Saturday, June 24, 2017

Year A, Proper 7, Genesis 21.8-21, Father Abraham

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Family feuds are by far the worst feuds.
We’ve all seen or heard of them, even if we’ve been lucky enough to have personally avoided them.  There seems to be no limit to what families can fight about, nor any limit to the intensity of those fights.
Those feuds can quickly escalate into conflicts that can turn violent, and if not violent, virulent, that is venomous, vindictive, and vicious.
Often these feuds, which  may simmer for a lifetime, boil over during times of grief, and especially when dealing with the estate and inheritance.
Jealousy can fuel the fire.
So can matters of control.
Money and inheritance often stoke the flames,
As does any sense of a favored status.
And there is no family that is immune from such conflicts.  It seems to be part of our DNA.  Or to put it differently, theologically, this is evidence of our bondage to sin.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from this issue.
It was jealousy that caused Cain to murder his brother Able. 
Jacob and Essau, twins, spent much of their lives in conflict that steamed from their birth order and the implications for that with regards to the inheritance, and also because of a sense of favoritism, with their mother Rebekah favoring Jacob, and Isaac favoring Essau.  Trickery and deceit were also part of the mix as Jacob and Rebekah teamed up to trick Isaac into giving his blessing and the birthright to Jacob, instead of Essau.
Today’s first reading from Genesis tells the story of yet another family feud, that between Sarah and Hagar and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
4,000 years have passed and that feud still rages all about us in the world today.
It began because of a very simple problem.
Abraham and Sarah were unable to conceive a child.
God had promised Abraham that he would be the Father of a great nation, but he was now advancing in years, and Sarah as well.  They were well beyond child bearing age.
Sarah, desperately wanting a child for Abraham, and aware that she was unable to conceive, sent her handmaiden Hagar into Abraham, as was often the custom of that day.  Immediately, Hagar conceived and bore a son to Abraham, Ishmael.
But, as the story unfolds, God’s promise was to Abraham AND Sarah.  It was that Sarah herself would bear a son for Abraham.
And in time she did.
When Isaac was born there was such great joy that Abraham and Sarah named him Isaac, which means laughter.
But there were more emotions than just laughter.
In spite of the fact that sending Hagar into Abraham was Sarah’s idea in the first place, she was resentful that Hagar had so easily conceived a son for Abraham.
Today, having a child with someone other than your wife is considered adulterous, but that wasn’t the issue in Abraham’s time.  In that patriarchal society men often had children with not only their wives (and yes there were often more than one wife), but with their servants as well.
Jacob would have children with two wives, and two servants.
That wasn’t the biggest problem for Sarah.
Underlying her resentment was that Ishmael was Abraham’s first born son, and that as such, he normally would have been the recipient of the greater share of the inheritance. 
Add that together with all the other emotions Sarah was feeling, and it finally became too much to deal with.
Sarah demanded that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael, sending them off into the wilderness, likely to die.
This distressed Abraham.
Then in an interesting turn of events a couple of things happened.
God told Abraham to do as Sarah demanded.
But God also promised Abraham that Ishmael would also become the father of a great nation.
Today, Muslims claim Abraham as the Father of their faith as do the Jews and we Christians. 
The difference is that Muslims understand themselves to be the heirs of Ishmael, not Isaac.
What is remarkable is that 4,000 years have passed but the feud that started between Sarah and Hagar, has not.  It continues to this day.
Family feuds are the worst feuds, and they continue the longest.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims all revere Abraham as the father of their faith. 
And yet history is full of the conflicts between these three great faiths.
As Christians, we are well aware of the continuity between Judaism and Christianity.  Jesus, after all, was born a Jew.  And we cherish the Hebrew Bible as part of our scripture.
Though it should be noted that this did not prevent Christians and  Jews from being in conflict over the years.  Jews persecuted Christians from the start, and Christians were responsible in part for the holocaust, and the death of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
We often don’t want to claim responsibility for the holocaust, but we do bear some responsibility.
Martin Luther, you see, not only had a great impact on our understanding of the Gospel.  In his later years, though, he also wrote some scathing words about the Jews that sowed the seeds of anti-Semitism in Germany.
Family feuds are the worst.
We are less familiar with our relationship with Muslims.
We worship the same God.
The Hebrews referred to God as Elohim, Yahweh, and Adonai.
In Greek, the word for God is Theos, or in Latin, Deus.
And in Arabic, the word for God is Allah.
But these are not different Gods.  They are merely the words used in different languages.
Arabic Christians, for example, refer to God as Allah.  That’s how you say “God” in Arabic. 
But it is the one God of Abraham that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship.
A couple more things you might not be aware of with respect to our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Did you know that within the Koran, both Christians and Jews are referred to as the people of the Book?
That the Koran references the scriptures of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels?
That Jesus is considered a prophet of Islam, and that there are numerous passages about Jesus in the Koran?
And did you know that the Koran speaks of the virgin birth of Jesus?
Surprising, isn’t it?
Now having said that, there are very profound differences.  In the Koran, it very specifically affirms that Jesus is a messenger of Allah, but vehemently denies that he is in anyway Divine.
Like Judaism, Islam is strictly a monotheistic religion and any notion that Jesus is God’s son, and divine, is denied outright.
Let it suffice to say that though we all worship the God of Abraham, we believe some very different things about that God.
And we have fought over those differing beliefs.
Family feuds are the worst.

