Riding the Wind
Genesis 1:1-2, John 3:8, Acts 2:1-4
September 17, 2017
I love watching birds in flight as they ride the wind. They swoop along so effortlessly–diving, rising; diving and rising again; soaring in the heights. The sight is glorious. I feel as if I can almost “see” the wind in their flight patterns. As an earth-bound creature, I watch in awe.
Peter Pan was always my favorite make-believe character as a child. I spent a lot of time, attempting to fly off the edge of the living room couch! “I can fly, I can fly, I can fly!” Peter proclaimed. How I wished I could join him!
We live in difficult and dangerous times. If there is one thing we need to do right now, it is to catch the coattails of the wind and ride it, even though we may not know where it is taking us.
Nature teaches us truths we need to grasp elsewhere in our human stories. The biblical narrative describes Spirit as “wind” for good reason. From the first chapter of the bible, through Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, through Pentecost and the birth of the early church, this image returns again and again.
I often spend long periods of time on Silent Retreat, just watching the trees sway in the wind, noting the subtleties of their movements. While the deciduous trees seemingly “clap their hands” in rhythm as the wind dances through the fullness of their leaves, the fir trees respond with much more restraint. Their sturdy, coniferous trunks stand staunchly before the wind, with minimal movement registering primarily in the top-most branches.
There is this one tree, felled long ago by disease. It is split in two. Half is fallen, caught by the trunk of a living tree. The other half is somehow still standing, long ago denuded of both branches and leaves, just a shell of its former glory. Sometimes on retreats, I can hear this old, pock-marked tree plaintively moan as the wind whips through its cracks and crevices.
“The wind blows where it will,” Jesus tells Nicodemus the Pharisee, who comes to speak with him at night for fear of being discovered by his fellow religious leaders. ‘What is this miracle of new birth,’ Nicodemus muses, ‘when we cannot enter our mother’s womb a second time?’
Ah, it is like the wind. We cannot see it, but we experience its power.
The Spirit-Wind blows where She will. “Ruach,” the Hebrew word for Spirit, is feminine. “Ruach.” The word even sounds like the wind. There is nothing human beings, or all creation, can do to contain Her.
In these perplexing and turbulent times, we are watching this Spirit-Wind fiercely blow. Social institutions are losing the trust of multitudes of people, and the church is no exception. Among some parts of the population, particularly the young, the church may even be leading the way.
Meanwhile, Ruach is upending centuries of codified expectations about how we understand and do “church.” This does not mean that what we do here is old and tired, or not meaningful. In truth, it has meaning to all of us, or we would not be here today. Yet, there is much more to see about the movement of Ruach around us.
These times of great instability are also times of deep unveiling. We are facing a kairos moment in the church in the United States. What we do with it says everything about who the church will become in this nation in the years ahead.
With the blatant normalization of white supremacy in the highest halls of power as well as in major sectors of the white evangelical church through this past election and subsequent months of policy decisions, a significant awakening is occurring among many white people to the historical power and privilege of whiteness. African-American pastor of New Beginnings Community, Rev. Brenda Brown, said this in a Conference Call with clergy about Charlottesville, “People of color are going to stand back and see what white people do…White people have to dismantle white supremacy. Is this just ‘the flavor of the day,’ or are you really there?”
Among people of color, white supremacy has been on full display for a long time. Has it taken all that has happened in the past several months to awaken white consciences to the urgency of these realities experienced for centuries by others?
These questions are why, today, we are going to hear from PCC folks who attended First Church’s White Privilege series last spring. Two weeks from today, we are going to hold roundtable discussions downstairs about race, frank discussions among white people around whiteness, with people of color sharing their personal stories together.
Does this sound challenging? It should. As Edyie has said to Steve and to me, “I do not know any other church in Oberlin ready to have such discussions with one another. If this is going to happen anywhere, it is going to happen here.”
The Spirit is blowing, my friends. Are we brave enough to ride the wind? Do we trust each other enough, to see where Ruach takes us?
Where else is God’s Spirit blowing? We have shared in our Reflection Time some of the places we see Ruach at work in our own lives and on the national stage. We have shared places where signs of hope and seeds of reconciliation are sprouting.
Ruach is blowing in the ordinary moments of every day life, when we help a neighbor or comfort a child. She is blowing as hurricane victims and responders band together to provide support and some small measure of relief. She is blowing in soil regenerated. She is blowing through wind turbines and solar arrays.
Across this nation, Spirit is blowing people together who share a yearning for the common good but often do not share a common faith or common theology. A pastor from Sojourners United Church of Christ whose name I did not catch in the Charlottesville Conference Call said, “Many justice-modelers do not want anything to do with church folks. They are also our people, and we must know them. When people are wailing in the streets for justice, surely God is there, and we should be, too. We must be able to hold the anger of others and not let it eat us alive.”
The days of staking out our own fiefdoms and measuring progress by the numbers of people who will join our ranks have passed. What does that mean for church budgets, buildings, and programs? I frankly do not know. I do not know any pastor who can answer this question. We have to uncover this future together, in deep prayer and watchful discernment.
Yesterday when Steve and I were in Rochester attending Mini-Peace Camp, a friend and pastoral colleague who has never worshiped here in Oberlin with us commented, “PCC is a ‘ripple-effect church,’ whose impact travels far, far beyond its local congregation.”
What does it mean to be a ‘ripple-effect’ church?
Ruach is indeed blowing fiercely, and we need to ride the wind. She will not be contained, and we can trust her to lead the way.
Pentecost is here, my friends. We need new tongues of fire and new vision to light our path. As pastor and community organizer Rev. William Barber says, “We need a new language in the public square, not of ‘right’ and ‘left,’ but of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ The language of ‘right’ vs. ‘left’ comes from the French Revolution. We need to speak in new tongues.”
For those of my generation and beyond, the use of social media seems like a ‘new tongue.’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, with new flavors of connection arising all the time. We can resist these ‘new tongues,’ yet they are the language of younger generations with whom we yearn to connect. Are we willing to speak in new tongues?
What else feels like a ‘new tongue’ to you?
There is a shining before us, within us, and beyond us, and it looks a lot like the Realm of God to me. It looks a lot like the Kin-dom Jesus proclaims and embodies, coming in the streets and alleys, cities and farms. It looks a lot like Spirit, blowing where She will. It looks a lot like oceans of courageous, committed human beings, organizing in fresh, rag-tag iterations, dancing among the Community of Creation– speaking in tongues of fire–singing both ancient and radically new songs.
Do you see those birds out there, soaring with abandon, riding the wind? Are you watching? I am!