A sermon on the Day of Pentecost, June 3, 2001, at St. John's Church, Storrington in the Township of South Frontenac, Ontario

by Robert Brow   (www.brow.on.ca)

Jesus had said that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18), and at the last supper he said he would animate it by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday was when the day the church was empowered to begin its world-wide work. As we know, the church has many faults, and each of us has many faults, but when we are filled with the Holy Spirit wonderful things happen.

The Spirit had already been very active in the Old Testament period. He was known as Ruakh Elohim (Wind of God) from the second verse of the Bible. "The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the wind of God swept over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). Wind was an invisible power whose effects could be seen in three astonishing ways, each of which were metaphorical of the Holy Spirit of God. We will call them WIND MOVING, WIND BREATHING, WIND BURNING. These pictured some of the results of being filled by the ruakh wind of God. But I want you to notice that in each case there was something that had to be done to enjoy the benefits of this mysterious power.

WIND MOVING People could see fishing boats moved by the wind across the Sea of Galilee. But the fishermen had to do something to enjoy that energy. If they did not hoist their sail the wind just passed them by, and the boat did not move. But when the sail was trimmed and filled with ruakh there was tremendous moving power. What then is the spiritual equivalent of hoisting your sail and setting it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Obviously you have to believe the Wind of God would make a difference in your life. Who would hoist a sail unless he believed the wind would fill it? Similarly there are those who do not believe the Holy Spirit could make any difference, and they ignore or despise him.. Others try hoisting their spiritual sails, but they never let them fill, and they remain as sailors say "in irons." The sails flap and make a lot of noise (as in some Christian meetings), but the boat is just drifting. It is those who trust the wind of God to move them who are filled with the Holy Spirit. And once we begin moving in any direction, then it is easy to set a course. You cannot steer a stationary ship. But of course nothing happens if you do not take the first step.

By the mountains of Lebanon people observed the eagles soaring on an invisible updraft of wind. When the birds feel the wind blowing, they jump off their perch, spread their wings, and they are filled with the wind of God. Eagles don't exert themselves to flap their way upwards. They just let themselves be moved right up into the sky without effort. And this pointed to people's own experience of the Holy Spirit. "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31). What then do we have to do to be filled with the Wind of God when we find ourselves discouraged, earth bound, unable to soar. Like the eagle, we have to believe the Holy Spirit will lift us. It may seem scary, but once we try, we find ourselves soaring. That is what the great rabbi Nicodemus had never done till he met Jesus. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).

WIND BREATHING The same ruakh wind that moved the sailboats and enabled the eagles to soar was also the wind that fills us when we breathe. Hundreds of times every hour our lungs are filled without thinking, and when you stop taking wind into your lungs, you are dead. Inspiration means inbreathing, and it results in us being filled with the Holy Spirit. In the book of Judges leaders were raised up to deliver their people from the Arameans, or Canaanites, or Midianites who had overrun the .country. This could only happen when Othniel, or Deborah, or Gideon was inspired by the Holy Spirit (Judges 3:10, 4:4, 6:14). But what did the leader have to do to be given the gift and wisdom of leadership? He had to realize he did not have the needed wisdom within himself and believe that the Holy Spirit would empower him for the task he had to perform.. But then he or she had to act. "Deborah sent and summoned Barak and said to him, 'The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, go take position at Mount Tabor,' and together with those who joined them the battle was won (Judges 4:6-7). When Gideon was filled with the Holy Spirit he found a way to set 300 chosen men around a vast army to throw them into confusion (Judges 6:33-34, 7:19-22). If God calls us to leadership, we have to believe the Holy Spirit will guide us, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit as we begin to act decisively.

How are we filled with the Holy Spirit for a difficult task of artistic creation? When the portable tabernacle had to be designed and crafted "the Lord spoke to Moses: See I have called by name Bezalel son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs" (Exodus 31:1-4). But then Bezalel had to believe "The Holy Spirit will inspire me to do this task which is far beyond my ability." And then he began doing the work.

David was a shepherd, and while he was minding the flock he found he had a musical gift. He played the lyre and sang songs  (1 Samuel 16:16-23). When he realized that his songs were able to touch people he began writing and singing the psalms which grew into what is now called the Book of Psalms. How do great composers do their work? As the wind of the creative Spirit begins to move them, they realize they cannot create their music without inspiration. And they are filled with the Holy Spirit of God as they begin to play and write their musical score.

When an ordinary person was filled with the Holy Spirit and became a prophet, he or she was able to speak the inspired words that were needed for the situation. "No prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21). To do this first a person had to believe he or she was needed to speak the Word of God, and the Spirit was inbreathing a vision, or dream, or tongue that would be interpreted in plain words for ordinary people to understand (see 1 Corinthians 14:13-19).. Then the prophet began speaking. At first the message might be confused and unclear, but soon people began responding to the words and the credibility of the prophet was established.

WIND BURNING There was also the curious fact that you can't have a fire without wind. Fire was wind burning. Whether in a forest fire, or for heat in the home, or cooking, or smelting metal, the miraculous power of wind was needed. At our cottage we have a wood stove. We bring the raw materials of paper, twigs, and logs. And when the fire has begun burning, we allow the right amount of wind to come in. If the two vents are shut tight, the fire goes out. But when the vents are opened the stove is filled with wind and the fire gives out its heat. Once a fire is burning we can use it to warm our house, cook the food, purify metals. And that again is a picture of being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. We only gather the materials for a new task if we believe that the Holy Spirit can give the fire and the wind to make it burn (Luke 3:16). Then we have to act and expect the Spirit to do what is needed.

So on the Day of Pentecost when God gave these same three manifestations of the Spirit, Peter had no doubt what they meant. There was a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2), and we read that "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:4). The disciples began speaking in other tongues like the inspired prophets (Acts 4:3). Peter quoted "Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy" (Joel 2:28 quoted in Acts 2:17).

And the fire of the Holy Spirit also rested on each of the 120 who were present (Acts 1:15) without harming them in any way. So God made clear by the WIND MOVING, the WIND BREATHING, and the WIND BURNING that the same mighty power of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was now filling the infant church to serve throughout the world.

But as a result of the Day of Pentecost a quite new image became important. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was experienced as we have seen by individual leaders, artists and prophets. Now a whole community was constituted by the Spirit. "Three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Act 2:41-42). This community was not a hierarchy of submissive soldiers, but more like the hundreds of different members of a human body with each Christian having his or her special function given by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-13).

There was a huge variety in the ways they were going to work. "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" ( Corinthians 12:4-7). But just as every part of a human body has to be bathed (baptized, filled) with oxygen, so for every task in the church we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Whether our gift is visible and considered important, or we work behind the scenes, we will only be empowered when we begin to do it (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).

So what does this mean for you and me on this Pentecost Sunday?

Sailors in the Atlantic sometimes got stuck in the doldrums. With no wind they could not move. Do you feel like a sailing ship stuck in the doldrums of life? Pentecost means that you have the right to trust the Holy Spirit to fill your sails and you can begin moving in new directions. The eagle who never takes the risk of flying can never soar.

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