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.
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.”


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