Believe it or not, those words are the lyrics to a song about our God. They are about the about the author’s love of God and, at the same time, her fear. Our God is a God of Peace, of Healing and of Love. As Martin Luther would say, this is most certainly true! Our God is a God who keeps promises; a god of grace, mercy and hope. But if there is one thing our God is not, one thing that we may often forget that he most certainly is not, Our God Is Not A Safe God. In fact, our God could have a caution label!
Caution: this God is prone to acting by his own will and not yours. This God is uncontrollable and occasionally unpredictable. This God is flammable and there are no known fire extinguishers which will have any effect upon these flames. Also note: there is a wind advisory with hurricane force gales in the area surrounding this God. Approach with caution. YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.
And if there is one festival of the church year which is to remind us of this caution label, it is Pentecost. Wind and fire and change and amazing things! And it all started when everyone was in town for a festival. When we hear the word Pentecost today, we think of it as a special day on the Christian calendar as a festival Sunday or, when we hear that word, we might think about a particular denomination of Christians. But long before the birth of Christ, Pentecost was a Jewish festival and it is one we have inherited from our Jewish theological ancestry.
Pentecost, also known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks, was celebrated fifty days after Passover. It is a harvest festival, celebrating God’s abundant gifts and the offering of the first fruits of the earth to the Lord. It is also a chance for the people to commemorate the time when God gave his people the Ten Commandments. Passover, the time when God’s people remembered how he had freed them from slavery in Egypt and how the Angel of Death had passed over them because of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, was a thoughtful, contemplative feast usually celebrated in the home with the family. But the festival of Pentecost was a time for all the people to come together and to celebrate the law and the covenant that made them one people; One People of God.
That is just what is happening in our second text for the day. Jews from all over have come to celebrate this great festival in Jerusalem. In fact, scripture tells us that there were Jews from every nation under heaven in the city at that time. And the disciples are among them.
Oh those disciples! Sometimes, it is a wonder the faith survived at all! After Jesus died and even after he was resurrected, the disciples were frightened people who were not sure what was to happen next. Go into all the world making disciples and baptizing? Ummm, yeah, sure thing buddy! That was easy for him to say. They couldn’t kill him a second time and, by now, he was already sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. They were just ordinary guys! How could they do something like that?
We often think of the disciples as either guys who just don’t get it no matter how clearly Jesus tries to teach them or as the wise and brave apostles who founded and spread the church throughout the known world. But the truth is these are ordinary people just like you and me.
It is the day of Pentecost , fifty days after Passover, which also means it’s fifty days after what we now know as Easter. 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. 50 days after what should have been the end of it all but was really just the beginning. It is now that the promised Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, comes to the disciples just as Jesus promised. It is every bit as dramatic and nearly unbelievable as a man you once thought was dead standing right in front of you! Like a wind, the Spirit comes and like fire it rests upon the disciples.
As fierce and miraculous as a newborn coming into the world, the church is born.
And it is at this point that the disciples now find the courage to be the apostles. They are undeniably transformed and are given the strength and ability to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, not only in every language imaginable on that day, but from then on to everyone and every place they can.
The Holy Spirit, the breath and fire of God, didn’t stop there. In our baptismal rite as well as in our Confirmation rites we say that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens the Church. We say that we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at baptism; the gifts of wisdom and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The gift of faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
On our own, as hard as we may try, we could not fulfill the law and we cannot follow Christ as we would wish. The effects of sin, the broken world and our own brokenness are so debilitating that alone, we cannot even begin to be disciples, even begin to believe in God. But with the Holy Spirit, with the gifts of the Spirit given to us, with the faith we receive as a free gift, we can!
The Spirit does more than just help us each individually to be good Christians, good Disciples and faithful followers of Christ. The Spirit is that which creates the church and forms us into not just a group of friends or an organization that wants to do good things or even a place of refuge from the weary world around us. The Spirit forms us into that and so very much more! The Spirit makes US into The Body of Christ.
The wind and fire of God blows through our lives like, well, like an untamed animal; vibrant and living and powerful. And not a little dangerous, too. The Spirit is what gives the church life and what makes the Body of Christ a living breathing being. Everything the Spirit touches is made forever different.
Imagine those disciples, those followers of Jesus. After all that is what disciple means: one who follows in the footsteps or the teachings of another. They are fearful, confused, and uncertain and all for very good reason. And then, next thing you know, they are speaking in languages they have never known, proclaiming the truth and saving grace of Jesus Christ not only in ways that others can hear and understand but with a courage and strength they had not known before. It is then that they are transformed into Apostles. Apostle means one who is sent. Through the gift of the untamable Spirit, they become empowered to go out as they had been told to do. Now they are able to go, as Jesus had instructed them, and make disciples of all nations baptizing as they went in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching everyone what Jesus had taught them.
The Spirit of God is active now. Today. Every day. Right now and right here. So where in your life is the Spirit active? Where does it seem that things are fearful, confused, uncertain? Where are the places in the life of Shepherd of the Hills that are fearful, confusing, uncertain? When we ask God to send his Spirit to us, he does just that and the Spirit comes to those fearful, confusing and uncertain places. But remember, our God is an untame lion. The Spirit blows where it will. We do not control it. We do not control God. Remember that caution label? “This God is prone to acting by his own will and not yours. This God is uncontrollable and occasionally unpredictable.” God does as God sees fit and God can set us afire for what he wants in this world. He can blow us in directions we might never have even dreamed of. Like the apostles, we might actually find ourselves taking what Jesus said seriously, telling others about it, living our lives differently every single day and being willing to take risks to help others understand and know the truth of God. We might even start to look for ways to take risks for the sake of the Gospel and sharing God’s amazing, untame grace and love with everyone around us.
The whole church is always, in some way or another, thinking about this question: what is God calling us to do? But we are at a wonderful and exciting place in our congregation’s life and it is a great place to start asking questions like that of our little part of the body of Christ right here. Where are we going? What is God calling us to be and do in this place and time? Who is God calling us to speak to and with? We stand, just as those disciples did at that Pentecost festival, like so many have stood before, at a place filled with potential and opportunity for sharing the Gospel with the world. The possibilities for us are amazing, exciting and varied. What is our ministry here to be? I ask each one of you to think on these questions. I also ask you this: will you please pray for this part of the body of Christ? Will you please pray that God will send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wind and Fire, and fill us with his presence, cover us with the fire of his love and courage and carry us on his wind to fulfill his purpose for us and for the world?
We do not know for certain where God will send us, but we do know he goes with us wherever that will be, giving us, through the Spirit, all that we need to do and be what he calls us to do and be. Our God does have that caution label: You Will Never Be The Same. But remember also, our God is Good. He is gracious and merciful. His power may be dangerous, but his power is endless love.
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Mr Beaver to Lucy in C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia