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Burnin', Blowin', Shakin', Squawkin' -- Jeanne Gay -- May 11, 2008 Burnin', Blowin', Shakin', Squawkin' -- Jeanne Gay -- May 11, 2008

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Jeanne Gay · 10 years, 1 month ago

Burnin’, Blowin’, Shakin’, Squawkin’:
A Participatory Sermon for Pentecost and Mother’s Day

Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay

May 11, 2008       Summit Presbyterian Church

Numbers 11:24-30       Acts 2:1-2


It's Pentecost! The church's birthday!

You know the story. The disciples have been hanging around waiting, and suddenly—on the Jewish festival of the first fruits, when Jerusalem was full—there’s wind! There’s fire! People can understand what the disciples are preaching even though they speak different languages. Someone said to me recently, “Think about it – Peter preaches a one-paragraph sermon that includes the word drunk, and 3000 people immediately become Christians.”

I know the Holy Spirit was involved there, because I’m telling you as a preacher that I don’t believe that one-paragraph sermon with 3000 converts is possible for the most amazing of preachers, all on their own. (Of course, pretty much nothing that happens here from the pulpit happens just because of the preacher who’s in it. The Holy Spirit is always active when a sermon speaks to us.)

Let’s look at the images the scripture uses to describe the Holy Spirit’s being there that morning: “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” Wind and fire!

What did that mean, that there were tongues of flame resting on them? Flame on them—but they weren’t burned up. Hm. Remember the burning bush? Fire in the Bible was often a sign of God’s presence. Even the seraphim, the angels who attended God—their name means the burning ones. So the fire meant that God was there.

And wind. The Old and New Testament words for windruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek—these were also the words for breath. And because for the ancient Hebrews breath was life (for without breath there is no life), then wind is breath and it’s the spirit of life. So the wind meant that the spirit, the spirit of life was there.

What was happening here at this birth day of the church? What gifts were we given from this very beginning? Why, the gift of God’s presence and the gift of the spirit of life.

The spirit of life. Life, not death. Jesus said that he came so that all would live … and live abundantly. Abundant life. Living large, as we sometimes hear.

“Living large” is something that Celtic Christianity knows about. This is the form of Christianity that sprang up early on in the British Isles, particularly Scotland and Ireland. (St. Patrick was an early missionary planting the seeds there.) This is a Christianity that was very close to nature. And the image they have of the Holy Spirit is the wild goose. From the Bible we also get an image of the Holy Spirit as a bird, but there it’s a dove. Doves are gentle, and they make that nice coo coo sound. But wild geese! They don’t coo; they squawk! They honk! And they’re not gentle and peaceful—they’re loud and untamable.

What a great image for the Holy Spirit! Strong and challenging, strident and unnerving, like a wild goose the Spirit stirs us up … it challenges us … it says get up and live.

There’s a poem by Ronald Meredith about wild geese flying over a farm and the effect they had on the tame ducks on the pond. It ends this way:

They heard the wild call they had once known.
The honking out of the night
sent little arrows of prompting deep into their wild yesterdays.
Their wings fluttered a feeble response.
The urge to fly—
to take their place in the sky for which God made them
—was sounding in their feathered breasts,
but they never raised from the water.

The matter had been settled long ago.
The corn of the barnyard was too tempting.[1]

The corn of the barnyard was too tempting.

We’ve had that experience, haven’t we. The corn of our barnyards—our traditions, our “we never did it that way befores,” our houses that we’re fixing up, those lovely antiques we inherited from our ancestors—all the things, good and bad, that keep us tied down are the “corn” that tempts us to stay where we are, to do as we’ve always done, to think as we’ve always thought.

But the wild goose keeps calling! And the Holy Spirit—that great wild goose—doesn’t want us to live narrow lives but to live abundantly, to live large, to live lives that dance and fly, lives filled with joy.

Lives that love God and love our neighbors. Lives that are creative forces for good in the world.

150 years ago, a woman named Anna Reeves Jarvis, a homemaker in Appalachia, lived such a life. She organized a day she called Mother’s Work Day, a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community. It was a cause she felt mothers would be the best advocates for. Throughout the years of the Civil War, she kept on organizing. She worked with women on both sides of the conflict to encourage better care for all the wounded, and after the war she worked for reconciliation between Union and Confederate neighbors.

135 years ago, Julia Ward Howe, author of the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a pacifist and suffragist in Boston, heard about Anna Reeves Jarvis’s work and wrote a poem called “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” which called for a Mother’s Day for Peace.

And that’s the origin of the Mother’s Day we celebrate today. It wasn’t originally supposed to be a “lovely dove” kind of a day, a take-your-mother-out-to-dinner day, but a wild goose day. A day filled with passion for peace and health and love of neighbor. A day filled with wind and fire!

Sort of like a day of giving birth.

Sort of like Pentecost, the birth day of the church.

The Holy Spirit was there on that birth day, birthing the church itself. And the Holy Spirit—that great mothering Spirit—is with us today and every day, calling us with that wild goose cry to be born again to lives of passion and peace … perhaps to march next Sunday in the Peace Walk, or visit someone from church who hasn't been able to get here for a while.

That great mothering Spirit calls us to be born again to live abundantly, to live large … to know that there is enough for all—more than enough—and that we are called to give out of our bounty, perhaps to Presbyterian Disaster Relief for the survivors of the cyclone in Myanmar, or perhaps to a student you know who needs some help buying books for next semester, or perhaps to a family in your neighborhood who could use someone to watch the kids for a couple of hours.

That great mothering Spirit births us again, and again and again, in fire and wind to live lives filled with God and to spread God’s love throughout our families, our neighborhoods, our city, our country, our world.

The Holy Spirit is here, my friends. In the sunlight shining through the windows and alighting like flames on our heads … in the breeze that is the spirit of life … in the call of the children that is the call to life abundant … in the women and men who have nurtured us. The Spirit is gentle and kind, like a dove. And the spirit is loud and messy and insistent – like fire and wind, like a wild goose, like your mother calling! All at the same time!

Amen, and Amen.


Note: When I said wind or fire, everyone waved a flame-colored cloth. When I said wild goose/geese, everyone honked (and the children waved their arms). When I said mother, everyone patted or hugged some (or themselves if sitting alone).

[1] Meredith, Ronald. “Wild Geese Flying”

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