Sermon May 23, 2021 by David Hodgson

The Rush of a Mighty Wind

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were

all together in one place. And suddenly a sound

came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind.”

Acts 2:1-2 RSV

I thank you for the spirited way you sang our opening hymn.  Compared to most of the hymns in the hymnal, one written in the mid-1970s is almost contemporary.  What I like about Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness is the way it celebrates the amazing work of the Holy Spirit of God long before the Day of Pentecost ever arrived! 

We’ve grown all too familiar with the cherished notion that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed up for the first time to birth the Church of Jesus Christ.  And even though that was one of its miraculous deeds, the Holy Spirit, in the words of the hymn also, moved on the waters and coaxed up the mountains at the creation.  It was there to sweep through the desert  in the Exodus, and provided a law and a land for a people living in chaos, and spoke through the prophets to open their eyes. 

You sang in a stable and cried from a hill ~ yes!  The Holy Spirit once on a silent night in Bethlehem and a triumphant cry from a cross.  And then the verse that awakens my imagination every day of my life:  You call from tomorrow … [so that] with bold new decisions your people arise!

Yes, this is Pentecost Sunday, a Birthday Celebration to be sure, but I like being reminded of where the Holy Spirit has been before it filled my sails!

There is a mighty Spirit Wind that blows through history, and like the winds that blow across the landscape of life, we only know from whence it comes.  When we get weather reports, they never say that the wind is blowing toward the NE, but only that it is coming from the SW ~ at a certain velocity with certain spontaneous gusts.

So it is with the Spirit Wind that blows through history, we do not know where it is going, but we do know from whence it has come.  It comes from heaven, and I want to show you some of where it has been before it arrived in twenty-first century America.

The Pentecostal glimpse of the Holy Spirit was as the rush of that mighty wind.  They had been warned by Jesus to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit Wind had come, knowing that faith would be fearful without the reinforcing power of Spirit Wind, that discipleship would be impossible without the resourcefulness of Spirit Wind, that human tasks could not accomplish divine purpose unless they were accomplished with the help of Spirit Wind.

So it was that on the day of Pentecost when the disciples were all gathered in one place, the Spirit Wind of heaven came like the rush of a mighty wind.  They say it filled the room where they were and caused them to speak in languages other than their own ~ which also means that it caused them to think in new ways and to behave as they had never behaved before.

Now I need to provide an image for understanding the mystery of Pentecost that Luke either left out, or just assumed that we’d figure it out, because it is the missing link that opens the experience of Pentecost to the ages.  It goes like this:

That mighty-rushing wind not only swirled around the room, it blew its way out every window and door ~ swept its way down every street and alley way in the Holy City, stirring up whatever dust and debris that got in its way ~ and then rushed like a mighty wind across the landscape of first century life.

We know that God’s Spirit Wind did that because wherever it went it had the same effect upon human nature ~ it caused  people to think in new ways, and to speak of God in ways they had never spoken before, even as it caused them to behave in ways that once would have appeared strange to them.

As the Spirit Wind blew through first century society it was experienced in deeply personal ways, and they felt a heightened sense of individuality and at once a more profound responsibility for community, and ordinary people started living in extraordinary ways.  As if inspired by the Spirit, self-interest was offset by generosity, and the needs of some inspired the noblest use of what once belonged to others.

It was as miraculous as Pentecost itself.  With wonder, love and praise, the book of Acts provides the image of faith-filled people with daily regularity partaking of food with glad and generous hearts.  Touched by the same Spirit Wind, you see, thinking in new ways, speaking with new words, they birthed a new kind of community where selfless generosity and spiritual solidarity enabled human nature to mature to new levels of dignity.

The story, however, does not end there, for the rush of that mighty wind blew through the Roman Empire where the slave population outnumbered the free by four to one; and it set the enslaved free ~ first in mind where they began to think of themselves in new ways, and then in spiritual communities where they learned to speak in new ways about the liberating relationship between them as sisters and brothers in the Lord.

