by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

June, 2006

It’s time once again for my twelfth annual column about the balloons that decorate our church each Easter Sunday! The second decade continues. In previous columns, I’ve remarked on the behavior, colors, and quantity of the balloons. And yet, each year, God surprises.

This year, from my vantage point behind the liturgist’s lectern, while I listened to the anthem and the sermon, I watched the balloons swaying back and forth in the gentle breeze from the air conditioning. In my very first column about the balloons, lo these many years ago in May, 1995, I remarked about how they rise because of the helium inside them. But the behavior of the balloons is also affected by other factors.

As I watched the balloons moving, I thought of Jesus’ words to the pharisee Nicodemus: “‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:8 NRSV). We can’t see the wind. We don’t know, except in very general terms, where it comes from or where it goes. Most of what we know about the wind comes through experiencing its effects: We feel it on our face, hear the leaves rustle in response, or smell some fragrance it might be carrying. The elusive nature of the Holy Spirit is similar to the nature of the wind. We can’t see the Holy Spirit either but we should be able to perceive its effects. In Acts, Luke described the appearing of the Holy Spirit as “. . . a sound like the rush of a violent wind, . . .” (Acts 2:2a NRSV).

Wind moves things; God’s Spirit moves people. In the Old Testament, God “. . . stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia . . .” to call for the rebuilding of the temple (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-8). In response, “. . . everyone whose spirit God had stirred–got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:5b NRSV). The New International Version says “. . . the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus . . .” and the hearts of the people. God’s Spirit stirred the people’s spirits and moved their hearts, and they responded. Even when the balloons aren’t soaring up to the sky–or, frequently, the ceiling–they’re moving. The Spirit doesn’t always have to move us in dramatic ways but we should always be open to its leading.

Luke wrote that a man named Simeon was “Guided by the Spirit, . . .” to come and see the infant Jesus at the temple (Luke 2:25-35). Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Rom. 8:14 NRSV). Like Simeon, if we are guided by the Spirit, it will lead us to Christ. We will also find God’s will for our lives. If we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God will guide our thoughts, words, and actions. God’s Spirit will “stir up” our spirits, just as it did the spirits of king Cyrus and the Israelites. The Lord will move our hearts, just like their hearts, and just like the breeze moved the balloons in our church. Paul told the Galatians, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25 NRSV). He also told them that the Spirit produces fruit: It will move us from hate to love, from gloom to joy, from conflict to peace, and more (Gal. 5:22-23). If we are truly moved and guided by God’s Spirit, we will not be “. . . tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, . . .” (Eph. 4:14b NRSV). Those around us will see that the faith we profess is real. As we have been led to Christ ourselves, we can lead others. They will see the way God’s Spirit moves us, and be moved in turn.

“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”’” (John 3:1-8 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2006 by David Phelps