It’s just the wind

Acts 2:1-21

2:1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that 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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Jesus said, Whom do men say that I am?

And his disciples answered and said, Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets.

And Jesus answered and said, But whom do you say that I am?

Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

And Jesus answering, said, “What?”

            As Christians we claim that God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We call this “Trinitarian Theology”.  Recently I read that most Christians in the west, though professing to be Trinitarian in their theology, are really more binitarian, which I don’t even think is a word.  But regardless of whether it is a word or not, I believe that it is a critique that really hits home for me.  I focus on the first two persons of the Trinity a lot more than I focus on the third.  But not today!  Today we are going to focus on the Holy Spirit and they way the Spirit empowers the church to fulfill the great commission.

            I want to start today by saying “Happy birthday” to the church!  Not this church, but to the Christian church.  Today is Pentecost, which many people like to call the birthday of the church. 

Pentecost literally means 50 days and it is a Jewish Holiday that is still celebrated in many Jewish circles.  Pentecost began around the year 1200 BC following the Exodus out of Egypt.  Moses led the Israelites out of captivity and into the wilderness.  Then on the 50th day after the Passover Moses was given the Torah on the top of Mt. Sinai.  So Pentecost was a day to celebrate the giving of the Torah.  In addition to the giving of the Torah, the Israelites would later celebrate the first fruits of the spring harvest on Pentecost.  Late spring/early summer is a time to begin harvesting crops that go dormant over the winter months and mature early in the spring, like wheat.  So you might hear of the Jewish festival of weeks, which is to be celebrated the day after 7 weeks after Passover, or 50 days.  And you thought it was hard to keep track of the last day of school!

            Pentecost was a pretty big deal to the first century Jew and people would have been packed into Jerusalem for this yearly festival.  There would have been Jews from far and wide, as well as local Jews, congregating in the city for this festival.

            So the twelve disciples, including the recently added Mathias, are gathered together on that Pentecost to celebrate.  And as they are gathered a sound came upon them; a sound like a violent wind filled the place where they were.  And evidently this wind was so powerful and so noisy that people could hear it from some distance.  So the people came running from the streets and from the surrounding houses to see what was going on.  They didn’t see anything, but they sure heard something.

            And that’s the way it is with the wind.  You don’t see the wind.  The wind is invisible.  What you see is the effects of the wind.  The wind is blowing around the room right now.  The wind is moving the balloons that we have here for the church’s birthday party.  The wind is coming from the fans, from the air conditioner, and we see what it is able to do.

            But what is wind?  Wind is air on the move.  Air as we know it is not dangerous.  In fact it is necessary for us to live.  We are all breathing air right now, and not even thinking about it.  But when that air starts to move, when we start to experience wind, that wind can be dangerous, it can be powerful, and it can be utilized for good.

            Why am I spending so much time discussing wind this morning?  Well, it’s a little complicated.  But it seems appropriate on this Pentecost Sunday to take some time to give a bit of a language lesson.

            I want you to learn two words today, one Hebrew and the other Greek, and they both mean the same thing.  The Hebrew word that I want you to learn is ruach.  The Greek word is pneuma.  Both words carry about the same meaning: wind, breath.  Pneuma is where we get the word “pneumatic” from, such as a pneumatic nail gun, and pneumonia, the infection of the lungs.

            But ruach and pneuma are both translated in another way as well. They are both translated as spirit.  And as we look through the scriptures and the way these words are used we can begin to see how Jews and the early Christians would have understood God.  In Genesis chapter one, we read that the spirit of God (ruach) hovered above the formless void that would be made into the heavens and the earth.  God would then breathe life into the first created human being, Adam.  In John’s Gospel, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven he breathes upon the disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.  When the apostle Paul writes to Timothy that all scripture is God-breathed, or inspired, he says that it is theo-pneumatos (theos being Greek for God).  Wind, breath, spirit.  Like the wind, God can’t be seen, but the effects of God can be seen.

            So as the disciples are gathered to celebrate Pentecost together, it isn’t just some wind that blows through, it is the breath of God, the Sprit of God.  And the first thing that we notice is that the Holy Spirit is empowering the disciples to do the work that they have been commissioned to do.  They have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations.  And in order to do that, God is now giving them, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to speak in different languages.

            As we sit below the gentle fans in the church sanctuary, we can see the effects of this wind.  But we also know that the wind can be much more than just a gentle breeze.  The wind can be powerful; the wind can even cause damage.  It can bring down branches, usually my neighbor’s branches into my yard.  We have all seen pictures and videos of tornadoes ripping the roofs off of buildings and picking up cars and moving them to the next county.  The wind can be powerful.

            The Holy Spirit is a lot like the wind.  Sometimes we see it blowing gently, nudging people along.  Sometimes we witness gale-force winds.  On that Pentecost, the disciples were experiencing the gale-force winds of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God came down and dwelled upon them fully.  They breathed in this Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit dwelled within them.

