The Untame Holy Spirit

I came upon this post quite by accident this morning while looking for something else entirely and I found something about it to be quite profound.  This line in particular “And perhaps mercy and creation aren’t really that different.” There’s some really good stuff there about mercy and what we Lutherans might call grace. It is well worth a read.

Preparing for this week’s sermon, I was actually thinking about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit and creation, specifically God’s act of creation/ re-creation/ renewal and how they all are so very inextricable. I hadn’t thought about throwing mercy in there, too, but that post made me think perhaps that’s worth a thought or two as well.

The lectionary texts for Sunday list an option for the first lesson (at least for Lutherans, it does). A combination of Acts 2:1-12, Numbers 11:24-30 as an alternate first reading, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 and John 20:19-23 are on the docket for the day. Now, being the Old Testament girl that I am (see previous posts) I immediately gravitated to the Numbers text. It’s about God giving the Spirit to seventy elders that Moses chose so as to share and make manageable his burden for caring for the people. What makes all of this interesting, though, is what happens just before this lectionary bite and what happens unexpectedly.

[That is what they are–sound bites from scripture.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with this but I think it’s a shame that we lectionary-church-types often don’t go beyond just the bite we’re given.  Seems like it would make us hungry for more. But I digress.]

The broader context of this text is really interesting to me. The people of God, recently sprung from their Egyptian slavery by the mighty hand of God and his prophet, Moses, are wandering in the desert and even though it is God who saved them, God who found water for them, God who fed them on Manna, they are still whining about how things were so much better in their slavery days because they had meat to eat. They really are the ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ people.  Needless to say, God is a bit disappointed in this. They begin to whine to Moses about their wishes for meat and Moses, in turn, complains to God about the heavy burden placed on him to care for all these people.

God provides meat for the people–provides and then some! But he also hears Moses’ complaint and provides for him as well. And that’s where we get to the actual lectionary text for the day. God has Moses to select seventy elders from all the tribes and bring them to the Tent of Meeting. It is then that God comes down and divides the Ruach–the Spirit–that has been placed upon Moses so that a portion of it is shared amongst these men as well. They prophecy as the Spirit is given to them.

That’s all well and good. Very good, actually. But here’s the twist in the story. Two men who had not been in the Tent of Meeting and, presumably, hadn’t been chosen by Moses, were also given a portion of that Ruach and they, too, began to prophecy right out there in the regular area of camp. Right there amongst everyone else. Well, where did that come from? That wasn’t part of the plan; neither the plan Moses had nor the plan God presented to Moses! Some people were quite a bit unsettled by this turn of events, too, and went to get Moses to make them knock off this prophecy stuff. But Moses indicates this is such a good thing that he really wishes all the people of God were prophets and that God would give them all his Ruach.

You see, this is exactly how I see the Holy Spirit. Unpredictable. Unexpected. Uncontrollable. Untame. There is a hymn in one of our Lutheran hymnals called “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” and its verses tell about a gentle, mild Holy Spirit that is more like a soft breeze or warm candlelight than a whirlwind and fire. I am sure the Holy Spirit can be every bit as gentle as God wishes since he is, in fact, God and can therefore do anything, but it seems to me that most of the time this is exactly what the Holy Spirit is: whirlwind and fire. Uncontrollable. Untame.

When the church is born at Pentecost, the festival we celebrate this Sunday, it is the fire of the Holy Spirit that dances upon the heads of the disciples as they are transformed into apostles. It is the whirlwind of the Holy Spirit that rushes into fill the house–a sign that change is coming and coming quickly. They begin to proclaim the good news of God in every language of the people present in the area. Peter begins to quote the words of the prophet Joel about God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Moses’ wish is beginning to come true.

The Gospel text for Sunday is the scene in John where Jesus tells the terrified disciples that just as God had sent him into the word, he was sending them into the world. Here, he breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that if they forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven and if they retain them, they are retained. Like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones coming alive, the disciples are brought back to a new but now eternal life. And this Spirit, the breath of Jesus, the Ruach of God is what gives this life and is also what gives them this charge of forgiving and retaining sins. The Spirit of God gives them the power to excercise God’s mercy….God’s grace.

So the Holy Spirit is about the business of creation/ re-creation/ renewal and about the business of mercy and grace, too. But here’s the other thing: the Holy Spirit is untame. We do not control him. He is not some tame pet that does tricks but the whirlwind driven and fire blazing Spirit of the Living God. God’s acts of creation, re-creation, renewal, mercy and grace may not look like we think it will. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of praying for the Holy Spirit to renew my congregation, ministry and all of us in this place but the truth is, that is not a little scary. It’s a lot scary. Just look what happened with Moses–people he hadn’t counted on received God’s Spirit, but some people were upset about it. And Peter–one minute he’s denying and cowering and the next thing he’s speaking in foreign languages and preaching in public to strangers! Not to mention all those other times the Spirit shows up, like moving across the face of chaos at the dawn of creation, bringing to life an entire army in a valley of dry bones, speaking through all the prophets, coming down upon Jesus at his baptism just like a great dove, giving each of us gifts in our own baptism that we get to use, giving voice to our own wordless human pain and suffering with sighs deeper than we ourselves can muster, and the day when the Spirit is poured out on all flesh when the young prophesy and the old dream. When God sends his Holy Spirit, we do not know exactly what will happen and we may not be completely in control but we do know it will be life-giving, gracious and merciful. So I say, let’s strap in for the ride and pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

2 thoughts on “The Untame Holy Spirit

  1. I like the wording of “Blazing Spirit of the Living God.” Something very… present about the way that sounds. Indeed the Holy Spirit is untamed, and as it should be! We serve God, after all, not the other way around.

    • Well, the final incarnation of this sermon ended up waaaay too long, which is really unusual for me as you know. Plus, I had to sing a solo (or a solo-ish) in worship… so it was a tense day!
      Glad next Sunday is Trinity Sunday
      Wait, did I just say that?

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