But there is something that the Bible makes clear that we should also be aware of.
First, as is evident from today’s lesson, Abraham loved both of his sons, Isaac and Ishmael.
And so also, God loves all of his children.
God’s capacity to love all of his children far exceeds our capacity to love our brothers and sisters.
I repeat:  God’s capacity to love all of his children far exceeds our capacity to love our brothers and sisters.
One example of this:
My daughter related to me a comment that took place during a youth group meeting one day.
The husband of our youth director said, like so many others: “The only good Muslim, is a dead Muslim.”
This was particularly hard for Brita to stomach, because at the time one of her close friends was a Pakistani foreign exchange student, and yes, a Muslim.
We have a struggle dealing with Muslims.
We allow the actions of terrorists, a radicalized political group, that, oh by the way, happen to be Muslim to shape our attitude toward all of the Muslims in the world, most of whom are as peace loving as we are.
If Muslims really were all that violent, with 1.6 Billion of them in the world there would be a hell of a lot more conflict than there is.
It is simply wrong to judge all the Muslims in the world on the basis of a few extremists, just as it’s wrong to judge all Christians, or Jews, on the basis of the worst examples.
Should Jews be labeled “Jesus killers” for all time?
Should Christians all be blamed for the holocaust?
One other thing to  note.  Muslim terrorists have killed far more Muslims than anybody else.  They are not “Muslim” terrorists, they are simply terrorists.
And God abhors all such hatred.
God’s capacity to love all his children far exceeds our capacity to love our brothers and sisters.
Not only do we find it difficult to love Muslims and Jews, we even find it difficult to love other Christians.
But the point is, God doesn’t.  God loves us all.
And that’s what matters the most.

Amen

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Year A, Proper 6, Romans 5.1-8, Suffering & Hope

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“And not only that,” Paul writes,  “but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” 
In Philippians 3 Paul writes:
“7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
            But this wisdom of Paul didn’t come easy.
Paul had reason to boast.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
In Acts we hear
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem) at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.”

The life Paul lived, was an impressive one.  He spent much time and great effort in achieving all that he had achieved. 
He was a man of great passion.
He was well known to the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
He was an up and rising star.
And then, as he pursued his passion, he was knocked off his feet by a blinding light from heaven and heard the words “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  When he gathered himself together and got up off the ground, he was blind.

Everything he was,
Everything he strived so hard to be,
His very self image,
All of that, died in a moment.
It became rubbish, trash, worthless.
It wasn’t just the physical blindness he suffered, it was also the loss of an entire world view.  He could no longer see the world the way he once did.
Paul had reason to boast in the great accomplishments of his former life, and yet it was not these that changed him, but suffering.
And then in his blindness, he began to see.
His former life now gone, he was to be resurrected, and would live now – in Christ, and Christ in Him.

Richard Rohr calls this experience
            “Falling Upward”.
Apart from some sort of necessary suffering,
Apart from a shaking of the foundation
Apart from a significant uncontrollable loss
Apart from hitting some sort of ‘rock bottom’ in our lives,
            It is difficult, almost impossible for us to let go of the self that WE have fabricated, in order that we might become what God has created us to be.
To put it differently,
We cannot live in Christ, nor can Christ live in us, if we are so full of ourselves that there is no room.

