Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17
As Christians we talk about Jesus a lot. It makes sense, really, being Christ-followers and all. But perhaps we talk about Jesus a lot is that it’s a lot easier to talk about a real human person, than it is to talk about the much more abstract Holy Spirit. Jesus was tangible and real and we can identify with his humanity. But with the Holy Spirit, the ONLY way we have to talk about her is through metaphor. We don’t get a physical description of who the spirit is in Scripture. We learn that the Holy Spirit is from God, can dwell in us, and that God works through the spirit to act in the world. But as to what the Holy Spirit IS precisely - don’t know, never will.
So instead we think and talk about what the Spirit ‘is like.’ If you do a google image search of “Holy Spirit” you will get lots and lots and lots of pictures of fire and doves. We see the Holy Spirit as fire in our story today, and we know the spirit is “like a dove” in Jesus’ baptism. We see representations of fire here today in the red of our paraments, and last year, thanks to Pastor Seth, there was quite literally fire present. (If you happened not to be here that week, don’t worry, it was on purpose). We even have some doves with us today.
But before those flames appeared on that Pentecost day there was a sound like the rush of a strong wind. Thinking about the Holy Spirit as wind captures brilliantly the mysterious and active nature of the Holy Spirit. Without the movement of air, how would fires burn? Without the wind, doves would exhaust themselves. Wind is invisible to the naked eye, yet powerful. You can’t take a picture of the wind and have anyone know what it is unless there is something else in the picture. Pictures of wind show us the thing that the wind is affecting and changing - a bending tree, a tumbleweed headed to who knows where, a wind turbine circling round and round.
We can’t take picture of the Holy Spirit, it’s not visible to the naked eye, but we sure can see and feel its affects. The Holy Spirit as wind reminds us that God is active, alive and on the move in the world in big and small ways.
The Greek work for wind can also be translated ‘breath.’ It’s interesting because in English those words are pretty distinct for us. The Greek word is a reminder that wind is connected with breath and the act of breathing - wind is connected to life and we are connected to the wind.
The Holy Spirit as wind is the living breath of God. Present in all the creation stories we read in Genesis - “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 1.1-3) Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2.7) Anyone who has given birth will tell you that breathing is an incredibly important part of that process, and with breath, God birthed creation.
Wind drew back the waters of the flood in the time of Noah, wind separated the waters of the sea for Moses and the Israelites, and God’s visit to Elijah reminds us that God’s power is often heard in the still small voice of the wind.
The living breath of God, the Holy Spirit, is in us as we live and as pray, even if we have no words. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that when we don’t know how to pray, the spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8.26). In those moments when our human words fail us, when we let out a groan of frustration or anger or deep sadness, or we are so filled with joy that all we can do is laugh, squeal or be left speechless - that is the Holy Spirit at work.
Our breath can make music, cool a delicious cup of coffee, take away stress. The wind can fly a kite, cool us on a hot day, sail us across an ocean. But breathing also can mean that we inhale toxins and wind can be incredibly destructive. Every metaphor breaks down eventually. The Holy Spirit is LIKE wind and fire and doves. But it isn’t those things. Metaphors can teach us much about God, but they can never reveal everything about who God is. This is why it’s important to have so many. Different metaphors highlight or draw out important aspects of who God is. While much of God will remain a mystery to us while we are still on this earth, when our metaphors are many and varied, we see a broader picture. We see that God has many and varied ways that God has shown up in the world and in our lives. We see that God will meet us right where we are, God will give us the power to speak so we can be understood, God will work in us so that our picture, like the photo of wind, will show the affect we have had on the world.