Rev. George Miller
Jan 22, 2017
This week marks the hello, the goodbye, and the remembrance of 3 historic men.
One who said he’ll make America great again. One who said “Yes we can.” And another who said “I have a dream.”
The life and lasting impact of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be celebrated tomorrow.
A holiday to remember an individual who stood up for justice, who spoke out for the oppressed, who had a vision that included all, and not just some.
An everyday person who rose up to be extraordinary because no matter how tough things got, he never lost hope; no matter how much he was threatened, he never resorted to physical violence.
A man who met the darkness of hate with the bold, beautiful light of a dream.
Dreams. What are they?
They come; they go. Wisps of air, invisible, yet so powerful. So strong.
Dreams can stretch and reconfigure the very physical structure to the world.
Dreams affect and influence everything: art, industry, architecture. From the dreams parents have for their children, to the dreams that can cause thousands to march and millions to take notice.
They are like the wind. They can bring change, disrupt that “static quo”, and create new beginnings…
Today we begin a sermon series in which last week’s service was the prologue-
“The Land of Delight”, based on the poetic words of Malachi 3:12, inspired by the work of Diana Butler Bass in her 2015 book Grounded.
This book, subtitled “Finding God in the World” was first brought to our attention by Rev. Peggy Davis, who preached about it, led a retreat based on it, and became the inspiration of last year’s Vacation Bible School.
Following the prophetic inspiration of Rev. Davis and the spiritually revolutionary work of Butler Bass, we will spend three weeks talking about the wind, the waters, and the earth which supports our feet.
First- the wind.
The other day, I took a walk to cleanse my head and made my way over to Lake Jackson as the sun was setting.
It was a twilight in which the lake was alive- the water was loud and splashing against the sidewalk and shore. Beneath the pier were ripples catching the light from the streetlamps and Fountainhead apartments.
Lake Jackson was spirited- waves, foam, watery reflections.
I realized that is wasn’t really the water’s doing- it was the wind. The wintery wind that had settled upon the city, making the air around us cold, the leaves dance, and animating the water.
The wind- something that Butler Bass states cannot be observed, but its impact can be noticed. Wind, which is powerful, yet unseen to the naked eye.
…I wonder what other great unseen universal force is powerful, impactful, and able to bring change…
Standing by Lake Jackson, watching the wind animate the world, I thought of “Mary Poppins.”
Since it was the 1st film I saw in a theater, I can’t imagine any movie more majestic than that: the swelling of the orchestra; the heavenly view of London from above the clouds.
The moment in which Mary Poppins floats into town, carried along by the air while all the nannies are lifted off in the wind.
This secular movie invokes the characteristics of the Holy Spirit so well.
Poppins comes into the lives of an overly-structured, stale, static family to bring about change, confusion, mirth, new lands, new ideas, all while imparting lessons on the ministry of the poor, feeding the birds, reevaluating the importance of money, and reexamining family.
Today’s scripture ties so many of these themes together. The Gospel writer, astute and articulate, uses the testimony of John the Baptist to introduce us to Jesus.
Jesus enters into the story, much like Poppins, unannounced and out of nowhere.
It is the Baptist who tells the people about his experience with this mysterious figure. That he saw the Spirit descending on Jesus from heaven, like a bird.
Though the word wind is not explicitly mentioned, its impact can be felt throughout.
That’s the thing about wind- you don’t have to see it to know it’s there; it does not have to be spoken about for its presence to be felt.
So today we begin our “Land Of Delight” sermon series, inspired by Grounded.
I’m thankful that Rev. Davis introduced us to this book because it provides new ways to talk about the Holy, it opens our eyes to the universe around us, and it challenges the way we have been taught to view God.
For me, most profound is the notion that it is time we stop having a vertical-only faith. It is time that we stop looking up to the skies thinking God is far, far above and removed.
That it is time we start looking straight ahead, to the horizon, realizing that God is everywhere, at all times.
This, the author calls, is horizontal faith. It maintains the holiness of God, but ensures we find a way to experience the sacred in the world around us.
In chapter 3, titled “Sky”, the author shares her wisdom with us.
Think of the sky, she states, how the heavens above us are not static.
Think of how the sky is always changing, always moving; always familiar, yet always brand new; with us from the beginning.
Eternal but not stuck in place.
The sky becomes a way for us to ponder the existence of God’s presence, one that extends to beyond the stars and “wafts through our lives like a spiritual breeze.”
From there, the author talks about the spiritual nature of wind, breath, and spirit, how in Hebrew they are all the same word-
Ruah; or ruach.
Genesis tells us that in the beginning God’s ruach moved across the waters and brought forth life.
Scripture tells us how at each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world; God’s spirit, God’s wind speaks all things into being.
It is this holy wind of God that animates life, which creates and recreates the world. It is this holy wind that the resurrected Christ breathes upon the disciples and that falls upon the beginning of Christ’s church.
Not that Christians have the market on wind, spirit and breath.
Buddhists believe that to breathe is to achieve mindfulness. Hindus say that “from Him springs forth the breath of life.”
Native Americans teach that wind spirits from the 4 directions of the world unite all earthly things and connect all things past and present.
Wind. Breath. Spirit.
And as Christians, the workings of the Holy Spirit are represented by a dove, a bird, a rush of wind, reminding us that God cannot be separated from our need of air.
And science teaches us that breathe is what animates life. It makes us possible. It makes us real. It keeps us alive.
So what happens when we pollute the very thing we need? What happens when carbon and chemicals are blown into the breeze and permeate the air?
Has our own existence changed the atmosphere, and if so, how?
And if the way we live can hurt the lungs of the planet, can the way we live also play a role in earth’s respiratory healing?
Have we thought about the wind? Have we thought about the sky?
Rev. Jim Antel, president of the U.C.C.’s Massachusetts Conference stated that “All of life is connected. We are all in this together. We all live at the same address found above every door…” (pg 116)
What a unique and wonderful way to think of the wind and air- that because it surrounds us all, it unifies everyone and everything, making us neighbors who dwell in the same abode…
As we wrap up today’s message, there is a thought that the author of Grounded shares- the realization that the wind, the sky, the heavens are not as far away from us as we once thought.
That for the longest time we were taught to distance heaven from where we physically are. But…
…have we realized that heaven is not far away at all? As Butler Bass writes-
“We may walk on the ground, but the rest of our bodies move through the sky all the time…The sky begins at our feet. Thus, we actually live in the heavens now, in the space in which earth and sky meet.
God’s ‘heavenly’ presence is in the air we breathe.” (pg 120)
…The sky begins at our feet, meaning that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet.
Upon the horizon-in constant view…
Malachi calls us to be bold in blessing God.
Butler Bass calls us to be bold in embracing that we are already heavenly beings striding upon the earth.
John’s testimony of Jesus boldly claims that sky, water and earth are all playing a part in making the Son of God known to us.
A Lamb, an earth creature who will take away the sin of the world, who will bring light into our life,
who will bring the wind of change into our static, so-serious, and worrisome ways.
A holy, life-giving wind that will animate, create ripples, reflections, dreams, and breathe that allows us to be…
For that, let us say “Amen” and “Amen.”