I remember one Sunday morning at our last church we were already running a few minutes behind schedule when one of our members stopped me to ask a “quick question.” He asked me if I could explain the Holy Spirit to him? Now I’ll give him credit that his question was quick. But the choir had already begun to process and the acolytes were following close behind them. What could I do?
This was an important question for him. It was truly weighing on his heart. So I replied to his quick question with an even quicker response. I said, “Wind and breath.” Yes, I summed up one of God’s greatest qualities with two things that come out of my son on a daily basis. Thankfully our God is gracious.
It’s hard to answer questions about the Holy Spirit. It's one of those beloved mysteries. If we were to do a little word study, we'd see that both the Hebrew word ruâch and the Greek word pneuma translate the same: wind, breath and spirit. And so its not a stretch to say the Holy Spirit is the breath of God, the wind that whips around us, and the air we breathe in.
Wind is easy to explain. I can feel it as it tickles my face and tussles my hair. I can hear it rustle through the leaves, watch it kick up dust, and cause ripples in the water. Breath is also something I get. On cold days I can see it, nearly every morning I can smell it, and when I'm on the treadmill I can even hear it. Breath is a part of every human being. So much so, that we rarely even think about it until it is hard to breathe.
But Spirit is something unique. It has no scent, or shape or form. It’s invisible and hard to grasp. Like our own breath, we don’t think about it until we need it. When we are feeling down, lost and alone. Or when we are fidgety and need quiet. Or troubled by a thought or lacking creativity, we often pray for the spirit to come. But like our own breath, the Spirit is already there.
The spirit is there even though we can’t feel it. On days when there isn’t any wind, and at times when we are truly out of breath, the spirit encircles us. Because the Spirit is God, and God has never left us. Through the Spirit God breathed all creation to life. It was the first thing to BE and it has never ceased to be.
(blow up balloon)
*Barbara Brown Taylor offers us this illustration. Think about it as our earth’s atmosphere. This invisible layer of gases surrounds our planet. It keeps the air we breathe here on Earth from being sucked out into the cold and consuming vacuum of outer space. And inside this layer is all the air that ever was, is, and will ever be. The same air of the ancients keeps recirculating, passing from one generation to the next.
God’s first breath is still blowing through this world, filling our lungs with life. This is the same breath inhaled by dinosaurs, Pharaohs, and Greek philosophers. Mozart and Frank Sinatra both breathed the same air that the choir breathes while singing their anthems. Every time we breathe in we take a baby’s first breath or someone’s last. And when we breathe out, our breath rejoins the wind so it too can be shared with someone else.
When Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross, it rejoined with Abraham’s, Jacob’s and all of our ancestors. But God took that breath, that last sacrifice, and strengthened it into a mighty wind that shook throughout creation. Like a holy hurricane, it blew through the upper room on the Day of Pentecost; igniting sparks that burst into flames above the disciples’ heads. Taylor describes this event so beautifully, saying it was as if “God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath.”
Picture them...standing there in awe, all the disciples inhaling God’s breath, filling themselves to the gills with God’s Spirit. They begin to speak in tongues; in different languages. Like a room full of preschoolers vying for attention, they created such a racket that they attracted others who were just passing-by. By the end of the day the church had grown from one hundred and twenty to more than three thousand. To think what we could do in our community by sharing the breath and Spirit of God!
Now some have described the Holy Spirit as the ‘shy’ one in the Trinity, not because it’s quiet, but because it never seeks direct attention. Rather the Spirit always points back to Jesus. I believe the Spirit is just too busy to be in the spotlight.
After all, the Spirit is the heartbeat of the Church. It blows through us and around us, above us and below us, calling all people to faith and comfort. It calls us into community and challenges the Church and her people to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth. The Spirit’s presence among us, acts as the church’s guide so that we may live and act as faithful servants of God and as witnesses of Jesus Christ.
In the unity of the Holy Spirit we are one body, the Body of Christ. Young men, old ladies, each from different cultures, races, and economic levels, all dreaming the same dream together; each of us living and worshiping side-by-side for one common purpose.
On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit filled the Earth in a new way: with peace and love and justice. When we breathe in, we breathe in God’s love, peace and justice. Therefore what we breath out should reflect the same. Just as God renewed the face of the ground with a single breath...in the same manor, God’s Spirit transforms and renews us.
In Romans Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption, by which we cry, "Abba!"
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Pentecost is not just a one-time event. The Spirit, like our own breath, is an on-going gift. Therefore, the church, and her people are like the wind...constantly moving and changing.
The Spirit of God is our life force. It is our peace and conscience. It is the part of God within us who prays in us, who offers us the gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and joy. It is the Holy Spirit who offers us the very life that death cannot destroy.
The Holy Spirit, fills us with hope and purpose.
(blow up balloon)
It stretches us...and pushes us to uncomfortable places.
This is why so many of us still resist and push back. We don't want to change. We would rather hold on to the things that keep us from truly embracing the uncertainties of a life of faith. There are things we hold on to that...can deflate us, pollute us, distract us, and of course wear us down.
They may not change who we are, but they stop us from being what we are to become. Christ called us to a life of faith; which means trusting in God even when you can't see or feel God in your life.
It was Christ who emptied himself of his last breath, so we could be filled. As the Body of Christ, we too have to empty ourselves...in order to breathe in the breath of true life. God invites us to exhale all our pain and fear and anxieties...and to fill ourselves up on the peace and assurances of the Holy Spirit.
(blow up balloon)
We must let go of our own breath…
and allow God’s Spirit to move us wherever we are called to go.
(Let go of balloon)
* Based on the sermon The Gospel of the Holy Spirit by Barbara Brown Taylor. Home By Another Way. Cowley Publications. (Kindle Locations 1457-1460). Kindle Edition.
* Bartlett, David and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Westminster John Knox Press. (Louisville, 2009). pp. 3-7.