This morning we begin by looking at the words of Jesus in John 3:8. This verse occurs during the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler who came to Jesus by night. When Jesus said, “You must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus did not understand the concept. Not really surprising as I’m relatively certain that many of us don’t fully comprehend what this means. So Jesus explained that flesh produces flesh, human birth, but only God’s Spirit could give new birth in the realm of the spirit. But then Jesus added these words of explanation, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Pay special attention to two words in this verse: “wind” and “Spirit.” Though they are two words in English, in Greek they come from the same word: pneuma. We get the English words pneumatic and pneumonia from this Greek word. Depending on the context, pneuma can mean breath, wind or spirit. In this case, the same Greek word has two meanings in the same verse.
Wind serves as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. As Jesus points out to Nicodemus, wind by its very nature is invisible and unpredictable. The wind that blows today from the north may blow from the south tomorrow or from the east or west or not at all. We feel its effect and hear it whistling through the leaves, but the wind itself is totally free from man’s control. Wind exists everywhere on the earth, is continually in motion, and may be experienced in varying degrees—from a slight breeze to a mighty rushing wind to the destructive force of a tornado or a hurricane. In a closed room, the air soon becomes stagnant. But when the window is open, the incoming wind blows out the stifling air. On a hot summer’s day, a cool breeze refreshes everyone. A clear, bright January morning with a temperature of 10 degrees can be enjoyable. Add just a slight breeze and it becomes nearly unbearable.
Just as the wind is everywhere in the world, the work of the Holy Spirit is universal, not limited to one country, region, or race of humanity. Similar to the unpredictability of the wind, no one can say for certain where the Spirit will blow in great power today or tomorrow. The wind is beyond man’s control. Likewise, no one can control the work of the Spirit. As the wind blows from the heavens, so the Holy Spirit is sent from heaven.
We here in the valley are familiar with severe thunderstorms that bring strong winds. It is not unusual at this time of year for us to have the electricity knocked out for several hours, even days. The wind pushes against the trees and the wires and causes havoc.
That same wind, when made to push against a series of blades surrounding a shaft, can perform tremendous amounts of work in pumping water or generating electricity. But yet, that same electric power has to be distributed by the wires that the wind twists and breaks; the power of the pneuma.
The wind always had special meaning in our house when I was young. My father, Donald, was a lineman for the Rural Electric in Belmont County. Anytime a strong wind blew, Donald would start to become agitated. I don’t know if it was anger at having to be forced to go to work or that caught up energy of a horse in the gate waiting for the bell. But with the ringing of the telephone, off he would go, into the storm, answering the bell; headlong into the wind.
The wind drew him into service, into work. Many times he did not know where the wind and blowing would take him but he went out and served the families who were without power. It was his job and that is how he would have described it. He did it because it was what he was expected to do.
Donald was certainly not an outwardly spiritual or religious man. But the pneuma, the spirit, was present in both his work life and his church life. The pneuma pushed dad to work as a Trustee, a Deacon, an Elder, to work on every improvement that was made to Rock Hill Presbyterian, both seen and unseen, as long as he was able. There was no clapping of hands, no speaking in tongues, no ecstasy of celebration that is believed to accompany being filled with the Spirit. Oh, now that is not to say Donald did not enjoy singing and the music we relate with the Spirit. That music may be the only evidence of the gifts we traditionally associate with the Holy Spirit that inhabited Donald. And maybe even many of us.
The wind is always present, always at hand. It comes at its own preference, and displays itself in different ways.
The entity we are discussing is the Holy Spirit. We’ve talked a little about the spirit. Let’s explore the word holy. Our present language defines this word as exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness; divine.
The greek root word for holy is hagios and the fundamental meaning of hágios is “different” – thus a temple in the 1st century was hagios, holy, because it is different from other buildings. But the meaning is deeper than just different. It is unlike anything else. It is otherness. In the NT, hágios, holy, has the “technical” meaning “different from the world” because “like the Lord.”
So when we say Holy Spirit, hagion pneuma, the original meaning was “spirit of otherness because the spirit comes from God”.
This begins to explain our inability to comprehend the Holy Spirit, the spirit of otherness. The spirit is always present, always at hand. It is the force that pushes, silently, slightly, forcefully. Moving and changing where it will. It’s all the same spirit, but we experience it in different ways. And as the story of Nicodemus demonstrates, no one can predict when the spirit will invade a human heart.
While there are may be many explanations of what IT is, one part of the answer is the Holy Spirit itself. Like the wind, he blows where he wants and no one can control his movements.
We need the wind of the Spirit to blow through our hearts,
Replacing fear with faith, blame with forgiveness,
Replacing doubt with hope, anger with love,
Replacing judgment with grace, bitterness with trust,
Replacing pride with humility, envy with kindness,
Replacing cowardice with courage, impatience with perseverance,
Replacing harshness with compassion,
Replacing selfishness with generosity.
We need the wind of God to blow through our midst today. All our work will come to nothing without the Holy Spirit to bless our efforts. We may plan and organize and strategize and publicize to our heart’s content. We may have meetings all night and all day. We may discuss and ponder and consider all the alternatives. We may use all the wisdom we can muster, but unless we are changed on the inside by the Holy Spirit, nothing will change and our work will mean nothing for the sake of the Kingdom.
Every Pentecost we hear of the coming of the Holy Spirit. We hear of tongues of fire and speaking in tongues and the sharing of the Gospel to all.
Then, as we walk out the door after the service, we seem to forget, or more likely, ignore, this spirit of otherness. This year, this Pentecost, I’d like for us to embrace the thought that the Holy Spirit isn’t limited to the churches where they dance in the isles and faint from the effects of the spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life of the church. The Holy Spirit is the nudge we feel to stop and talk to someone who seems a little down. It is the instinct we have that we really should help out at the rummage sale. It is the urge to share the joy we have in our fellowship here. Dare I say that it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to share our worship on social media??? I believe, perhaps, so.
My father, Donald Elmer, was not what we might consider to be a Spirit Filled member of God’s Kingdom. He didn’t clap. He never once raised his hands in church, unless he was replacing a light bulb or wanted to be recognized to speak during a Congregational Meeting. He wasn’t one to go out proselytizing and banging the bible drum. But he was a person who was led by the Holy Spirit to do the work, to help where it was needed. To better God’s Kingdom. He would never have said that is what made him, and many of us, to do what we do. But the Lord works in mysterious ways. And those mysterious ways are the Spirit of Otherness, the Holy Spirit, working in each and every one of us.
Church, friends, there is absolutely something in the wind, the Otherness Spirit, the Life of the Church.
Spirit of the Living God
Fall afresh on me
Amen and Amen.