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May 15, 2005
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
The Beaufort Scale
On July 22, 1993, the wind turbine on the lawn of the Spirit Lake Elementary School [in Iowa] began producing electricity. Ninety months later, the school’s turbine had produced 1,570,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, which would have cost the district $124,900. This is enough electricity for 264 average Spirit Lake homes for a year. In addition to providing all of the electricity for the 53,000 square-foot elementary school, it also produced a reimbursement from the utility company of almost $25,000. The final payment for the loan on the turbine was made during 1998, 3.5 years ahead of schedule. Today the almost $25,000 savings go to the school’s instructional program. [“Spirit Lake wind project — vision to reality,” Spirit Lake Community Schools Web Site, spirit-lake.k12.ia.us.]
This is a story that is too good to pass up. “Wind power” at “Spirit Lake.” The Holy Spirit is also a mighty power—able to blow through our lives like a spiritual wind and electrify us for the mighty purpose of working for the new kingdom.
But let us talk about the physical wind for a moment. For thousands of years, no one thought that the wind could be measured, but then, in the late 1700s, a cabin boy in the British Navy began to keep a journal of weather conditions. His name was Francis Beaufort, and he grew up to become a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy, serving for 68 years. That’s right. I said 68 years. Over the course of his long career, he developed a method for describing the wind that became known as “The Beaufort Scale.”
The Beaufort scale differentiaties between a “calm,” a “light breeze,” a “moderate breeze,” a “gale,” a “storm,” and a “hurricane.” Beaufort’s definition of “calm” is a “sea like a mirror.” When a “light breeze” is blowing, you see small wavelets on the water, and the crests don’t break. A “moderate breeze” creates small waves, while a “strong breeze” generates large waves, white foam crests, and probably spray. In a “gale,” you see moderately high waves and crests that begin to break into sea spray. A “storm” is defined by very high waves with long, overhanging crests. The surface of the sea takes a white appearance, and the tumbling of the sea becomes heavy. And at the top of the scale is a “hurricane” — a wind condition you don’t want to see firsthand! “The air is filled with foam and spray,” says Beaufort, and the sea is “completely white with driving spray.” With his descriptions of every condition from calm to hurricane, Francis Beaufort created a way to describe the wind — a scale that is still in use today.
On this Sabbath day, let us consider a certain windy day in Jerusalem. The apostles gathered to celebrate the harvest festival known as Pentecost. The book of Acts tells us that there came a sound like the rushing of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where the apostles were sitting. Firelike tongues rested on each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4). Suddenly, the international crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem could hear the apostles speaking about God’s deeds of power. They could understand what the apostles were saying, because the apostles were speaking the native language of each and every person (2:5-11).
But the force of the wind did not end there. It inspired the apostle Peter, who had acted like a Christ-denying coward just a few months earlier, to stand in front of a mob of mockers and shout, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem ... listen to what I say.” Peter proclaimed that the coming of the Holy Spirit matched the words of the prophet Joel — words that told of how God would pour out his Spirit upon all people. Your “sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” said Peter to the crowd, and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (2:14-21).
What a mighty wind it was, whipping through Jerusalem and blowing away the everyday expectations of everyone who was gathered there. People were impacted, lives were changed. It was the storm of the century. More than that, it was the storm of the Millennium, the Perfect Storm whose effects have lasted almost two millennia so far.
The Spirit Scale
But how can we measure the force of this holy wind? If we were to apply the Beaufort scale spiritually, what would that look like?
The first level on the scale is calm. This is the condition we experience when the Spirit leads us, equips us, and gives us serenity and peace. “Peace be with you,” said Jesus when he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” (John 20:21-23). When the Spirit Scale reads “calm,” we are given peace and a sense of harmony with all things. The calm of the Spirit enables us to live stress free and worry free and anxiety free in a stressful, worried, anxious world.
At other times, the Holy Spirit comes as a “strong breeze,” a Spirit-wind that has a creative quality to it and leads to surprising improvements and new directions in our lives. In the Bible, this is seen in the “wind from God” that swept over the face of the waters at the moment of creation, and began to bring order out of chaos (Genesis 1:2). That same spirit still works even now to bring order out of the chaos of our day.
The strong breeze of the spirit gives us a sense of purpose. We know that we belong to God, and that we now possess a sense of direction that keeps us on task and on mission. We have a mission in this world. Our mission is to Christianize the world. The final goal of the world is the consummation of the world in Jesus Christ. To work effectively toward that final goal we need the wind of the Holy Spirit.
This is the same Spirit-wind that came upon the anointed figures of the Old Testament when they were empowered for specific tasks and missions. This is the Spirit that came upon the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25). This is the Spirit that came upon Balaam when he uttered his oracle (Numbers 24:2). This is the Spirit that rested upon Othniel, the judge of Israel (Judges 3:10), and Gideon (6:34) and Jephthah (11:29) and Samson (13:25). This is the Spirit that fell upon Saul (1 Samuel 10:10) and David (16:13).