Like Paul, we spend a lot of time and incredible amounts of effort fabricating our lives.
We have a self image rooted in our families of origins. At each stage of our development and growth we add both victories and failures that shape our identity.
We get our degrees.
We learn our skills.
We are passionate about some things, indifferent about others.
We surround ourselves with friends & foes,
            Colleagues and clientele,
            Family, and if we’re fortunate, that one special person that more than any else, shapes our identity.
Into this castle we are building, we load it with things, especially in a materialistic society such as we live in.
My house,
The car I drive,
The boat, the furniture, the tools and the toys-
It’s all stuff that says something about who I am.
We fill our lives with activities.
And whether it is the opera, or the rodeo, or the soccer field,
            Each choice we make is a statement of our very being.
We are creating a “Self”, an “Ego”,
            A person of our own making.

If we do it well, it is quite impressive.
Not only do we impress others, we impress ourselves.

The problem is that it is all a fa├žade. 
It’s like a sandcastle on the beach.  No matter how beautiful, how awesome, no matter how much energy we put into creating it, in a moment it crumbles.
The foundations shake.
Suffering becomes a reality.
We find ourselves loosing the very things that shaped our identity.
Things that seemed like forever are gone in the blink of an eye.
Knocked down, blinded and unable to see, we are left wonder who we actually are. . .
            Who are we meant to be?
And there in that moment, when everything seems lost, when our very life is in shambles,
            There is the voice of God speaking.

One of the most difficult things to accept is that often the very events that threaten to destroy us, are in fact the hand of God nudging us beyond our own little world, into the life for which we have been created, the life “in Christ”.

Our old self must die,
In order that Christ may live in us.

The death of the “old self” is linked to resurrection and new life.  You can’t have one without the other.

 “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Here I need to say two things:
First, it is not that God produces suffering in our lives in order that we might learn and grow from it, for to do so would be nothing less than cruel.  Suffering is not a tool God uses to produce spiritual maturity.
But, having said that, apart from suffering we will remain spiritually immature, or perhaps it would be better to say, spiritually inexperienced.
Hope, for one who has not suffered, is mere optimism.
Hope that is borne out of suffering, is a confidence that in all things Christ will be victorious, even over death itself.

I don’t know about you,
But I’d much prefer to know Christ and the power of his resurrection,
Without, and I really mean WITHOUT
            The sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.
I liked the “ME” that I had created.
I liked the life that I have been living.
I didn’t want the “self” that I worked so hard on achieving, to crumble like a sandcastle.

Not all of us are knocked to the ground by a heavenly light and encounter with Jesus as Paul was.
For most of us the turning point in our lives may be much more mundane.
It can be the loss of a job that was so much a part of our identity.
Likewise, with the loss of a spouse, or the children moving away, or other significant changes to the relationships that had defined us.
All of us grow old, and part of the aging process is coming to terms with limitations that once were not there, but now begin to define who we are and who we are not.
For the alcoholic, they know this critical point as the “rock bottom”, when the life they had created around alcohol comes apart at the seams, and they find themselves powerless and life is now unmanageable.
And at one point, each of us must confront the reality of our own mortality. 
It is in these moments of pain that God speaks words of hope.

The first word, is that death does not win.
Death, not the death of our “false selves”, not the death of our “Egos”, not the death of our carefully crafted and created self image, nor for that matter, our physical deaths,
Death, however you define it, is not the last word.
We are joined with Christ in a death like his, that we might also be joined with him in a resurrection like his.

And living our lives, now in Christ, our identities are no longer rooted in the things of this world, but in Christ.
The words God spoke to Christ at his baptism,
The words spoken to us in the water and the word are the only words that finally matter.
You are my Son,
            You are my Daughter,
The one I love,
            And with you I am well pleased.
It would be nice if we didn’t need get knocked on our butts to hear these words and to embrace them as our only true identity.
            But, we usually aren’t willing to let go of our old selves without a fight.
But God will win that fight.
And we will one day, sooner or later, come to know the beauty of being a beloved Child of God with whom God is well pleased.
That is who we are.
Nothing less.
Nothing more.
Amen

