Sunday’s service: Pentecost Reflections on the Holy Spirit

Text used – Acts 2:1-21

This Sunday was a little different for a couple of reasons. First, I unintentionally forgot to flip my Zoom view from “Gallery” to “Speaker” view. That means that you won’t be able to see what was happening “up front” as much, but it also means that one the day that we celebrate the birth of Christian community, you get to actually watch our Christian community (those who were participating via Zoom, anyway) actually worship together for this service. It’s kinda perfect!

This Sunday is also different because instead of doing a traditional sermon, I did four shorter reflections on the most common images of the Holy Spirit that we find in Scripture. Each of those reflections went along with an object that we used – a pinwheel, a candle, a dove tag, and a bottle of water. I invite you to find as many of those things around your house and join us as we go through these reflections.

Pentecost – Celebrating the Holy Spirit

            Today, we celebrate Pentecost – the birthday of the church, not at as a building or a point on a map or a hub for committees but as a community and a mission and a living, breathing faith flung far and wide into a world that needed to hear the good news of the Gospel. Today especially, we focus on the work and wildness of the Holy Spirit – that elusive and ever-moving third person of the Trinity; that fierce and feminine form of God’s holy presence; that blowing and burning, soaring and satiating incarnation of God that touches us and spurs us forward in ways we often find it hard to name but also hard to ignore. Today, we’re going to celebrate the Holy Spirit in word, in prayer, and in action.

Holy Spirit as Wind/Breath

Genesis 1:1-2: 1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters.

John 3:8: 8 God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

By far the most prevalent image for the Holy Spirit that we see in Scripture is that of wind or breath. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is one word that can be translated as “spirit” or “wind” or “breath.” And when it comes to the Spirit of God, it’s a fitting confluence. The Spirit of God is essential – constantly moving and regenerating, powerful and life-giving, invisible but always present … a lot like the wind.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

The only way we see the wind is when it moves things – leaves rustling in the trees, waves rippling the surface of the water, a flag fluttering in the breeze. We can’t see it, but we cannot deny that we can feel the wind caressing our cheek, tugging at our shirt, pushing us in one direction or another with a strong and powerful gust.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

God’s Holy Spirit – God’s essential breath, God’s sacred wind – moves time and time again throughout Scripture starting at the very beginning with Genesis. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into the lungs of Adam and Eve in the Garden. God breathed that Holy Spirit breath into Job in the midst of his trials and tribulations. God blew the Holy Spirit wind over the dry bones in Elijah’s vision and brought life to them again. And in a rush, God blew that same Holy Spirit wind into the house where the disciples were staying with such force and intensity that it filled the whole room on that first Pentecost day.

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

Sometimes we forget about the wind – on a calm clear day when the weather is pleasant and everything is still. And sometimes we forget about the Holy Spirit – in a calm, clear phase of our lives when all around us seems pleasant and copacetic. But then the wind moves …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And God’s Spirit move …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we remember that God is always moving … always breathing … always whispering and whooshing … always nudging and tugging … always rushing and gusting …

BLOW ON YOUR PINWHEEL – MAKE IT SPIN!

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Fire

Exodus 3:2: 2 The LORD’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.

Luke 24:32: 31 [The disciples] eyes were opened and they recognized [the risen Christ], but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

The second most common image of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is as fire – a fire that blazes and burns but doesn’t consume like the fire that led Moses into God’s sacred space; a fire called down from heaven by the prophet Elijah as power and proof and undeniable presence; a fire that touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah, purifying and consecrating him to God’s holy mission and call; a fire that burned in the hearts of the disciples as they traveled and broke bread unawares with their risen Savior in a place called Emmaus; a fire that has burned … does burn … will burn in the souls of those whom God calls to both spur them to action and cleanse them from within.

Fire is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In that light, we find reassurance and hope. Fire is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In that warmth, we find comfort and restoration. Fire refines, burning away impurities in metal and turning something as simple and humble as sand into the most stunningly glassworks. In that refining, we find promise and beauty.

LIGHT YOUR CANDLE.

God is light, banishing darkness and all the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. In the Holy Spirit’s light, we find reassurance and hope. God is warmth, driving the numbing chill from our bodies and souls and bringing us to life again. In the Holy Spirit’s warmth, we find comfort and restoration. God refines, burning away impurities in our souls and turning something as simple and humble as human beings into the most stunning creations. In the Holy Spirit’s refining, we find promise and beauty.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us.

Holy Spirit as Dove

Genesis 8:8-12: 8 Then [Noah] sent out a dove to see if the waters on all of the fertile land had subsided, 9 but the dove found no place to set its foot. It returned to him in the ark since waters still covered the entire earth. Noah stretched out his hand, took it, and brought it back into the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out from the ark again. 11 The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent out the dove, but it didn’t come back to him again.

