Shortly after we moved into our new home, there were a number of big, scary storms. It was cool for June, so we had opened the windows to let the cool breeze blow in.
Our cats typically LOVE to sit in the open windows. They look out, smell the world, and watch the birds.
But when those storms rolled through, the curtains blew everywhere. The breeze going through the house was strong enough to move things off the table. I thought it was crisp, cool and refreshing… but the cats were not pleased.
With each gust of wind, my cat Tiki’s ears laid back and he would meowl. He was a bit overstimulated. He didn’t know where to look or what to do. You could just see chest rise and fall with each panicked breath. So, I spent about half an hour petting and reassuring him that morning. The other cat, Turbo, refused to even make an appearance.
The blowing of the wind always makes me think of the Holy Spirit. She blows where she will, she stirs things up and creates a ruckus, and we can either be comforted or agitated by her presence.
When we are ready for the Spirit to blow, it is a refreshing change of pace…. We breathe in deep and enjoy the ride.
But when we are not ready for that change, when we are not looking for the Spirit and she shows up, well, then we feel like trouble is brewing. We complain about how we’ve never done things like that before. We might try to fight back and then when it’s obvious the change is here to stay – we might just hunker down in the middle of the floor and give up.
In our scriptures today, we find two different groups of people who are in the midst of some powerful Holy Spirit changing winds.
In our first story, Elijah is dealing with the shifting winds of culture and a changing political situation. His whole world has been tossed upside down and he feels threatened and afraid. He isn’t sure what he is supposed to do in response and cries out to God for help.
In our second story, the disciples find themselves in a strange in between time. We talked last week about how their friend and colleague John the Baptist had just been executed. They are being led deeper into more dangerous territory in their faith and being encouraged by Jesus to take bigger risks than ever. Their entire understanding of who God is has radically been changing. They are completely unsure where their faith will lead them next.
And in both places, a powerful wind shows up and helps remind them that God is always with them.
As we think about these two stories, it is helpful to imagine ourselves in their shoes.
Sometimes, we run away to a place of safety like a cave. This sanctuary can feel like such a refuge, with its cavernous space and the warmth and protection it offers.
The disciples, were sheltered from the storms in their boat. A boat much like this church…
You may think I’m talking about some symbolic and imaginary boat. You might picture yourself floating down the Raccoon River or on a pontoon out on Saylorville Lake. But believe it or not, we have all, literally, gotten into a boat this morning!
The part of the sanctuary where you are sitting is officially called the “nave.” The word comes from the Latin navis, which means a boat or ship. This sanctuary is constructed, on purpose, to look like an upside down boat. The rafters are the frame and the wooden slats become the hull of the ship.
So we are all together, in the boat this morning. We are all in this boat called church doing our best to be faithful and follow Jesus.
The problem is, sometimes the winds start to blow. And when that happens… well, we can’t always be sure where we will end up!
In the gospel, the wind picks up and pulls the disciples from the shore. Their boat is battered around on the water. The winds whip around and blow the lake water into their faces. It’s not a pleasant way to spend the night.
Out there on the water, they not only sense the breeze, but also the winds of change. Their fears and hesitations and feelings of inadequacy about this journey of faith creep in. In the wee hours of the morning, they start to feel alone, lost, and afraid.
That’s how Elijah was feeling too. Alone. Afraid. The winds of change were against him and he alone was left of the prophets of God. Ahab and Jezebel, the rulers of Israel had turned against God and God’s people and Elijah had done everything he could to try to get them to follow God again. Nothing he did worked. He felt like giving up. He wanted things to go back to how it was before. He wanted the land to be full of God’s power and blessing again.
It is a common experience. Whether it was Elijah looking backwards or the disciples wanting to stay near the shoreline.
It is the tension between wanting to stay near to the shoreline, where we know Jesus has been, and allowing the winds of the Holy Spirit lead us into different waters and a new mission field.
The shoreline is where we are safe and comfortable.
The shoreline is where we have experienced Jesus.
Just close your eyes for a few moments and breathe in deep.