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Year A, Trinity Sunday, Genesis 1, Matthew 28.16-20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
This is the thing in our world today.
It’s not so much that people don’t believe in God anymore, it’s that they don’t believe in the Church.
And though it is possible to believe in God, apart from believing in the Church, the truth is that we cannot learn and experience either love or forgiveness by looking in the mirror.
We need each other for that.
And apart from the experience of love and forgiveness there is no experience of God, for God’s very nature is tied up in those two things.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day set aside to specifically talk of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
How God can be, at one and the same time, One God yet three persons is the mystery of the Trinity.
Our brothers and sisters in the Jewish and Muslim faiths would say he isn’t.  God is One.  Period.  Not three in One.
We have tried to explain our belief that Jesus could be distinct from the Father, and yet of one Being with the Father, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the  Son.
Yet in the end, it remains a mystery.
Except this.
Community is central to our understanding of who God is, and who we are called to be.
One cannot talk of God in God’s fullness, without talking about the relationships that are the very essence of God’s being. 
The relationship of the Father to the Son. 
The relationship of the Father and the Spirit.
The relationship of the Spirit and the Son.
And that being so related, they are One.
Not only that, but we are called into relationship with God.
In the beginning,
God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them—
That is, to be created in the image of God, is to be created in relationship with both God and each other. 
Later, God would declare "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."
Jesus prayed in John 17:
that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, . . .
Let me put it a different way:
God had to create us, because it is God’s nature to love, and hence God had to have someone to love.
God also created us ‘in his image’, which means that he had to create us in the context of the human community that WE might have someone to love.
And that through being loved, and loving, we experience not only human life as it was meant to be from the beginning, but we become One with the Father who created us.
Is it all crystal clear, now?
But why the Church?
As I said at the beginning, the biggest challenge facing believers today is not believing in God, but believing in the Church.
The problem is that though the Church was intended to be a loving community that reflected in every way God’s love for us, it often has not been that.
I have been priviledged to be part of the Church from my youth.
My Father was a pastor.
And from a very early age, I imagined myself becoming a pastor as well.  And for the last 29 years that is what I have been.
I used to sit on the bench of the organ during services while Virginia Deussenberry played the hymns.
I was an acolyte, lighting the candles every Sunday for years on end.
My childhood was lived out in the context of this community of faith we call the Church.
I met Karla at Lutherwood Bible Camp where we were both serving as counselors.
Our married life was shaped profoundly by our participating in  Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor, WA.
Our children were nurtured not only in our own home, but within the context of the Church.
And when asked, one of my children responded that the Church is for them, the place where they have been loved and cared for.
If the Church is all that then why doesn’t everyone want to be part of the Church?
The problem is that the Church has often fallen short of being a loving and caring place.
Personally, I am amazed at times that I remain part of the Church.
There have been times when my experience of the Church has left me shattered and broken.
Rather than being that loving place where grace abounded, there were times when the Church was downright cruel and vicious.
I have experienced betrayal, and anger, and meanness.
More than once, my experience of the Church has left me struggling with depression and wondering if I even had the will to live anymore.
And yet, even in the most difficult of those circumstances, often at the very moments that I wondered if I could go on, grace has abounded.
I have experienced God’s loving presence most profoundly, often when the Church failed me the most.
What I have learned over the years is that if you want to experience love, you must learn forgiveness.
There are so many things that can divide us that we must be able to forgive, and be forgiven, in order that love can prevail.
This is true of our relationship with God.
It is true of our relationship with one another.
And it is certainly true with respect to the Church.
Here is a mystery.
That just at that moment that the Church seems to be failing miserably in its attempts to love, God chooses to teach us about forgiveness.  And as we experience forgiveness, both given and received, we discover the depth of love.
In my own relationship with my wife, I have learned more about loving and being loved from those moments where forgiveness was required, than from those moments of blissful harmony.
And there have been both.
So it is with the Church.
Why should we, as Christians, be part of the Church?
Why should we devote so much time and energy to this little community?
Because here, like no other place, you will learn to love and be loved.
And here, like no other place, you will both be forgiven and learn to forgive.
Two things.  Love.  And forgiveness.
As we experience those two things, we come face to face with God.
As Jesus hung from the cross he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
Have you ever considered these words, and realized that in the end, Jesus needed to forgive the Father?  Even within the context of the Holy Trinity and the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, forgiveness was required in order that love might be found.
The biggest disappointment to me with the Church is how often we have been unwilling to love and forgive.  People have chosen division instead.  Sometimes leaving one congregation for another, sometimes leaving the Church itself.
Should I too, get fed up and leave?  Or perhaps it’s at moments like this, that I am called all the more to love and forgive as I have been loved and forgiven. 
As we do that, we will experience God.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen

Sunday, June 4, 2017

I believe that I cannot believe. . .

"And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  Luke 18:8

"I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true."  (Luther's Small Catechism, Augsburg Fortress)

Apart from the Spirit, faith is simply not possible.  Apart from the Spirit, Jesus is nothing to us.

