The Spirit Finds a Way

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21

“It’s hard to find words to describe it. Something happened that day that turned our whole world upside down. People had come from all over the world to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish festival of Pentecost, which happens 50 days after Passover and celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery. This festival was always an exciting time because the streets resounded with different languages as the eye beheld fancy, brilliant dress of various cultures. Aromas of exotic spices filled the air.

“Some of us Jews who were followers of our Rabbi, Jesus, gathered together to pray. We had invited others, whom we had told about Jesus, to join us. There were people from Cappadocia and Mesopotamia, from Crete and Rome, from Libya and Egypt, from Asia. Suddenly, we all felt something move among us. It was as if a breeze blew through our midst, lifting us up, setting us on fire with anticipation. Each person began to pray fervently out loud, in his or her own mother tongue, and others who passed by, stopped, amazed to hear people praying in their own language. Passers-by were bewildered by the confusion of multiple languages all being heard at the same time. Tears began to stream down our faces, as we felt a deep kinship with one another, even if we didn’t fully understand each other’s language. We felt the Holy Spirit unite us that day, as brothers and sisters from diverse cultures all praying to the same God. I expect that some passers-by simple shook their heads and dismissed us saying, ‘that was weird’ but for us it was an ‘adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed’[1] experience of the Spirit emboldening us to follow the resurrected Christ.”

Emboldened they were. The followers of Jesus had already been meeting, praying and breaking bread together. They had prayerfully chosen their leaders, as Mona had described last week, and were waiting on God. With this experience at Pentecost, they found the courage and the Spirit’s power to begin their ministry of healing and of sharing all of their resources with those in need.

How do we experience the Spirit moving in our midst today? I have experienced the power of the Spirit moving amongst ecumenical gatherings of Christians. During our prayers at meetings of the World Council of Churches, we encourage everyone to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud, at the same time, in their own language. To an outsider, it may seem like a cacophony of confusion, but to those of us praying, we feel the Spirit sweeping through our midst and binding us together. I believe that this power of the Spirit has enabled the World Council of Churches to find a miraculous consensus on a number of contentious issues. There is certainly significant disagreement on some things, but I’ve been amazed at the number of consensus statements the World Council of Churches has been able to reach—evidence of the power of the Spirit in our midst.

How has the Spirit moved through our midst here, in Winnipeg? The formation of Refuge is one example of the Spirit’s power that has brought together people across various faith traditions and justice commitments to offer the ministry of healing and sharing of resources with those in need.

You may have read in the newspaper about another type of healing being offered by churches such as Sturgeon Creek United Church. They have a ministry of healing touch by which they draw on the Spirit’s healing power to help the body’s energy to flow more smoothly. They work with invisible forces that may seem weird to those schooled in the sciences. But physicists today are challenging the empirical scientific method with recently discovered theories that attest to these invisible forces. Chaos theory suggests that nature is highly complex and unpredictable because of the Uncertainty Principle, which recognizes that a tiny particle cannot be accurately pin-pointed. This is why it is so difficult to predict weather beyond one or two days.

The more complex the science, the more understanding there is for the invisible forces of nature. Everything has energy, even what we call inanimate objects. Perhaps we are finally catching up to Traditional Aboriginal teachings, which tell us that rocks, for instance, are animate and have energy. There is room within the emerging scientific understanding for the divine energy, which holds all things together. There is room for miracles that cannot be explained by modern, conventional science. This is the place where philosophers, physicists and theologians can work together, open to the power of the Spirit.

In the movie Jurasic Park, a mathematician explains why it would be unwise to have carnivorous dinosaurs romping around the island. When the owner promises that nothing could go wrong because all precautions would be taken, the mathematician replies, “Life finds a way.” In spite of all of our careful calculations and predictions, life is unpredictable. We cannot control the invisible forces of nature, but must work with them, remaining open to the unexpected, making room for the Spirit, for the Spirit finds a way.

One of the General Council reports about the restructuring of the United Church is entitled, “Chasing the Spirit.” The title has met with much derision, for many believe that it is not our task to chase the Spirit, who is somewhere out there, but rather be open to and led by the Spirit, who is within, before, behind and all around us. We can never be separated from the love of God and the power of the indwelling Spirit. We can stifle the Spirit, but we can never hide from her, nor can we ever control her.

Both the Greek word, pneuma, and the Hebrew word, ruach, mean wind, breath and Spirit. The Spirit is the breath of God, the wind of the soul who blows as she may. The Spirit breathes into our dry, weary bones, bringing new life, new hope, new direction.

When we encounter challenges in our lives, our tendency is to batten down the hatches and tighten our control. But when we become tight, we lose our flexibility. We become less patient and tolerant of different opinions. We begin to stifle the Spirit breath of life. If, on the other hand, we can stretch those tight muscles of protection and open the control gates of the mind and heart, we will make room for the Spirit. Galatians tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The word control is still there, but it is self-control, not control of others. It is such a relief to myself and others, when I learn how to let go and let the Spirit lead. But letting the Spirit lead means more than letting go. It requires vigilance and discernment, an ability to change and adapt as the Spirit moves.

I grew up sailing on the west coast. My father would time the start of the sailing races to the second with his stopwatch, while I learned to study the minutest flutter of the sail and trim it so as to best catch the wind. When you race, you must never let your eyes off the tell-tale threads because the wind is constantly shifting direction and speed, ever so subtly at times. We have no control over the wind, but we do have control over the sails.

To be open to the power of the Spirit moving through us, we must be alert to the signs around us of where the Spirit is moving. As we discern where the Spirit is leading us, we will need to adapt so that we can best follow. God sends the wind, but we set the sails. Even then, should our attempts fail, the Spirit finds a way.

[1] Frank Crouch, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2457