Wind & Fire
Acts 2: 1-21
October 23, 2022
The scripture we just heard has traditionally been read on Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit. And as you may be aware, this is not Pentecost Sunday. But the truth is that every Sunday (and every other day, for that matters) can be a day when we celebrate God’s Holy Spirit. On this particular day, when we will be engaging in a congregational conversation regarding where God might be leading Veradale UCC in the coming months and years, it seems particularly appropriate to spend some time reflecting on Spirit.
By its very nature, the Spirit of God, unseen and mysterious, yet always present and discernible, is difficult to describe or even imagine in any sort of complete way. Thus it is that down through the years and across the span of faith experiences a variety of images have been used to convey a sense of God’s Spirit. Scripture also reflects this diversity, and two images in particular stand out – wind and fire. We find them being introduced from the very beginning. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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.” (Genesis 1: 1-2) Some translations specifically label this wind as God’s Spirit, and then go on to describe it as “brooding” over the waters. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt is described this way. “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night…” (Exodus 13:21) In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist speaks of Jesus when he says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11) And, of course, there is the description in the book of Acts regarding the events which took place on Pentecost in Jerusalem. “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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:2-4) Wind and fire – powerful images of the Spirit of God.
As I reflect on this Pentecost experience, when the early Church was overwhelmed by this Spirit of wind and fire, it occurs to me that this is not a safe thing we’re talking about. Wind and fire are powerful forces which can easily move beyond our control. And when they are combined it quickly becomes evident just how “not safe”they are. When wildfires sweep across the landscape, the combination of wind and fire increase the power many times over.
I recognize that this analogy is risky. I do not want to imply that God’s Spirit is a destructive force in the world or in our lives. But the comparison holds at least to the extent that God’s Spirit is not something we can control. In fact, sweeping and dramatic changes often accompany the movement of Spirit. I am reminded of a scene from the children’s book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which is part of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the book the Christ figure is a huge and powerful lion named Aslan. Near the beginning of the story, soon after the children first come to the land of Narnia, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are telling them about Aslan.
“I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!”said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe?”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
It is not a safe thing to encounter the Spirit of wind and fire. When we as the Church open ourselves to the movement of God’s Spirit, we run the risk of being forever changed. On that first Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Church went from a handful of disciples to over 3,000 new people who were alive and excited about what God was doing in their lives and in the world. And things were never the same again. New people bring with them new ideas and new ways of doing things. It gets harder to remember everyone’s face, to say nothing of their name. Leadership shifts and the old guard don’t have the power they once did. Goals and directions are modified and changed, and the Church takes on unpredictable new ministry and mission.
The Spirit of wind and fire calls us to be involved in the world in ways which are almost guaranteed to make us uncomfortable, if not down right frightened. We risk being led to challenge the cultural status quo. We are in danger of finding ourselves in relationship with folks who are different from who we are. When we are exposed to the wind and the fire of God’s Spirit, we may discover that old prejudices and ways of thinking must be allowed to burn up and blow away. We might even be called upon to make sacrifices of our time, our energy, or our money.
It is no accident that the Spirit of God is portrayed with images of wind and fire. To be involved with this Spirit can be frightening, intimidating, and risky. But it can also be exciting, invigorating, and inspiring. Whenever God’s Spirit moves through the Church, things are forever changed, but ultimately the change always takes the form of growth and new life. To paraphrase Mr. Beaver’s comments regarding Aslan, “Of course God’s Spirit of wind and fire isn’t safe, but it’s good!” May we open our lives and our church to the movement of God’s amazing and transforming Spirit of wind and fire. Come, Holy Spirit, come!