"Christ Alone" was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation.  As a corrective, there is some truth to it, but on its own, it is blatantly false.

Christ never stands alone, but always within the community of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is particularly important because faith in Christ is impossible apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We have too frequently focused solely on Christ, and not acknowledged the Spirit's essential role in the faith we share.

I struggle.  When I started my ministry some 30 years ago it was with great hope and expectation.  What I didn't expect was the degree to which our world has moved toward secularization during that time.  I didn't expect the indifference with which the world now views Christianity.  I didn't expect that congregations across the land would be in decline.  And I didn't expect how difficult it would be to bear an effective witness to Christ in a world in which deafness to the Gospel message seems to be the norm.

And I can't help but feel that I personally have failed.

And yet faith is not a work performed by  humans, nor a consequence of anything we may do.  It is only by the call of the Holy Spirit that faith is possible.  And part of the mystery surrounding the Spirit's work is that there are particular ripe moments in time, kairos, when we will see the manifestation of the Spirit's activity.  At other times, it is as though the seeds of faith are lying dormant under the ground, waiting for the right moment to sprout and spring forth with new life.

I serve a small congregation.  Attrition is taking its toll.  It's hard not to sound the alarm that if current trends continue the future of that particular community of faith is not long.  And my response is to continually ask myself what can I do to change things, and specifically to attract new members.

Wait.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  And believe.  Believe that even though the ground seems barren and lifeless, underneath the surface lie the seeds of faith that are even now being nurtured by the Spirit of God.

We have a limited responsibility.  We bear witness to what we have seen and heard, yet it is the Spirit that produces faith.

There is a mystery surrounding the Spirit's work.  And that mystery is wrapped up in the concept of kairos, the ripe moment in time when the harvest will be plentiful.

I knew a wheat farmer who was always chomping at the bit to get out into the fields to harvest the crops.  But you have to wait until the crops have ripened.  There is no rushing nature.  And so he developed a discipline that just when it seemed like the time for harvest was imminent, he would go fishing for a week.  And then, when he returned, the fields would be ripe for harvest and the work could begin.

Perhaps we need some of that wisdom.  Impatient with the Spirit's own timing, we need to just go fishing.  When the Spirit has completed his work, then, and only then, can the harvest begin.  The time will surely come though, and  yes, in the end the Son of Man will find faith on earth.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Year A, Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2.1-21 “The Rush of a Violent Wind”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
Wind makes me uneasy, unsettled, and downright anxious.
It’s not often around here that we experience a great wind.  But it happens from time to time.
My experiences of the wind come from my time on the Great Plains, now there they have some wind.
My mother-in-law reminded us what the wind was like in North Dakota following one of her last trips back there.  She was watching the kids running around on the farm, and what she noticed was that when they ran around the corner of the house they would instinctively lean into the wind. 
The wind on the prairie can be oh so persistent, and howling, enough so as to drive one crazy.  Karla used to imagine those early prairie settlers hunkered down in their soddy shanties listening to that howling wind all winter. 
But the most unsettling of winds, were not the steady constant winds of everyday, but the violent winds that accompanied major weather fronts, winds so pronounced that you could see them coming.
With the sound of such a mighty wind you knew that change was in the air.
Great Falls, Montana, holds the record for the greatest single variation in temperature for a given day.
On that particular day, they woke up to the bone chilling temperatures of thirty below zero, and then the Chinook winds began to blow out of the South, and by 3:30 in the afternoon it was 75 degrees outside. 
The rush of a violent wind.
Anxiety.
When major weather fronts moved through the plains there was much to fear.
Hail could wipe out a crop in a flash.
Brush fires set off by the lightening would rush across the prairie and consume everything in its path.
The then there was the ever present reality of the greatest of all winds, the tornadoes.  There is the epitome of “the rush of a violent wind”.  Entire towns leveled.  Houses thrown about as though they were but a piece of paper in the wind.  And in one of the strangest of phenomena, single pieces of straw, straw!, blown so hard and so fast that they will penetrate fence posts.
Wind makes me uneasy, unsettled, and downright anxious.
“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
Change was literally, in the air.
Ruach is the Hebrew word.
It means “Breath, Wind, and Spirit”
It was this mighty Ruach, this great wind that was at one and the same time the Breath of God, and the Spirit of God, that blew over the watery chaos and signaled the beginning of Creation.
“1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Imagine the sound of that great Wind from God, blowing over the face of the waters stirring up the waves with such a force that life itself was stimulated from that primordial sea.
And then, that same Ruach was breathed into a lump of clay, bringing life to that which was lifeless, and Adam awakened.
With every breath we take the Spirit, the Ruach of God, fills us with life.
And then at the last, there is one more great rush of wind as we exhale that last time, giving up the Spirit of God that is within us, and dying.
“Into your hands I commend my Spirit”, the Ruach, and with those words, Jesus died.

