A sermon by Associate Minister Elsa A. Peters, May 31, 2009
Then “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” Other translations describe it as a mighty wind or a gale force. Not a calm, peaceful breeze. This wind is powerful. There’s a rush and whether it’s mighty or gale-force, this is the kind of wind that will make you feel like calling for Auntie Em. Of course, it’s not a tornado but a sound … like a violent wind. When all of the disciples are gathered together in one place, this sound announces the day of Pentecost.
A sound … like a violent wind. There is no word for weather in the Bible, but winds were familiar. A change in the winds meant a change in seasons. It wasn’t understood then any better than most of us understand it now. For most of us, wind is mysterious. Wind is impossible to tame or predict. But, when it changes, we know that something is about to happen. We’re just never sure what that change might be.
And so, like the disciples, we’re just as uncertain. We’re as fearful as they were huddled together trying to figure out what to do next. We’re not sure what to make of this sound like the rush of a violent wind that “filled the entire house.” It fills the whole space. Everyone feels it but no one knows exactly what just happened. We only know that it happened. Something has changed but no one seems to know what.
And so, we’re huddled together in our uncertainty. Something happened. We watched it affect each of our investments. We’ve seen our co-workers packing up their belongings and wondered if we’ll be laid off next. We’ve made grocery lists to find food prices rising so much that we wonder how we can feed our families. Vacations have been cancelled. Budgets are being rebalanced and still we don’t know what will come next. Will it get better? Will it get worse? It seems we’re all waiting for that sound. We’re all waiting for that violent wind to come and… Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? We don’t know what will change. We can’t predict the wind. We can’t tame it. We don’t know what’s coming next. That’s what scares us. Just last week, New York Times blogger Daniel Gilbert reflected this fear – not about Pentecost. He quoted Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This blogger disagreed. Fear is not what we fear. No, the blogger typed, it’s the unknown that we fear most. It’s the unknown that scared the disciples most when “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” With that wind, the disciples spoke and understood languages that were not their native tongue. The story goes that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” but they didn’t know that’s what was happening. No, instead, they were bewildered. They were amazed. They were astonished. They had only heard the wind blow. They couldn’t predict the weather. They didn’t know where the wind would take them. The disciples only knew what we know. Something happened. Something changed. Something has shifted our experience like a violent wind but no one knows what will happen next.
We still don’t. The wind blows through us. It blows around us. It blows while we (desperately) try to figure out its direction and purpose. It won’t lead us to the other side of the rainbow where munchkins sing songs of welcome but it might turn us so that we remember what really matters. A sound like the rush of a violent wind might shake us up enough to realize that we were home all along.
Perhaps this is the challenge of being the church. It could be astonishing and bewildering. Or it could be amazing – which is more than bewilderment or being caught by surprise. To be amazed is to be filled with awe, which is honestly really difficult. I find it really challenging to be filled with awe – but I’m trying. I’m trying to allow myself to feel more awe especially since I picked up Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book. That’s what the whole second chapter is about – though she calls it reverence. She describes reverence as “the recognition of something greater than the self – something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding.”
That’s the sound like the rush of a violent wind. Something bigger is happening. Something beyond any human control. Something divine … but that’s also challenging. It’s hard to know when it’s God’s doing or our doing. It can be hard to separate what God is doing apart from what we are doing. For me, that’s what being church is. That’s the wonder of the Pentecost story and one that we reenact over and over again.
We surprise each other by making community here together. Each and every time that someone signs up to host coffee hour, we amaze each other by demonstrating that our shared fellowship is valuable. That might not be the most amazing thing that you were thinking about in our church life over the past year – but I think it’s the small things that make a church family truly amazing. It’s the small things that each of you do to make this a vibrant community whether you teach Sunday School, serve communion, donate to the Food Pantry or seek justice within this faith community in one of our Social Witness Ministries.
This is what is making our shift in the governance work. You are saying “yes” to the ministries that inspire you and saying “no” when it’s just not what you’re able to do right now. In this governance shift, now two years old, we are becoming a community that wants to share in each other’s passions. I’ve listened and been amazed each time you didn’t just ask someone to join the Mission & Outreach Team, but ask first what matters to that person. This is not an easy thing for a church with 794 members. That’s a lot of people. It’s a lot of people to know well – but amazingly, we are. We are getting to know each other. We are listening to each other’s stories and being transformed by them.
This is what amazes me most – but for you, it may be something else. Many of you were amazed by our ability to transform our chancel so that all our worship needs were honored. It was amazing how we talked together about a change that was so emotional and so important.
We had another amazing conversation this year. When John and I shared our conviction and faith that we would no longer sign state-issued marriage licenses, many of you gathered with us in Davidson Lounge to share your conviction and your faith. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but as I climbed into my car afterward, my eyes brimmed with tears. Not tears of disappointment or sadness. I truly felt the presence of God that day. I heard God speak through each of you like the sound like the rush of a violent wind.
I was amazed. I don’t know if God had done it or if we did it together – but I am still amazed. I don’t know where that wind is blowing us. That is unknown to each of us but I know that the wind is blowing. Something is happening here. Something amazing and I thank God that we’re all here to witness it.