Matthew 3:16: 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him.

Less prevalent in Scripture but certainly no less important is the image of the Holy Spirit a dove. We’re most familiar with the image of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove as he rose from the water of his own baptism, bringing with it God’s sacred and love-filled affirmation: “This is my son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” Up to this point in his life, Jesus must have known deep within himself who he was, but up to that moment – that moment dripping with the waters of the Jordan River and the holiness of God’s presence – up to that moment, it wasn’t time to reveal who he was. And then, with the flap of a dove’s wings, it was time. And with the flap of a dove’s wing, Jesus faced a new beginning.

Maybe your mind also wanders back to that dove that Noah released from aboard the ark as it floated and rocked day after day, night after night, week after week. The dove that returned time and again, bringing Noah news without having to speak – news that the world was still under water, news that there was still no safe space, news that it was not yet time. Until that moment – that moment swollen with possibility and potential, that moment laden with fervent hopes and seasick longings – until that moment that was oh, so noticeably lacking in the sound of a dove’s wings … that moment when the dove did not return. And with the absence of the dove, Noah and his family faced a new beginning.

Throughout Scripture, doves are mentioned time and again as a sacrifice. They were the ideal sacrifice because they were perceived as pure, but they were also the ideal sacrifice because they were accessible to so many. People who couldn’t afford a calf, couldn’t afford a ram, couldn’t afford to give up the best portion of their harvest would instead offer up to God a dove in thanksgiving and in praise, in adoration and in supplication, in hope and in acknowledgment of God’s presence and power at work in the world. Doves made space in the sacrificial portion of worship for those who would otherwise not have a space. Doves gave wings to the prayers of those who feared their prayers may not otherwise be heard. Doves opened the doors to community with promises of peace, of hope, and of inclusion.

Today, we find ourselves in this strange and separated time … in this time when we are driven apart from one another … in this time when one of the best ways that I can care for my neighbor is to wear my mask, keep my distance, check in … but do so from afar. It feels so counterintuitive … sort of like finding the power and presence and peace of Holy Spirit of God Almighty in something as common and docile as a simple dove. And yet there it is.

A dove means peace … the peace we seek in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means purity … the purity we find in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A dove means new beginnings … new beginnings that we find when we follow the Holy Spirit.

This pandemic time is, in fact, a time of new beginning for us. It’s our dove moment. It’s our Holy Spirit moment. So I want you to take the dove tag that’s in your Pentecost bag and write your hopes for our congregation on that tag. And then I want you to get it back to me. Mail it back, if you want to do that. Or drop it off at church in the “donations” mailbox that we use for Gold Rush. I’ll hang them in our sanctuary where they will continue to move us.

In your bag, you’ll also find your own little reminder from me that you are a beloved child of God and that the Holy Spirit hopes in you.

Holy Spirit as Water

Joel 2:23, 28: 23 Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the LORD your God, because he will give you the early rain as a sign of righteousness; he will pour down abundant rain for you, the early and the late rain, as before. … 28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.

John 7:37-39: 37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “All who are thirsty should come to me! 38 All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.” 39 Jesus said this concerning the Spirit.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

Essential for the life of this planet. Essential for the life within us. Essential for the life of the church. We are born from water. We are renewed by water. We are baptized in water –  named and claimed as children of God and members of this sacred and blessed community.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

We find water in many forms in all parts of the earth and all parts of ourselves. Water refreshes and renews the world around us as it rains down on thirsty gardens and fields, coaxing fresh shoots from seeds and buds into blossom, encouraging everything from tiny tendrils to mighty tree trunks to reach higher and higher into the sky – to grow and flourish and produce fruit. Even from the driest, dustiest, most forgotten deserts, a quenching rain cancause flowers and plants to spring up – life that has waited long in the hard and desolate ground for that water … that life. Water refreshes and renews our bodies, quenching our thirst and replenishing whatever we have sweated away through the work and sport and strain of our bodies. Water cools our fevered foreheads. Water cleanses the dirt from under our fingernails and under our souls.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

LIVING water is essential. Scripture speaks time and time again of God renewing God’s people … of God quenching the parched places both around us and inside us … of God raining down blessings, raining down grace, raining down justice on people in need of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised rebirth in the Spirit through the waters of baptism, a sacramental blessing and covenant that we hold near and dear to this day. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

The presence of the Holy Spirit within us refreshes our parched and weary souls. This presence truly is a living water – a water that never runs dry and a water that is knowing … knowing enough to sense when we are in need … knowing enough to sense when we are feeling as dry and limp as a wrung-out cloth … knowing enough to sense our desire and potential to flourish if only we had water. Living Water.

Water is essential. The Holy Spirit is essential.

TAKE A DRINK OF WATER.

And we know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is with us. Alleluia! Amen.

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