As you breathe in and out, think about where that shoreline is in your life. That experience of Jesus. A Sunday school class, a worship service, a bible study….
The shoreline is our cherished past. It is where we KNOW God has been. So we try as hard as we can to stay near to that shoreline, or to find one just like it in another place. We don’t want to venture out into the world without Jesus by our side, so we want to hang on, right there, and wait.
If the disciples had their way, they would have stayed right by the shoreline, all night long.
That’s what many of our churches try to do. They tread water, anchored in one place, doing their best to stay afloat and keep things as they are.
But sometimes, the winds of change start to blow. The Holy Spirit starts to move us. And like the disciples, we find ourselves drifting farther and farther from where we are safe and comfortable.
Some of those winds might be cultural shifts that move news and conversations online instead of in print or in person.
Some of those winds represent the migration of people and the changing demographics of the state and this very neighborhood.
Some of those winds are changes in styles and preferences of those who would worship with us.
Sometimes those winds of change are finding pink slips in our bulletins instead of those familiar green pew pads.
It can be scary and disorienting to be led somewhere new by the Holy Spirit.
I remember I had this sense of absolute terror when I was called by my district superintendent to go to my first church. I had no idea what the future would bring. I didn’t know what the people would be like. I didn’t know whether or not I would fit in. All I knew were the churches of my past, the familiar boats I had worshipped and been taught in.
The winds of change were blowing and I had two options. I could embrace the call – take a deep breath and hope and pray that the Holy Spirit was truly working through the process. Or, I could try to hunker down and resist and probably would have been miserable. I chose to trust that no matter where the Spirit of God took me, Jesus would be there. And he was.
I think the mistake the disciples made in our scripture today is that they tried so hard to stay by the shoreline, where they knew Jesus had been… that when the winds drove them to the middle of the lake, they believed they were in a place Jesus couldn’t possibly be.
With the breeze swirling around, in that unfamiliar territory, they felt overwhelmed by the chaos of it all.
Their boat was the only thing they had left.
Without a shoreline to cling to, they took a deep breath, said a prayer, and hunkered down.
For Elijah, his mistake was constantly trying to go back to the old king and make them change. Do you remember the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Well, that was Elijah. Trying to convert Jezebel and fight her religion instead of moving on and looking for new people to minister to.
There is a temptation, when the winds of change are blowing, to retreat into a building like this. This church can become the center of our attention. It is that place we keep returning to, the familiar boat we hold on to for safety.
And so when those winds pick up, we retreat to our cave or hunker down in the boat.
Sometimes, it’s hard to get a sense of when we are being blown by the Spirit and when we are simply being tossed and turned by the breezes of popular opinion.
So, we focus on our people and our ministries And then we get into the rut of doing the same things over and over again, and wonder why it isn’t working any more.
But the biggest danger in doing so is that we no longer recognize Jesus when he shows up out there in the wind and the waves.
All around us are churches that are perishing because they have stopped paying attention to their neighborhoods and the world around them. They are dying because they no longer recognize Jesus when he’s standing out there in the winds of change.
When Jesus came out to the disciples, rocked by the winds on the lake that night, they didn’t know who he was. They were so startled by his presence, they thought he must be a ghost – an apparition – not their Lord and Savior.
Because why on earth would Jesus be out there?
“Hey! It’s me!” Jesus calls. “Don’t be afraid.”
Peter takes a deep breath and raises the courage to respond. He shouts into the wind at this dark figure approaching.
“ Lord! Is that really you? If it’s you… well…. If it’s you, then, tell me to come to you! “
And Jesus says, “Come.”
Take a deep breath and take a step out onto the waters.
Take a deep breath and step out of the cave.
I have new places to send you.
I have a new direction for you to go in.
Take a deep breath and step outside of these doors.
God is waiting. God is patient. And God has plans for us.
When we let the winds of the Holy Spirit move us, we go where our Creator calls us, we will experience amazing and miraculous signs of God.
The winds… they aren’t going to stop blowing.
Change will keep coming.
The Holy Spirit is alive and active in this world.
So pull up the anchor, take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride.