Acts 2: 5-18
May 31, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
There is nothing tame here. We do not have God appearing in the form of a loving hug, or tortoise’s slow, gentle gaze, or an early morning sun on the dewy lawn. Here we have the Holy Spirit in the form of rushing, violent wind and flames.
Many of us lived here in the late summer of 2017 when the Eagle Creek forest fire raged through our beloved landscape – up the Columbia River Gorge. Hood River is dubbed the Wind Surfing Capital of the World for good reason, as there is rarely day when the gorge doesn’t provide a strong, steady wind to play on. But that wind, meeting forest fire, well there was nothing playful about that.
When wind meets fire, you get an inferno.
And that’s what we have here in the Acts passage – an inferno.
Heat enough to melt and bend metal. Power enough to irrevocably alter a landscape. Strength enough to bring down monuments like century old trees.
Story after story in scripture tells of God warning people that they don’t really want to see God face to face. When God makes a direct appearance, people are changed. Moses’s face always glowed red after time on the mountaintop. He could manage it, but it took its toll. So, again and again, God finds a way to mediate appearances. Send an emissary or two, an angel, or pass by in a cloud.
And yet, here in this story that we celebrate as the birth of the church, this is encounter with God does not burn, destroy or kill. Instead, this inferno brings creative energy, brings hope, brings passion and vision.
But though the people are not burned and bent and brought down, they are changed. Changed because the power of God is nothing tame. When the Spirit of God descends upon a people, you can be sure that all heaven breaks loose.
Frankly, I think a lot of the time I prefer a more domesticated God. You know, like that well-trained lab who is there to answer your call and play at your command. Always loyal and always ready for a wee snuggle.
But we know that this is not the God we get. Instead, we have a God that shows up to the birthday party not with balloons and birthday candles. But rather the Goodyear blimp and a blow torch. All out of proportion to what our sensibilities have determined is appropriate.
And maybe, frankly, while threatening as all get out, maybe it’s also a relief. Because it’s clear that nothing in our bag of tricks is going to be enough to overcome human character. We are in our third month of quarantine and it’s not pretty out there. People’s nerves are frayed. Patience is wearing thin. Energy for rallying around each other to “beat this disease” is waning with every day more that we are required to give and sacrifice. And the fabric of our economy, of our civil discourse – never strong to begin with – is so tattered and worn we can see right through it.
So thank heaven God brings something more than we can tame. Thank heaven for the inferno that burns so brightly and so powerfully that any and all of our efforts at containing and corralling are futile. Because we need that kind of energy, presence and power working among us and through us.
We cannot get through this COVID crisis on sheer human ingenuity and grit. We cannot heal racism in the United States with only our own determination. We cannot solve the housing crisis in Portland with only our ballots. We need the power of God to blow through our city, our nation, our globe – and topple over those giants of greed, distrust and manipulative power.
Perhaps bringing a blow torch to the party is just what we need. The blow torch of the Holy Spirit – where fire and wind match up to transform and transcend the structures that feel too big to conquer on our own.
And that’s a party that I want to dance at. When the Holy Spirit shows up, then all heaven breaks loose and there is a brand new beat. One that helps us bridge divides we thought were unscaleable. One that helps us meld partnerships we thought were unreachable. One that helps us foster trust we thought was undreamable.
There hasn’t been dancing in our streets these last several days. We have watched city streets ignite with a different kind of flame. But friends, we are a people celebrating, honoring Pentecost- where the Power of God transforms the anger of riots into the love shown in justice.
Can you hear it? The spirit is calling out – around the world – and to each of us. Watch out! Listen up! Sweet music is filling the air.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on May 31, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.