The Nature of the Spirit Can Blow Our Minds

A sermon based on Ephesians 2:11-22
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on July 19, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott

When I was a teen my father decided to take up sailing. He studied nautical terms and tactics from books and then bought a well-used Topper, a small fiberglass dingy with a single sail and a removable keel. It sat one person well and two a bit low in the water. This was no yacht. It was more akin to a small rowboat with a sail and rudder tacked on.

But my father was quite proud of that vessel. And nothing made him so happy in that modest little boat as barking out sailing commands and terms to whichever family member was brave enough to serve as “crew.” His favorite command was “Prepare to come about.” Which to me meant he hoped to make the metal beam thingy that held the bottom of the sheet thingy swing my way and I should get ready to duck and move the other side of the boat.

Being new to sailing I had to translate “Prepare to come about” to “duck and move!’ by the time I did sometimes things were already happening . . . And sometimes they weren’t. In fact often out on a lake we’d end up in what nautical terms is called “adrift.” It’s what I’d call stuck . . . in another words, dead in the water with no wind to power us.

I do not know why, but dad did not always keep a paddle on board. I know this because I played water polo and swam a lot and dad’d sometimes issue what I am quite sure no boat captain wants to say to his crew in a lake full of other boaters . . . in a quieter non-barking voice he’d say “Scott get out and push us.” So I’d dive in and push the boat ‘til we got to a windy spot . . . or back to land . . . (in nautical terms, “ashore”).

Now I have to be honest and tell you that I did not particularly enjoy these sailing experiences. I even remember one time in the middle of the lake responding to the captain’s barking by jumping out of the boat and swimming ashore leaving the boat behind. If I remember right that’s what nautical folk call “abandoning ship.” What I’d call returning to land without the aid of wind.

And I want to talk this morning about wind for a bit. Moving air– wind– is invisible, but it has affect. We cannot see it but, we know it exists because basically it animates things. The hair on our arms or the nerves on our skin feel it. We see or hear wind moving leaves, blowing flags, kites, turbines, smoke, and sometimes sails and sailboats. We can even sense with smell aromas that waft aloft on it.

While humans can create bits of wind with fans and blowers and such, mostly the wind we typically think of is created by atmospheric pressures. But at a smaller level land animals actually innately create small amounts of moving air – I’m guessing– billions of times a day. Animals do this by anatomically causing an intake of a flow of air to the lungs and out-take by exhaling. I am not sure what the nautical term for it is, but we landlubbers call it breathing. And just like with bigger winds we don’t see the wind of our breath. We see its effects, rising and lowering chests for sure, but also the life it sustains.

Wind if we think about it, can be said to be like God, or at least like an aspect of how we encounter God. What I mean is, wind can be a good metaphor for many human experiences of the Divine. We understand God as an invisible wind-like power – an often unseen force blowing through our lives and creation. And God does not just swirl about but moves things– and we sense God’s effects. We also feel it out there in creation, in the universe, in the world, here in this room. And at the micro level too, right? God given and sustained life is an effect of the wind in the ins-and-outs of our every breath. Simply put, God is like unseen flowing air moving, shaking, shaping, cooling, causing and sustaining large and small experiences . . .and life.

A few weeks ago our summer Sunday class, what we call “TTAG” for Thinking/Talking About God, listed general questions about God. One them was “Who or what is the nature of the Holy Spirit?” So I thought when the opportunity presented itself I’d do a sermon on the Spirit aspect of the Trinity. I did not have to wait long. As we heard today’s Lectionary text mentions the Spirit twice. The author of Ephesians wrote “We . . . have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit” and he wrote that “Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.” In these two short phrases we can hear the Spirit moves us into access with God, and become the actively “living” presence of God in us.
The Greek word translated as Spirit in our lesson is “Pneuma.” Guess what? It’s the Greek word for wind and breath. Our word “pneumatic” for air pressure power has its roots in this word. Pneuma. In Hebrew the word for Spirit is “ruah” which also means wind and breath. See our Judeo-Christain tradition has long considered an aspect, a character of God to be wind-like . . . pneuma, ruah . . . Spirit moving in our lives as an unseen force giving us life and aiming, moving us and creation, TOWARD GOD’S GOALS.

I recently mentioned in this pulpit that the Holy Spirit gets us to move; that the Holy Spirit can be understood as the part of God that animates our beings to be Christ in the world. On Trinity Sunday in May I am sure everyone remembers I said

for Christians the Creator provided the engine of the universe, the Spirit is the internal spark that ignites and causes a people piston to move, and that Christ is that identifiable movement in humanity. It’s all one process, one engine with a spark and a resulting godly animation of us.

I gussied up the idea of the Spirit as a moving power, as a spark that gets us going in order to tie into the Pentecost fire idea and image of the Spirit. But the Pentecost story also describes the Spirit as wind-like. So keeping in mind the Spirit as wind-like – and as a moving power– lets go back to the idea of sailing, where I started this sermon.