When we head into a situation where new directions, fresh opportunities and unlimited possibilities face us, we look to the Holy Spirit for the “strong breeze” to empower us according to the will of God.
Of course, the wind alone is not enough. There used to be an old saying among sailors, “The best wind is useless, unless you hoist a sail”—which is to say that God empowers but we have to use God’s power.
Robert Brow [“Electricity: A parable for Pentecost,” June 8, 2003, Model Theology Web Page, brow.on.ca.] tells the story of a couple from the depths of the African jungle who arrived in Kingston, Ontario, and were given a fully equipped home to live in. They were handed the keys, but none of the Canadians thought of explaining about the electrical appliances. During the month of July, the Africans went to bed when it got dark and rose with the sun. They collected wood and were able to cook in the fireplace. They found water came from the taps, and they did their washing in the kitchen, and dried their clothes outside on an improvised clothesline.
By November, they were cold, miserable, and frightened. Fortunately, some friends came to visit, found the house in darkness, and flicked on the lights. They showed the couple how they to set the thermostat to heat the house and how to use the electric stove for cooking. The next week the couple learned about the washer and dryer, the vacuum cleaner, how to answer the telephone and dial their friends. The television helped them find out about Canada, and how people survived the Canadian winter.
That story illustrates the huge change that took place on the Day of Pentecost. “Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2). The couple from Africa discovered that they were living in a house in which they were free to enjoy light, and heat, and the many appliances of modern civilization. On the Day of Pentecost, the early Christians began to discover the light and power available to them by in the Holy Spirit.
But like the African couple, Christians also sometimes have difficulties learning to use this power. The Africans were taught by their new community. Even so, Christians are taught by our new community, the church. Older Christians have a responsibility and privilege to teach younger Christians, and the teaching is mostly by example.
But, beyond that teaching, the African couple in their new home had to actually do some things themselves: turn on the lights, put the clothes in the washer and dryer, cook on the stove, take a shower. They had power, they had knowledge of how to use that power, they still had to use it.
As Christians in community, we have power and the knowledge of how to use that power. All that we have to do is use it. The power of the Holy Spirit is there for you. Use it! On the day of Pentecost, God empowered, but the disciples used that power to speak the gospel to everyone they met.
Returning to our spirit scale, the next higher level of spirit wind is a “gale,” a force that breaks unhealthy patterns and shakes up the status quo. In a world that so often fights fire with fire and responds to violence with even more violence, we are given the power we need to go in a different direction. “Evil is not effectively resisted with hatred and with guns” — so observes Jeffrey Burton Russell in his book The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History. “The only response to evil that has ever worked is the response of Jesus ... and that is to lead a life of love. That means what it has always meant: visiting the sick, giving to the poor, helping those who need help.”
Finally, at the top of the chart of the Spirit wind is the “hurricane.” This is what hit Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, turning the lives of the apostles completely upside down. They were reoriented from looking inward at themselves to looking outward toward a world in desperate need of the gospel. They were changed from fearful disciples into fearless evangelists, and they headed off into the mission field with a powerful sense of purpose. We used to call this “revival.” When hurricane force Spirit-winds blow across the landscape of our souls and our common life together, nothing is ever the same.
When you look at a real-life hurricane, you see the power of nature at work — hurricanes release the energy of a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. In the same way, when you look at the movement of the Spirit on Pentecost, you see the power of Almighty God at work. You see the breaking down of language and culture barriers, the empowering of frightened disciples, the courageous sharing of Jesus Christ with the world.
If we have a passionate sense of the presence of Christ, we cannot bear to see anything that is empty of that presence. Everything should be full and vibrant with Christ. Everything should be. Unfortunately, everything is not that way. Above all, we are astonished to find so many people who are much like us, but who have not received the divine fire. They live devoid of God. They may make some profession of God, but God is not really part of their lives. They have not received the fire of the Holy Spirit, which engulfs their lives and changes attitudes, habits, and lifestyles. That is a sad, desperate way to live. That is why we as Christians need to tell people about Jesus. We are not imposing our religion on them. We are not trying to improve the numbers of the church. We are trying to give them something that will make their lives incomparable better.
Now we are not entirely unselfish when we talk about God’s love in Jesus, because even though we are giving people something great, we get something back. There is a lesson for us at Pentecost. Though the tongues of fires came upon each individual disciple, the fire also came when the disciples were assembled as a group—indicating that we can and should serve Christ as individuals, but we serve Christ best with others. We welcome the coming of the fire of the Spirit into our lives, but we receive that fire best when we are with others who are receiving the fire. We are not lone Christians, but all Christians are part of the mystical body of Christ. And coming together with others under the leadership of Christ is the supreme victory of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 6/2/05