Benediction Online

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Think BIG

Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

How many of you were here when we had an occasional worship service on the land before we had the church building? And how many of you were in this building before we had windows? Even if you weren’t here back then, if you have ever tried to get out of your car on a windy afternoon or had the door of the meeting room slam as the wind roared around the side of the building, you’ll know that this is a very windy valley. That’s why we have put up an enclosure for our trash and recycle bins, so that the wind won’t blow them down and send their contents into our neighbor’s fields.

So I want you just for a moment to imagine that we opened all the windows on a windy day and the wind gusted through here.

That is perhaps a little of what the disciples experienced that first Pentecost. Their experience was an extraordinary presence of the Holy Spirit which is described as being like the sound of a mighty wind – so it didn’t actually blow their service sheets into the next field – and like flames of fire which rested on their heads. It must have been an amazing experience.

Recently Donna and I taught a Hollister class which we called “Listening to the Spirit”. We focused on ways that we can hear God and deepen our being with God through scripture. Most of those were quiet, contemplative practices. We didn’t even mention wind and flames of fire!

After the great prophet Elijah had challenged the priests of Baal to a contest and Yahweh had sent fire from heaven to light his own altar, he had a crisis of faith and took himself off to a remote cave, he heard the word of Yahweh tell him,

‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him… (I Kings 19: 11-13)

God was not in the wind or the fire but in the silence that came afterward. And so we tend to expect God to come in silence. But the Holy Spirit of Pentecost not only came with the sound of wind and the sight of flame, she filled the disciples so that they all became like Elijah when he challenged the prophets of Baal. They had been gathered for prayer but now they were out on the streets, speaking the praise of God and telling the Good News of our reconciliation with the divine, not just in Aramaic, not just in Hebrew or Greek, but in many, many languages.

And the next few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles tell us how they went about teaching and performing miracles just like Jesus had done. Because they had been filled with the Holy Spirit.

I wonder… I wonder if we are limiting God’s Holy Spirit by only looking for her in the quiet still places. What if God’s Spirit is equally present in the storms that rage inside us and between us? What if God’s Spirit really wants us to go out into the streets over-flowing with excitement, and knowing that that’s a possibility, we avoid anything that might make that happen? What if the Holy Spirit is longing to do a new work of transformation, a powerful demonstration of God’s Love, in our midst and we are preventing her by our limited thinking?

As the mystic Mother Julian reminds us, God is always courteous and does not force himself upon us. It is our job to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. It is our job to notice the places where we constrict and tighten, the places where we don’t fully trust God, and to open ourselves. Jesus appearing to the disciples, breathed on them. He got up close and personal and they felt his breath on their faces and he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." If you tighten around your grievances and your anger they will stay, but if you forgive you will be free. If you constrict your notions of God, God will stay small for you.

So let’s think BIG! How big is your God? What limits do you place on him? Perhaps you think that God never speaks to people like you, or that God stopped speaking when the last word was written in the New Testament, or that all the miracle stories are wishful, mythical thinking, or that God only answers prayers which are within the limits of human ability because she always works through humans. Perhaps you think that God is only out there somewhere, looking at this planet from a distance, or that God is only within us, guiding us through our thoughts, or that God is only in the beauty of Creation and the Sunday morning prayers, not in the chaos of your work life.

I challenge you this morning to let go of your limited thinking and to think BIG. Think wind and flame. Instead of the gentle dove we tend to associate with the Holy Spirit, think of the wild goose of Celtic Christianity.

The Holy Spirit works in many different ways and brings many different gifts. We may not all have the gift of healing but let us pray that some of us will. We may not all have words of wisdom or knowledge or faith, but let us expect and hope for some of us to have these gifts. St. Benedict’s does not have the same gifts as the Baptist church or the Methodist church down the street, we have our own unique gifts as the Holy Spirit gives to each one as he chooses.

But what if we are not fully receiving those gifts because we are not fully open, because our limited thinking is getting in the way of God’s gift? Every American child knows that on your birthday you get presents. And every child is ready for those to be really BIG and every child knows that you have to unwrap your gift before you can play with it.

So on this birthday of the church let us think BIG. Let us open ourselves individually and a faith community to the possibility that God’s Spirit is not just in the still small voice, but is also in the wind and fire.


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