            As we drive to Nebraska along interstate 80, and this is something that we don’t do anymore since we moved to Virginia, we come to these large structures between Omaha and Lincoln.  I don’t have a guess of how big they actually are, but I’ll just say that they are noticeable.  They are large, wind-driven turbines, what we might call windmills.  They aren’t your typical windmills from the old farm that you used to pump water.  These turbines produce electricity by harnessing the power of the wind.

            Now the jury is still out on whether wind turbines and wind farms are more of an advantage or disadvantage to the local environment, but one thing that we can’t deny is that the wind is powerful.  And that power can be utilized by human beings like you and me.

            The Holy Spirit is not that different.  We know that the Spirit is powerful.  We have seen the effects of the Holy Spirit.  We have seen people turn their lives around and help other people do the same, all through the power of the Holy Spirit.  One of the steps in the twelve-step method to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is admitting that there is a greater power than you that can give you strength.  As Christians, we call that greater power the Holy Spirit.  Maybe you have witnessed the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit in your own life.  We know it is there.  We can’t see the Spirit, but we can see the effects of the Spirit.  So how can we harness that power?  How can we build a spiritual windmill to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

            Let me ask you this, how many people have ever seen a windmill with only one blade?  If you have, it probably wasn’t made that way on purpose.  And it probably wasn’t turning.  Sure, a single blade can catch the wind, but it is so much more effective to have multiple blades, at least two or three.

            In our scripture for this morning, the disciples are gathered together to celebrate Pentecost.  Jesus surrounded himself with his closest twelve friends during his life on earth.  We were not meant to be Christians on our own.  We where designed to live in community with one another, supporting one another through prayer and acts of kindness.  In community we give and receive counsel.  And I believe that one of the aspects of community that we overlook too often is that we are to get together to interpret God’s will.  We are to get together to interpret scripture and interpret the leading of the Holy Spirit.

            Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 that where ever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there also.  This scripture is about discerning God’s will.  We gather in community, like the multiple blades of a windmill, to interpret the leading of God.  We gather in community to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit.

            This idea of utilizing the wind made me think of a scene from the 1995 movie “Tommy Boy”.  This is a movie that really shaped me as a Christian…no, not really, but it is a funny one.  I don’t need to go into details about the movie, but at the end, Tommy is sitting in a small sailboat out in the middle of a lake.  And he is just stuck there because there is no wind to make the boat move.  He has his sail up, he knows how to captain the boat, but there is no wind to fill the sails.  How can you utilize the power of the wind if the wind isn’t blowing?

            Like I said earlier, wind is simply air that is on the move.  But what causes air to move?  What makes wind?  Well it is a little more complicated than I am able to grasp and put into words.  But essentially wind is caused when air warms up.

            We have probably all learned at some point in our life that heat rises.  Well, I was taught in high school that this is not true.  Heat does not rise.  Heat disperses evenly (unless acted upon by an outside force).  Heat does not rise, warm air rises (or water, etc.).  That is why in the summer time when you are sitting downstairs in your house and go upstairs to bed that it is so hot and you can’t sleep.  Warm air rises.

            So put this on a large scale and warm up one side of the globe and cool the other side.  The air on the side of the globe receiving sunlight is getting warmer and less dense and rising.  That air leaves a vacuum which kind of pulls the colder, more dense air to a certain place, and thus we have wind.  So for Tommy sitting in his sailboat, if you really want some wind, you need to warm things up a bit.  You need to stoke up a great big fire!  Unfortunately, that isn’t all that easy to do when you are sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake.

            In the first chapter of Acts, the resurrected Jesus meets with his disciples and explains to them everything that has happened.  And then he tells them that he will send the Holy Spirit to them.  What he tells the disciples to do is to wait.  Wait on the Holy Spirit.

            Now this waiting does not mean “don’t do anything”.  It doesn’t mean that they are to sit at home and lock their doors and close their windows and shut themselves off from the rest of the world.  No, they continue to meet, they continue to do business, they select another person to replace Judas.  They are waiting on the Holy Spirit, but they are also continuing on in their ministry.

            I know that we all want to stoke up the fires to force the spirit of the living God to move among us and fill us with the Holy Spirit.  But as John 3:8 tells us, the wind is going to blow where it pleases.  We cannot cause the wind to blow and we cannot force God’s Spirit.  What we can do is invite the Holy Spirit and keep doing the things that God has called us to as we wait for the Spirit to move among us again.

            The Holy Spirit is a lot like the wind.  We can’t see it, but we sure can see its effects.  And just as the wind is powerful and can be utilized for good, so can the Holy Spirit.  And though we cannot force the Spirit anywhere we want and anytime we want, we can invite the Holy Spirit and wait for it.  We can pray with the multitudes of Christians that have come before us, “Breathe on me, breath of God.”

            I leave you today with a poem by Christian poet Christina Rossetti:

“Who has seen the wind?  Neither I nor you?  But when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through. 

Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I.  But when the leaves bow down their heads, the Wind is passing by.”

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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