Sermon: “Waiting to Exhale”

Here’s a sermon I preached in 2007 on Pentecost Sunday.

“Waiting to Exhale”
Act 2:1-21
May 27, 2007 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN


When I was about two years old, I was diagnosed with asthma.  From about age two until maybe age 9, I dealt with constant asthma attacks where I had hard time breathing.  I can remember sitting in the doctor’s office of Dr. Cory Cookingham, who was my allergy and asthma doctor, who would sometimes have to give me a shot of adrenalin to open up my constricted lungs.  More than once he worried if this didn’t work, that the hospital would be the next stop.

Growing up as a kid with asthma was not fun in the early 70s.  I still had a pretty full childhood, but there were things I was limited in doing.  My made sure all the schools I attended were clean and not dusty so as not to trigger an attack.  I remember when I was very young, not playing outdoors again for fear of an attack.

As I got older the spectre of asthma grew smaller.  I was able to play outdoors and have fun, no longer fearful for another attack.  In fact I went without an asthma attack for eight years until the summer I graduated high school.  I still have attacks few and far between, but I do carry an inhaler just in case.

Today is a big day in the life of the church.  This is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church.  It is also the day that we focus on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The text that was read today, has the Holy Spirit as the prime mover, the One that transforms the timid disciples into fearless apostles, a community huddled in a room is sent out by the power of the Spirit into the world.

Many of us don’t really know what to do about the Spirit.  We know what to do with God.  We are pretty sure what to do with Jesus.  God is our Father and Mother, Jesus is the Son, the Lamb of God, but who is this Holy Spirit?  We don’t know what to do with this third person.  And, well, the word spirit brings up thoughts of ghosts and goblins…things that are rather creepy.

When we think of the Holy Spirit, if we ever do, we tend to think of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters.  They are the ones that will sometimes dance up and down the isles and speak in something that sounds like complete gibberish.  We “sophisticated” mainline Protestants look at such things with fear, because we most definitely don’t want to be like that.  Having grown up in a charismatic Baptist Church, I am familiar with people who are “slain in the Spirit” and start yelling and flailing their arms like crazy.  For a little kid, such mannerisms were scary and I didn’t know if I wanted anything to do with the Holy Spirit.

So, mainline Protestants tend to ignore the Spirit.  If rolling around is what makes one “filled with the Spirit,” we will stick to our more sedate brand of worship, thank you very much.

But in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we tend to miss seeing the world through God’s eyes and in the end, we end up missing God.

Our text from Acts opens with the disciples holed up in a room in Jerusalem.  These were the same bunch of people who never seemed to understand what Jesus was all about.  And when the going got rough for Jesus, they abandoned him.  This group was hardly the group that was going to lead the church.

And then, a wind comes through and envelopes the room.  And then fire descends on each of them and they began to speak in other languages, which was quite a feat for these simple small-town men from Galilee.  Peter addresses the crowd with wisdom we have never seen before.  He tells them that in the last days, God would pour out the Spirit and sons and daughters would prophesy, young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams and even the slaves would prophesy.

Wow.  So is all that happening now?  I think so, but we need to be filled with the Spirit to see it.  Notice that Peter didn’t say the Spirit was being poured out on the church, but on all flesh.  So, God’s Spirit is at work in the world, even among those who may not know of Christ.  Men and women are doing God’s work of justice in word and in deed.  Even the lowly outcast is being used by God.

God’s spirit is at work in the world, but can we experience it?

One of the few things I remember from my seminary days is that the word for wind and spirit in Greek is the word pnuema.  For the more mature people in the congregation, this is where we get the word pneumatic tires from- tires filled with air. I think it’s interesting that this word mean both spirit and wind, because it give us some insight into what the Holy Spirit is all about.  The wind is something that can’t be contained; it goes where it wants to go.  God’s Spirit is not contained in churches, but is alive beyond these walls in the world.  Our job is not to bring the Spirit to people but to find out where God is already at work and join God in that work.

The Hebrew word for spirit is even more fasicinating.  That name is ruach, which also means breath.  Think back to the creation story when God creates humans.  God fashions the bodies, but they were still dead- until God breathes into their bodies and then they come to life.  Spirit here means life, because to breathe means you live, you aspire.  To not breathe is to die, to expire.

We are a God-breathed people, or at least we should be.  Are we a people that sees where the Spirit is blowing in the world?  I can’t answer that question, only each us in our hearts can do that.  I can say that looking at the world through the Spirit’s eyes is a lot like seeing the world through the eyes of a child.  I want to show you a painting that was done by a local artist, Eddie Hamilton.  Many of his paintings are made up of these seemingly simply figures.  Now, I’ve seen a lot of paintings and they tend to be pretty serious.  Eddie’s paintings tend to be childlike.  There is something freeing about this picture.  There is a soul of a child in these paintings and it reminds me that we are called to be like a child.  Jesus said that we are to have the heart of child to be  part of God’s kingdom, and it seems that the church has to have a heart of a child to see God’s Spirit at work in the world.

When I was old enough, not to mention healthy enough, I would ride my bike around the neighborhood.  Being a young kid, I would have an adventure.  Nevermind, that I really never rode my bike more than a block or two, I had entered into a marvelous world that was full of possibilities.

Shouldn’t that be what the church is all about?  That we can go from out of the walls and see a world where God is at work and we can’t wait to a part of that?

The truth is that too often we are bogged down by the daily realities of church, we are worried that we are too small, or we fret about the finances and the phyiscial plant.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about these things, but we get so wrapped up in these matters that we miss what God is up to in the world.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear the General Minister and President of our denomination, Sharon Watkins, speak.  She said something that I has stuck in my head until today.  She said that the church is not here to bring people to it, but to going to the world and bring the church to the world.  Too often, the goal has been to bring people to church so that they can connect with God.  The assumption is that God isn’t in the world and it’s up to us to help people know God.  But the fact is, God is pouring God’s Spirit out on all of creation.  God is already at work in the world and our job is to work with God.  There are many people who are doing God’s work and don’t know it.  Our job is not to bring them to church, but to do what Peter did: tell the story of Jesus, the One who has brought salvation to the world.

Dennis McKee a former member used to ask us how we knew how God is at work in our lives.  So, have you seen God at work?  Were you paying attention?  I am seeing God at work in the Circle of Prayer that meets for prayer.  I am seeing it in someone like Jim Galvin who has a faith the size of the Grand Canyon.  I see God moving all the time, when I’m paying attention.

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.  Can you see the wind?  Can you breathe in the Spirit?  That’s a question only you can answer.  Thanks be to God. Amen.


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