(This post is Part II of a teaching sermon on the Holy Spirit preached on Pentecost 2010 at Lebanon UMC in Mebane, NC.)
In addition to the image of "breath," the Bible also gives us another image for what the Holy Spirit is, and what it does for us. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind. When Jesus’s friends experienced the Spirit on Pentecost, they heard a sound like a great wind. There is another time in the Gospel of John when Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is like the wind: he says it blows wherever it wants to, you can’t control it or know where it’s going to blow next.
The Holy Spirit is like a wind of God that blows through the world. It’s like this beautiful breeze, this jetstream of joy that runs through all creation, and that flows in the direction of God’s will for the world. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to tell which way the wind is blowing, which way the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. I wonder, have any of you tried to walk against a strong wind? It slows you down, doesn’t it? And have you ever tried to walk or run with the wind at your back? It propels you forward, makes you faster. Or think about this, are any of you NASCAR fans? They used to say that the reason Dale Earnhardt Sr. won so many races on Superspeedways was because he could see the draft: he could see the airflow coming off our other cars, and he would line up with that draft to aerodynamically propel him forward.
Life in Christ is like that. The Holy Spirit is always blowing through our lives and communities. And our main job is to see the draft, to lick our finger and see where the wind’s blowing, what God is already up to, and then to join in that – to make sure that wind of the Spirit is at our back, that we are moving in God’s direction.
But we don’t always check the wind: we spend a good bit of our lives walking into the wind, and wondering why we’re not getting anywhere. And we do that, I think, because we like being in control. We like being the ones to decide which way we’ll go. We’re used to our machines and gadgets responding to our whims at the push of a button, so maybe we think that the rest of life should be that way, too, that we have a remote control for life. (If that’s true, I must have lost mine in the couch somewhere.) But we like being in control: it’s less scary when you are in control. So we try to control our schedule, to control our moods, to control our kids, to control our spouses, to control our parents, to control our church, even, in a way, to control God. And sometimes we can even fool ourselves into thinking we’ve almost got control: that one day we are finally going to actually get all our ducks in a row, actually have everything in its place the way we want it to be, actually have control. But instead, what we find is that we come to feel like the kid playing the arcade game where you try to whack all the moles back down into their holes, but there are so many moles you can never get them all. We’re not in control. The truth is that we are not in total control of our lives, and the sooner we accept this, the better: because for most of us the most significant things that will happen to us will be things we never planned for, and have very little control over.
What if we thought of our lives in a different way: not as a chance to gain control, but as an opportunity to fly with the wind of the Holy Spirit? One thing that my daughter Ada and I have done several times this spring is to bring her Barbie kite up here to the field by the church. You know, it’s a funny thing about a kite: you can’t just tell it to fly. You can’t push a button on the remote control and have it take off. You need wind. You have to wait. So we’ll stand in the middle of the field, and we have to wait, we have to wait for the wind: we can’t control that. But when the wind picks up, there’s some things we can do to catch it: we both take off running in such a way so that the kite catches the wind, and we give it some string, and the kite soars up in the air.
What if your life is a kite, and the Holy Spirit is the wind? So that when you wake up every day, you don’t think about what you want to do or get accomplished, but you ask, “Which way is God’s wind blowing?” “Where’s the Lord’s draft?” “Where’s the Holy Spirit working in a way that I can join in, that I can have it at my back?”
Of course it’s not always easy to know what the Holy Spirit is up to, because there’s a funny thing about the wind: you can’t see it. You can only see the results of the wind. You don’t see the wind: instead you see leaves rustling, you see trees bending over, you see dust flying by. You see the results of the wind, but not the wind itself. But you know what? Even though you can’t see the wind of the Holy Spirit, you can see its results. You see Love. You see Joy. You see Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Goodness. Self-control. Wherever these things are happening, the Spirit is blowing.
(Preacher gets out windchime.)
Many of you have windchimes on your porches. The windchimes chime to let you know that the wind is blowing. I think that over time, as we come to know God more deeply, we develop a kind of windchime in our soul for the Holy Spirit. We have this little windchime within us that stirs when the Spirit is blowing. Maybe we feel a nudge within us to give that person a call: and it’s the chimes ringing, the Spirit is blowing. Maybe we get this distinct impression that we should stop and talk to or help that person: and the chimes are ringing, the Spirit is blowing. We reach out and sit with or talk to or try to understand someone who is different from us, speaks a different language from us: and the chimes are ringing, the Spirit is blowing. Or Maybe we get this nagging sense that there’s something new and unfamiliar that we are just meant to try: and the chimes are ringing, the wind is blowing.
Life isn’t about grabbing control – it’s about listening for the windchimes to ring; it’s about opening your sails to the wind of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the oxygen of faith. It is the wind that guides and empowers us. But there’s one other thing that our Bible passage from Romans says about the Holy Spirit: the Spirit is a cry within us. Romans says, “For all who led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a Spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
One of the unique things about Jesus was the way he talked to God. When Jesus talked to God, he addressed God using the same term that a toddler would use in talking about its Daddy, two little syllables that even an infant can say: “Abba.” One of the things you do when you’re a father is you do your best to make sure your child’s first word is “DaDa” or “Papa.” That’s what “abba” is: a child’s first word.
Romans says that the Holy Spirit is that voice within us that helps us realize that the God of all the universe is our “Abba.” Our “Dada.” Our “Papa.” Whatever prompts a little infant to say “Dada” when it sees its father’s face is the same Spirit that prompts us to know God as a loving parent when we behold God’s face.
Sometimes we treat God as if God is the boss, and we are an employee; as if God is the master and we are the slave. But we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear: we received a Holy Spirit of adoption. Whenever within us we realize that God is our “Abba”, the Bible says it the Holy Spirit within us – reminding us that we are not orphans: crying out that we are a child of God.
On Pentecost, Jesus’ friends breathed deeply the oxygen of the Holy Spirit. They saw which way the wind was blowing and put the Spirit at their back. They were reminded that they were children of God, that God is their “Abba,” and in fact, the “Abba” of all people.
That same Holy Spirit is still as close as our next breath, still blowing through our lives, still crying out within us.
(Preacher rings wind chime.)
Thanks be to God. Amen.