As many or most of you know, I love to sail.
Being out on the lake or the ocean with nothing to power a boat except the wind is an amazing and freeing feeling.
Of course, the very opposite is true when you’re out in the middle of the lake or sound and the wind just completely dies down.
And you’re stuck.
Last year, sailing out on the middle of Sayers Lake, this exact thing happened:
High pressure moved in then just parked there over me on a hot summer day.
I must have sat in the middle of the lake for a couple of hours, and when I couldn’t sit any longer and thought I’d have to break out the ores and row to the dock, I decided to pray first.
Now, I know it might sound hokey to pray for wind to get me back to shore…
…I mean, God has much more serious problems to deal with than a guy out in on the lake on a beautiful summer evening.
But the sun was dropping, and it would have taken my quite a while to get back, and I have no lights on the little boat, so I prayed.
And within about two minutes, the glass-like water began to show signs of a breeze across it.
Here’s the thing, though:
The breeze wasn’t spanning the width of the lake.
In fact, it wasn’t even just a big section;
instead, it was what looked like a trail of wind that led — you guessed it — straight back to the dock.
From above, I imagine it looked like a line of wind, no wider than about 10 feet, that guided me back to land, like a highlighted trail on a map.
The rest of the lake? Smooth as glass.
But staying inside this little path of wind, I was back at the dock in about 15 minutes.
And while I sailed back, I just thanked God in prayer the entire time.
You see, that wind that I will maintain God gave me was the exact thing needed to change my situation —
stuck in the middle of the lake with no good prospects.
And although it might sound trivial to you and certainly not like some kind of “miracle,” the point was I asked, and God’s wind took care of me.
It was this wind that changed my circumstances and got me to where I needed to be.
And when we need a change in our lives — big or small, miraculous or seemingly trivial — it’s the power God’s wind — the Spirit — that enables the change to happen.
Today, as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, I want us to look at some different ways the Spirit moves not only in us, but around us to, make necessary changes in order to give life.
Now, it’s really always been this way with the Spirit:
So when I say “always,” I mean “Always.”
Since the beginning of creation, God’s Spirit has been the agent of change and the giver of life.
The Creation account in Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2 tells us that God’s breath blew over the seas and separated land from the water.
Later in Chapter 2 of Genesis, God’s breath filled Adam’s lungs to animate him — to give him life.
In Exodus, we read that God’s breath parted the Red Sea, giving life to the Hebrews, who were escaping what appeared to be an imminent death at the hands of Pharaoh.
And the same breath that was the agent of change and giver of life for all of creation and for God’s chosen is the same breath of God that rushes into the place where the disciples stood during this Jewish Festival of Weeks — also known then as Pentecost — and filled the disciples with the Holy Spirit.
Pneumatologically speaking — and that’s just a fancy word for the things of the Holy Spirit — Luke tells us in Acts Chapter 2, which we read today, that the disciples were all gathered in one place, and:
“Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.
“They saw was seemed to be individual flame of fire alighting each one of them.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Verses 2-3).
In the Hebrew language, this breath of God or Wind of God is called Ruach.
And it’s the very same word used for each of these occasions we have spoke of thus far —
* The creation of the world,
* The animation of Adam,
* The parting of the Red Sea,
* and now the giving of the Holy Spirit — God’s breath — to the disciples.
Agent of change, giver of life.
We can see so clearly what that Breath of God did in creation, and we can see what it did for Adam.
He animated both.
We also can see the life-giving power he gave to the Hebrews fleeing Egypt.
The Spirit makes the changes to give life.
And now, after the risen and ascended Jesus promises that when he goes back to the Father, and the disciples are waiting for something spectacular to happen, we get this scene in Acts 2.
When they are filled with God’s Breath — the Spirit — they venture outside, and the people gathered around them are amazed that these uneducated men from Galilee are able to speak in different dialects — different languages — from the ones they knew.
This is readily important simply for this reason:
The city of Jerusalem is swelled greatly by throngs of people from all over who have gathered for this festival of weeks.
The Festival of Weeks — which also was called Pentecost before we Christians began calling it that — was a Jewish holiday that celebrated the harvest of the crops 50 days after they were planted.
Pentecost means fiftieth day.
The festival was to give thanks to God for the abundance of the harvest, and all devout Jews would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday.
Which also meant vendors and business people from all over would come as sort of the service industry —
…Think kebob trucks and t-shirt vendors.
And those folks were from many different nations, as we read in our passage.
Why is this important?
There are many reasons:
For one, the witness to this miracle would be told far and wide, as these folks eventually leave Jerusalem to retell the story in their own travels and towns.
Another reason though is to unify — another great characteristic of the Holy Spirit.