With ever-persistent force, the Spirit Wind blew across the divisions of race, and the distinctions of class, and the demarcations of culture in ways that awakened the spiritual kinship of all.  And all who were touched by Spirit Wind began to think in new ways and to speak in words they never used before.  So also the rich and poor found themselves fused together in the same fellowship, and to everyone’s surprise, the gain of some was able to compensate for the loss of others, and the blessings of life when share were abundant for all!  They spoke in unfamiliar yet welcome tongues, as Spirit Wind was inspiring the maturity of humankind.

Then it blew across the desolate landscape of gender inequality, and even though a patriarchal society had not recognized the civil rights of women, in Christian community there was no second-class citizenship.  Men and women began to think in new ways about themselves and about each other, and to speak in new and liberating ways to each other because they were touched by the Spirit Winds of heaven.

Then down through the corridors of history it blew, clearing in its wake the clutter and litter of the ages ~ stirring up unquestioned social assumptions and shaking unstable political practices and awakening a new sense of human dignity for all.  We now know it blew from the Holy City to every place on the face of the earth; but to follow its path to us we need to follow the prevailing winds of Spirt across Europe.

It was the rush of God’s Spirit Wind that inspired a Renaissance of learning,  Minds once closed in the Dark Ages of history were opened to new thoughts and there was an extraordinary excitement for theological creativity ~ of thinking in fresh new ways about God and creation.  Their awakened insights gifted the ages with new ways to imagine and to experience the reality of God, and enabling the social maturity of civilization.  Signs of Pentecost were everywhere!

The Spirit Winds of heaven then blew up a Protestant Reformation!  It was as though the Holy Spirit of God could not be contained by an institutional structure, and it broke out of its temporal container and found expression in many new forms of worship and of service, of devotion and social re-formation.  With Spirit Wind at their back, the Reformers began to speak in new ways about God and to think in new ways about God’s expectations for them; and the common life of all was blessed as the Spirit Wind found expression in all the languages of earth.

My personal perception is that it was that very rush of a mighty Spirit Wind that blew across the ocean’s expanse from east to west, and encouraged colonists in a new land to think in new ways about human liberty, and caused common   ordinary   people  to  speak   of  their   convictions  in  ways   that encouraged a people to hold the authority of God above the whims of the state.  They dared to believe that human life was designed by God to be free  ~  that  human  liberty  was  essential for  human rights  came from God  and not from government, and that social maturity was achieved by spiritual maturity not by government regulation.

It was radical.  It was revolutionary.  And there is no doubt in my mind that it was an intended result of the Spirit Wind of heaven that entered human history on the day of Pentecost.  I believe that because of the way it inspired people to speak in new ways about being one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.  That mighty wind provided by God was meant to enable human understanding of divine providence ~ and so it blew through places like Boston and Philadelphia and on across the landscape of America.

We have now always aligned ourselves with its passion and purpose, but we know it is a Pentecostal wind because the changes it has inspired in our nation are similar to the changes it made in the Roman world.  It was Spirit Wind that inspired the emancipation of slaves, the liberation of peoples by culture, gender and class.  It is the very force of Divine Inspiration and it is blowing through the affairs of peoples and of nations!  We may not know where it is blowing to, but we celebrate the direction from whence it came, and thank God for all the changes it has wrought.

You’ll not hear references on the daily news to the mighty winds of heaven, especially from those who spend their days and waste their talents stoking fears of what they call systemic racism and the curse of white supremacy, intentionally, desperately trying to divide us once more by identities of race, and the distinctions of class, and the demarcations of culture.   But they only deceive themselves if they make no room in their thinking and speaking for the rush of the Spirit Wind of heaven.

We are not a people divided, as they pathetically keep portraying us.  We are not a people who respond with faux moral outrage every time they tell us whom to be afraid of, whom to hate, whom to be envious of, whom to be wary of.  For we are a people touched and inspired by the Spirit Winds of heaven, and there is no strategy of political oppression, or acts of social media censorship, or pressure for societal condemnation that can destroy the transformational influence of the Spirit Wind of heaven.

In our time there is once more entirely too much disinformation and political clutter littering the alley ways of our public perceptions ~ too many fake narratives claiming to be the way the world really is.  And while they try to keep us divided and fearful and isolated ~ as so many have tried before ~ there is a Spirit Wind blowing from heaven, causing faith-filled people to hoist their sails in response to the Spirt Wind that calls to us from tomorrow!

David Hodgson

May 23, 2021