We can think of church as being like a boat that can be steered and operated in a way that catches the wind (the Spirit of God) and so it moves under the power of God in the sea of chaos we call life. Done right church can sail relatively smoothly under the power of God in the unseen forces of the Spirit’s “wind.”

And church is the Body of Christ right? So while the Spirit force is unseen, the resulting action is known as Christ in action. We tend to use metaphors relating Paul’s image of the body of Christ, so we call our spirit driven movement as being like the hands and feet and voice of Christ, the breath of the Spirit moving the body of Christ in various ways.

But we could also make it nautical terms: When the Holy Spirit moves us we are Christ sailing or Christ underway in the vessel of the Church. When we catch the Spirit in our sails we move as Christ.

And sometimes a ship of church does not catch the Spirit in its sails. Maybe it is not sailed quite right or something goes wrong. Whatever the cause the boat we christen as “The Body of Christ” does not get underway, it ends up adrift . . . or stuck . . . or dead in the water.

We can even stretch the metaphor a bit more, and see and hear about people jumping overboard and trying to pull churches along without the aid of the wind, or jumping overboard to abandon ship swimming to shore because the Spirit was not being caught in the sails or in the breath spoken or commands barked on-board. The Spirit was not, is not, powering such a church vessel.

We can apply this metaphor and what we’ve learned about the Spirit aspect of God to what is happening worldwide. Church-wise people have been jumping ship or not even getting on board for decades now. Why? Arguably because the Spirit of God has not been THE moving source powering some church vessels. To be blunt, captains and other leaders of the ship, bellow orders and lead church vessels to be adrift, without the power of God. Consequently the Spirit of love does not always fill their sails and move them.

Like my story of pushing dad’s boat, people have tried to push the ship of Christ along without the wind of God and they may move a bit, but it’s not smooth and quick and easy sailing. It’s rough or slow sailing or the vessel doesn’t get very far, or it goes the wrong way or it just ends up in the doldrums. So people don’t want to get on board or they leave.

From my perspective the answer to why people are staying away from, or leaving the ship of church is pretty clear–and all this Biblical metaphor stuff for Spirit can help us understand. God is love and love is the vital moving force of Christ in the world– the Spirit that empowers us to be Christ. So all we have to do is ask, “Is the power of Love moving a church vessel?

People in church vessels will defend their actions with all sorts of theology and doctrines and Bible quotes. But at the end of the day the test is not what their arguments are but what actually moves and empowers their church vessel? If the answer is not the Spirit (God’s Love), no amount of theological stances, doctrines, or Bible quotes can move the ship of Christ as it is supposed to be moved when real true to God love fills the sails.

When people in America think of churches in this nation are they picturing or experiencing churches as mostly love driven? Real love – not some sort of twisted version of it! That’s what a lot of people are asking. A bunch of us here in this room asked that question and left or stayed away from churches because we did not experience them as under sail with wind of love– the Holy Spirit.

Some people, like long term members of this church– have been lucky enough to experience sailing under the power of God’s Spirit, but a lot of us and many others have seen or been involved with churches that in our experience lack love as THE driving force.

This lack love takes many forms and slows church down or stops it dead in the water. We’d be well advised to continue to stay away from it. There’s lack love for other faiths. Lack love for opposing political views. Lack love for other Christians. Lack love for atheists. Lack love for people of color. Lack love for aliens. Lack love for LGBT. Lack love for women. Lack love for even themselves.

The Body of Christ, the Church ship cannot lack love and properly move in a God driven direction. It just cannot! Love, the Spirit of God, the invisible force of God, is a necessity to move church across the seas of chaos toward what Jesus calls heaven on earth. Movement powered by the Spirit is essential. As our Bible lesson puts it today, we get access to God through Christ by the Spirit. In other words, the invisible wind of God is perceived through the movement of the ship of Christ in the world.

It takes both the wind and the vessel catching it and turning it into movement that makes God’s work incarnate in the here and now. The ship of Christ, the church is NOT able to properly move otherwise. Oh people can hop out and try and pull the boat without the winds of love, but that can only work for so long and move so far and not in a Godly direction. Church is not a boat that properly runs on non-Spiritual sources of power. Lack-love fuels like “save yourself,” “loath others,” “judge others worth” and “come to god to get rich” are not fuels that have the power of even a tiny breath of God . . . let alone the powerful ever present winds of the Holy Spirit.

The good news is that those winds of the Holy Spirit, – God’s Love– blow all the time and are unconditionally available if we put up a sail to catch them and use them and move across the chaotic seas of life. And that is what we must do if we want to better the world and reach the shores of heaven on earth.

When we move under the power of the Holy Spirit love moves us all in amazing ways, to a better place and our better selves. When we don’t put up that sail looking for those winds, we can’t make such moves.

In short, the nature of the Holy Spirit is what moves us in the vessel of the church and in our lives to create Christ’s action on the waters of life that head us toward the shores of heaven on earth.
If we let it the nature of the Holy Spirit can blow our minds to choose to be love in action.
May we long make the choice to sail with the wind of the Spirit at our back blowing us forever toward heavenly shores.