Those who don’t understand exactly what’s happening with the disciples will hear and see it in their own language or dialect.
There would be no mistaking.
And with that also comes the added benefit that God’s word is available to everyone, no matter nation, race, gender or creed.
Think about the universality of this witness.
See, this is what the Spirit can do:
The Spirit moves in and around the disciples,
He makes changes that allow new things — a new life — to happen.
The disciples are animated now, just as Jesus said they would be
And they and others see the amazing things that he’s done, and they bear witness to God.
That’s what bringing glory to God means, and that’s exactly what God seeks of his people.
Of course, some of the people gathered around Peter and the disciples claim they are drunk.
This really doesn’t make any sense, so I’m not going to address it except to say this:
If for some odd reason I had drank too much wine, the chances of me speaking Chinese, Russian or Swahili would be nil.
And if I did, then that would only perpetuate the miracle…
(It is funny, however, that whenever something supernatural happens, there is a crowd of people standing by to come up with excuses as to why that didn’t really happen…
I wonder what Pharaoh said when the Red Sea parted…
…well, before it closed back upon him and drowned him…)
Peter’s response is right on, tho:
Taking a cue from fellow apostle Paul — and Jesus, actually — he quotes the Old Testament: what we call the Hebrew Bible.
And he quotes the minor prophet Joel beginning at Verse 17:
God said: “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.”
ALL people, young and old, make and female…
The Holy Spirit — even more than 500 years before Pentecost — is UNIFYING all people.
By moving. By making changes.
“I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people!”
And what happens when the Spirit makes changes?
He gives life to prophecy, to visions, to dreams.
In other words, the Spirit gives life to hope and faith!
What it means to us…
Did I really have a pentecost moment on the sailboat in the lake last year?
Well, probably not.
But on a much smaller scale, that event — that little miracle, as I call it — was a keen reminder about the how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives.
When I was being called into pastoral ministry, I remember sitting down with my pastor and talking about this calling.
I was very excited, but I also was very concerned as to what it meant for my life and for my family.
There would be a lot of … change.
And while I was praying not long after that talk with my pastor, God gave me a vision.
In the vision, there sea of glass, and me on a sailboat.
Nothing on the horizon at all.
Then I heard God tell me,
“Christopher, you are the boat, and I am the wind. I will fill your sails and guide you.
“I will be your force.”
How absolutely comforting to know — to truly know — this blessing…
God’s Spirit will make the changes in our lives if we make room for him to act.
If we listen and are obedient to his direction.
If we have faith in his guidance in our lives and in our world.
The winds of Pentecost were promised to the disciples by Jesus Christ.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.” (John 14.16).
Jesus tells his disciples this right before he ascends to heaven.
And that’s a scary thing, isn’t it?
Maybe it feels comforting, but think about it from the disciples’ viewpoint.
That they have known and heard and loved Jesus, who guided them from their old selves to their new selves.
That they’ve seen hi work miracles, raise the dead, die himself and even rise to defeat death!
And now he tells them he will leave, and they will receive a comforter, an advocate, a helper even better than Jesus.
But it’s not a human being.
It’s not even some spiritual apparition.
It doesn’t speak to them in any sort of language.
And it seems invisible.
But the third person of the Trinity can do even greater things that Jesus within them.
INSIDE of them.
They probably would choose Jesus over the Spirit.
But look what happens?
The Spirit blows in, flames alight over their heads, and they begin to speak in different dialects so that every one of these diverse people gathered around them can hear the word and attest to the miracle.
The same thing is true for us today:
We remain faithful to God,
we are enabled by the same live-giving breath of God
the very same Holy — which means set apart — Spirit.
We pray to God and he sends the Spirit to move within and among us.
The life-giving Spirit that is the Pentecost event is the same wind and fire borne within each of us.
Within this church.
Within this world.
The Creator God is showing us that he is still creating with the power of his Spirit but embodied in and around each one of us.
And he continues to make changes and give life.
So if there is some change that’s needed in your life, seek the Holy Spirit to come and blow through it,
to create something beautiful,
to enliven what’s dead,
to unify that which has been scattered,
and to light a fire within you.
In order to create, God must change things.
Are we ready to be changed?
Are we faithful that when those changes come, we will be transformed by God’s Spirit?
Will this church be able to be transformed even further as God’s hand continues to create life in this place and in this community?
Because when change comes, you can better believe other people will be ready to make excuses and deny the truth and the power of what is really happening.
They will shrug it off and walk away.
They will even say you’re delusional.
But we know better, don’t we?
I pray we do.
Let’s embrace the winds of change that the Spirit offers, so that we can continue to give life to the kingdom on earth and give the glory — all the glory — to God.