restore the kingdom of Israel.

They were looking for the power of military victory. Power to re-make their corner of the world the way they thought it should be. They wanted power over – power that put them in charge. But that’s NOT how the wind of the Spirit blows.

This was a power that overwhelmed. A power that filled their mouths with words they didn’t control. Words that witnessed to the power of GOD’s deeds. The wind of God’s Spirit filled more than the room. It filled the men and women themselves. It was poured into them, as the prophet Joel had described. And it conscripted them to a work that would blow them out of Jerusalem, out of their comfort zone, out to the work of witness about GOD – rather than about their own vision for the world.

This is the scary part about encountering the Wind of God’s Spirit – the Wind that hovered over the waters and brought the world into being is NOT something we can control. The Spirit that breathed life into creation is NOT a tool for us to use. It’s not a power that amplifies our agendas. It’s a power over us!

And that’s not always what we’re looking for, when we hear the promise of power from on high. I, for one, want the power of the Holy Spirit to be on call to fix all the brokenness and pain that I see in the world. Especially after a week like this week, with violence in Jerusalem, and yet another school shooting, and a tragic bus accident just a few miles away…

I want a power that I can grab hold of, and direct. I want to be able to say: “THERE! Change That! Fix our Violence. Heal our Brokenness. Protect our Children.”

I don’t want to be FILLED with the Spirit, I want to HARNESS it. But you can’t harness the wind. You can try to resist it or hide from it, but you can’t tell it where to blow.

Of course, there’s another option too. You can lean into the wind

I have another indelible memory of the wind, this one from when I was a little girl. I was on a fieldtrip to Half Moon Bay, with my home schooling co-op. I don’t remember much of what we were supposed to be learning about on that particular trip, but I remember the wind.

It was intensely powerful. So strong that it was hard to keep our feet. I remember my mom being worried – understandably. The wind was blowing in great gusts that could have easily knocked our little bodies to the ground.

But I wasn’t afraid. I was delighted. Because I discovered that if I stopped struggling and just leaned in – the wind would hold me up! The air that I had always thought of as being empty space, was suddenly strong enough to support my weight. The wind became my friend, a co-conspirator in turning struggle into joy. All I had to do was to stop trying to go my own way and lean in. Because when you lean in, the wind can both hold you up and direct you!

This experience of the wind is a bit like the description of the Spirit in John’s gospel.

The translation we read today describes the promised Spirit as the Advocate (John 16:7), but the original Greek is παράκλητος (paráklētos), which is a compound word literally meaning to come alongside another.[2]

παράκλητος (Paráklētos) is sometimes translated as Comforter – which describes the way the Spirit holds us up – giving us the strength to stand in the face of the brokenness of the world that threatens to drive us to our knees – not so much in prayers as in hopelessness. When we feel our own weakness in response to trauma, we can lean into God’s Spirit for strength. We can trust in the power that breathed life into creation, knowing that Ruach will not abandon this world.

But the Spirit that comes alongside us does more than hold us up. It also directs us. Because we ARE called to engage with the needs of the world… we are called to let the wind of God’s Spirit pull us along, and push us out into the world This is the Spirit of truth, who comes alongside us “to guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). This is the Wind of truth that speaks with the voice of God and guides us where we are supposed to go. If we allow it to fill us and push us. If we will trust this power that is NOT ours to control, but only to follow.

It’s not a journey of faith that comes naturally to most of us – raised as we are in a culture of self-determination. We’re used to setting our own course. Making our own decisions. We are told from our youth that we can take control of our own destinies. We are taught to seek power for the purpose of wielding it, not submitting to it.

But the myth of self-determination is really the lie that we are our own Creators; the sources of our own purpose. It is a denial of the Creative Ruach who hovered over the waters, and breathed life into creation, and continues to blow the Wind of the Spirit, and call those who would follow Jesus to take a deep breath then follow where that Spirit leads.

So, I have a question. How is the Wind of God’s Spirit guiding us?

Because, if we take a deep breath and let the Spirit fill us up, we won’t be able to stand still or stay silent. God’s Spirit will give us a message to proclaim, and a mission to follow – the Spirit will guide us on a journey of faith, and that journey will reach out to the needs of the world.

At the end of our worship today we will be collecting our Time & Talent sheets, and these are a good place to start in exploring the Spirit’s leading – concrete ways to participate in God’s mission in and through this church – but they are by no means the end. God’s Spirit is not under our control and is certainly not confined by the activities of this congregation.

But I do believe the Wind of God’s Spirit is moving here – in this place; filling these people – filling us.

It’s the Spirit the breathed the world, and each of us into being;

It’s the Spirit on which we can lean for the strength;

It’s the Spirit that fills our mouths with the message of God;

And it’s the Spirit that will lead us out into the world that God has loved since Ruach first hovered over the waters.

We don’t get to set the agenda, but we get to be part of the work. Because we are the church that was born on Pentecost.

Thanks be to God

[1] In Greek there is a similar association between the words for wind and Spirit (πνεῦμα, pneuma). Acts 2:2 uses a word derived from this root in describing the wind from heaven, and the Greek Septuagint also uses πνεῦμα in Genesis 1:2.

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