(Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 5/15/2016)
Pentecost Sunday, Year C
When Pentecost Day arrived, they [Jesus’ disciples] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Well today is Pentecost. As you might remember, and as you heard in the story from Acts that we just read together, the Holy Spirit takes center stage today. Now, I’ll be honest, talking about the Holy Spirit tends to make me a little uncomfortable. Let me explain
I’m good with God the Father, the Creator. God the Creator created everything we know, created me, and continues to create me. And I’m good with God the Son: Jesus, the Redeemer. By his death and resurrection I have new life, my broken life is currently being mended, and I was brought back to relationship with God.
But God the Holy Spirit makes me uncomfortable. Because this is the Spirit who calls me to change my ways, to be around people I don’t like, to go places I don’t want to go, to do something I don’t want to do, all to further God’s mission. This is the Spirit who disrupted my life and called me into ministry instead of music. This is the Spirit who called me to become a pastor right before my senior year of college instead of letting me finish out college as just a student. So it makes me nervous to talk about the Holy Spirit because, as you hear from our Scripture, you never know what’s going to happen when the Spirit enters the room.
Do any of you feel the same way? You like talking about God the Creator and God the Redeemer-you can stay comfortable right where you are with those two creating and redeeming you. But when we start talking about the Holy Spirit – that’s the untamed God. People might start speaking in tongues. They might get up and start yelling and dancing. You might be called to something or someone or somewhere you don’t like.
We should be nervous when talking about this Holy Spirit.
I think one of our issues here is that it is so hard for us to picture this Spirit and her work. Picturing and imaging this Spirit is like trying to catch wind or hold water in your fist. I mean, how can you portray the Holy Spirit? How do you portray pure energy or unadulterated inspiration? This is not something we can control or comprehend. So often, our words and images fall short. But we do have several images we keep trying to use to picture the Holy Spirit and her work.
First, there’s fire, right? We heard about this in our story from Acts, where tongues of fire came down on the disciples’ heads. In the Bible, fire was also a symbol of God’s presence. Back in Exodus, when Moses had run away from Egypt and was working as a shepherd in the wilderness, he met God in a burning bush, right? And later, after Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, God guided them in a pillar of fire by night. If we think of fire today, we might also think of unpredictability. Because fires can get out of control pretty easily. There are an average of 72,000 wildfires/year in the US. Fire is a powerful, unpredictable, unwieldy force of nature.
Another image we often use for the Holy Spirit is wind. We get this from the story from Acts too, right? It said that a great, powerful, loud wind rushed through the room. In the Bible, wind is one of the symbols for God’s power. If we think again back to the Exodus story. When the Israelites had to escape the Egyptian army across the Red Sea, God parted the Red Sea with a powerful wind so that they could cross. When I think of wind, I think of how the wind blows where it chooses. You can’t really bottle up the wind to control it. If we can think of meteorology, the weather patterns around the world are formed by wind currents. They’re stable enough so that meteorologists can predict them, But we all know that meteorologists are often incorrect about the weather, right? They aren’t in control, and we can’t predict the wind with 100% accuracy.
There’s a Christian community in Scotland named the Iona Community that has come up with a new image for what the Holy Spirit looks like for them. You know what their image is? A wild goose. For them, the Holy Spirit is a wild goose.
Now that sounds strange, but think about it, because it actually makes a lot of sense. If you think of a wild goose, they are, by name, wild. They aren’t domesticated, they can’t be controlled. They migrate when nature tells them to migrate. You can’t really herd them anywhere. They’re independent creatures who do what they want to do. You can’t restrain them, you can’t bend them to your will.
And they’re annoying, right? Has anyone had any run-ins with geese? You can’t ignore them. Geese HONK, right? Have you ever gone to a pond to feed ducks, only to have the geese descend upon you, nipping, honking, chasing you away?
Now this image of the Holy Spirit really works for me. I think this is kind of like how it was on Pentecost-the Wild Goose of a Spirit descended upon the disciples. I mean, you heard the story-the people around the disciples thought they were drunk! Wasted! At 9 am! Because of the Holy Spirit descending on them! It’s one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus. It’s something altogether different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy, annoying goose!
There’s a saint of the Catholic Church who’s actually kind of associated with geese. St. Martin of Tours. In 371 AD, St. Martin was called to a city in France named Tours. They wanted him to be made the bishop of Tours. Now we have no way of knowing whether or not this story is true, but according to a legend, St. Martin was so unwilling to be made bishop that he hid in a barn full of geese. When people went out looking for him, the geese cackled and honked, revealing his hiding place. So the people found him and led him back to the church to be made bishop. And he went on to do amazing work.
Now isn’t that the work of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit does whatever she has to do to push us into unfamiliar, undesired territory, toward work that we don’t want to do but work to which God has called us. And try as hard as we can, we can’t hide from this Spirit or avoid it. It’ll just cackle out like a wild goose and reveal our hiding spot.
The Holy Spirit as a wild goose. Untamed, uncontrollable, erratic, always on the move, doing unexpected things, loud, passionate, sometimes frightening, certainly unsettling. This is the Holy Spirit. And today, we remember that this same Spirit has been given to us and continues to be given to us each and every day. We remember that this Spirit is moving among us, disrupting us, annoying us, pushing and prodding us right at this moment.
In our story from Acts, the Holy Spirit birthed the church with a bang. And everything changed. Before Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were mostly Jewish; afterward, more and more non-Jewish people were welcomed into the church where before they had not been accepted. Before Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were mostly in and around Jerusalem; afterwards, they became a movement of Jesus people spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Before Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were nervous and unsure of how to move forward; afterwards, the Spirit gave them courage and boldness to do whatever they had to do and change whatever they had to change to tell more people about the Good News, the new life we can find in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to welcome more and more new people into the church.
The Holy Spirit calls us to places we don’t expect, to people we don’t expect, and callus us into new life. That means the Holy Spirit calls us to change in ways we didn’t expect-change our own behaviors and habits, and change the way we do church, all in ways we don’t expect.
So my question for you today is this: How is the Wild Goose moving in your life? How is the Holy Spirit being a nuisance to you? How is the wild, untamable Spirit disrupting your life, making you uncomfortable?
So what are you doing to follow the Spirit, or allow yourself to be pushed by the Spirit? Or…what are you doing to resist the Spirit?
On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit fell on Jesus’ disciples with a loud and strong wind and fire. People gathered, and the Holy Spirit made them speak in other languages so that everyone around them could understand them. Peter continued to follow the Holy Spirit and preached the church’s first sermon, under the power of the Holy Spirit. Because he followed this wild goose of a Spirit, 3,000 were added to the community of faith that day. The church continued to follow the Wild Good and brought the Gospel to the four corners of the Roman Empire, and the church continues today in the power of this same Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose, in all the work we do.
All of that happened because the Holy Spirit fell upon a community of Jesus people, and they were open and bold enough to obey and follow the movement of the Holy Spirit. We are the living effects of this.
This same Spirit, this same Wild Goose, calls us to the same type of mission today. Imagine what would happen if we were all bold and open enough to follow the movement of the Holy Spirit today. Imagine the good we could do in this community. Imagine all the new people who could receive new life in Jesus if we would follow this same Spirit and allow it to disrupt and disturb us toward new life.