For the disciples, this meant a return to the chaos of the beginning.  Darkness covered them as in the beginning.  There was a formless void left in their lives in that place that Jesus once filled.
But then the wind started blowing.
Easter morning there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, a wind so powerful it rolled back the stone that had sealed tight the tomb where Jesus laid.
And then, that very wind, breathed life back into the lifeless corpse as Jesus’ arose.
For almost fifty days the disciples experienced the presence of the risen Christ, until finally yet another wind blew, and Jesus was caught up as in a whirlwind and ascended into the heavens.
On Pentecost, the disciples gathered together again.
It began like the calm before the storm.
All was still, and yet there was uneasiness in the air.
Then, the wind began to blow.  The same Spirit of God that moved over the face of the deep in the beginning, now filled the house in which they gathered.
And with the Wind, came fire igniting within them a deep passion for the Gospel, and for all God’s children.
They could contain themselves no more.
And in the power of the Spirit, they began to speak.
Hearts were changed.
Belief was born.
Three thousand were baptized that day, and yet it was just the beginning.
Wind is a powerful thing.
It can signal the end of life as we know it.
And it can give birth to the future of God.

Nearly two thousand years have passed since that first Pentecost.  Two thousand years during which the Word of God was shared and people received the gifts of the Spirit throughout the earth.  Faith, hope, and love, these three, and the greatest of these is love.
But for all of that, we stand at a crossroads in our country.
The Winds of change are blowing all around us.
We don’t know what to make of it.
It’s hard to discern, from the howling of the wind, whether it will bring new life, or destruction.
And so we are anxious.  I am anxious.
There are places in the world where the Wind that is blowing is clearly the Spirit of God at work.
Africa.  Long a mission field for our work.  Now, it is in Africa that some of the most vibrant Churches are growing.
I served as a hospital chaplain with a priest from Africa, Jacob Yali, who had come from Nigeria.
He told of his congregation.
25,000 people were part of his parish. 
A typical confirmation Sunday might see 300 to 350 new believers affirm their faith.
The same thing is happening in China.
But the Winds of change in our country are not so promising.
Small congregations like ours dot the landscape, and too often the sound of the Wind that we hear, sounds much more like a last gasp for life, than the beginning of new life.
I have a friend, a frequent visitor to our congregation in Sandpoint, Julie.  Julie is a charismatic Lutheran, and is quite unique to have in worship.  One Sunday, I looked over and saw her lying on the floor.  Two of our members were doctors and rushed to her side.  I stopped them.  Julie was simply overcome by the Spirit.  She would get that way whenever she received the bread and the  wine. 
Well, Julie is convinced that the Spirit is going to start blowing once again in this country.  Like a farmer watching the weather on the horizon, Julie perceives that the great Wind of God is going to start blowing through our land.
I hope Julie is right.
Not only that, I hope that we will hear the Spirit’s presence like the rush of a mighty Wind.
During our Lenten services this year I was delighted to see a Dove outside our window, looking in on us.  “The Spirit descending on us like a dove”-- is what I thought, gentle and lovely.
I think that is what we’d prefer.
We’d prefer that the Spirit come to us, gentle and lovely, like a dove.  Comforting.
And yet on Pentecost, the Spirit was anything but “gentle and lovely”. 
The rush of a might wind.
I think we are beyond what a gentle Dove can fix. . .
What we need is that mighty Wind that called forth life from the watery chaos.
What we need is that Breath of God, breathing once again into our lifeless corpses, raising us up to new life in Christ.
This is what we need.
But it’s not something we can do.
Only God’s Spirit can work such wonders in our midst.
Only the Spirit can give us faith.
Only the Spirit can give us hope.
Only the Spirit can teach us to love as we have been loved.
And so I’m praying these days.  Fervently praying.
“Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, Might Wind, Breath of God.
“Fill our hearts with your Love, and our lives with your power.”

Amen.