Spirit: In the Beginning

Sermon September 13, 2020

Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

Scripture Passages: Genesis 1:1-5, 2:7 and Psalm 104:24-30 

Will you pray with me?

Will you pray with me,

Come, Holy Spirit, come,

Ruach: Wind, breath, spirit.

Blow into our hearts this day. Amen.

The young woman, hardly more than a girl, fights to keep her eyes open, to watch the constellation as it dips toward the horizon, to keep her boat’s path straight and steady and true.

Really, she has no experience at sea. Never mind that she grew up on an island. Never mind that her people are fishers and once, generations ago, they were voyagers. Now, fear tethers them to the safety of the reef surrounding their island. Fear has taught them not to venture beyond the familiar and known.

And yet here she is, the young woman who is little more than a girl, far beyond the perimeter of the reef, navigating the great ocean deep alone: seeking, searching, hunting. For a hero who will help her. For her own deepest, truest self. And for the Spirit who will renew the life slipping from her island home.

We may not be alone out on the open sea.

We may not be seeking a hero to help us.

We may not be looking for our truest self.

Or a spirit to renew life….

[PAUSE]

But maybe we are.

After all, during this time of ongoing pandemic,

We long for return to our building  — will it be soon? When? Why not already?

We long for the normalcy of in-person school with recess, friends jostling in line and noisy lunch tables crowded with friends.

We long to eat out at our favorite restaurants

To plan our October trick or treating, 

We agonize over whether to organize Thanksgiving with family

where we knock elbows and glasses, where we join hands for grace

Or whether to plan for a quiet meal at home.

After all, during this time of pandemic,

When we have so often felt isolated and alone, navigating uncertain and dangerous terrain

Maybe we are not so different from the girl at sea who knows nothing of sailing;

who charts her course by unfamiliar stars.

Maybe we are not so different from the girl seeking a hero —

Even if we don’t know it.

Isn’t that part of our approaching election?

That we want a hero —

someone strong and trustworthy and brave?

To save us! To bring us back to normal.

Never mind that we will not all agree on who that hero might be.

Let’s be honest, we’d all like a hero.

Perhaps, even unintentionally, we are not so different from the girl seeking her deepest and truest self.

Now,

In the midst of uncertainty

Loss and grief, destruction and death,

Now is the time to find our truest selves.

Who am I? Who are you?

Who are we? Not when it’s easy, but when the going gets tough.

Will we let fear or love guide us?

What is most important?

Our own comfort and safety or Caring for the lost and the least?

The good of our family? Or our wider community?

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?

Perhaps, like the girl on the boat, have the opportunity to discover our truest selves.

And certainly, we are not so different from the girl as she seeks a spirit to renew life.

Isn’t that what we want?

         As fire sweeps across our western states?

         Too early. Too big. Too out of control.

Bringing destruction beyond our worst nightmares — of property, forest, wildlife, wilderness, and yes human life, too.

Maybe we are not so different from the girl in the boat. Hunting for a hero. Hunting for her truest self. Hunting for the Spirit that will renew the earth.

This autumn season, our theme is after all “Hunting for the Holy Spirit.”

That elusive third “person” in the Trinity — you know the one: we sometimes say Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. Or, as we sing in our doxology, Creator, Christ and Spirit, One.

In our Hebrew scriptures, the word for wind, breath and spirit is the same word — ruach. Genesis tells us that God’s wind, God’s spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke creation into being.

Several weeks ago, we read a passage from the book of Proverbs in which wisdom or Sophia is described as being with God in the very beginning, the Spirit partnering in creation, delighting in God and in all the world, especially human beings. Which takes us back to Genesis and the way God breathes, God blows spirit, into the first human giving them life.

As we read from Psalm 104 — God creates all the earth in wisdom. When God takes away breath or spirit, living things die and return to the dust from which they came.

When God lets loose breath, when God sends forth spirit, creation occurs; and the Spirit renews the face of the earth.

Wind, breath, spirit — ruach.

It seems no coincidence that these three have the same name.

No coincidence that many of the world’s great religions practice contemplation by focusing on the breath.

No coincidence that the act of creation is so closely tied with the act of speaking — an act impossible without breath.

Ruach — wind, breath, spirit.

How often we go hunting for the Holy Spirit far and wide. We attend beautiful churches, visit cathedrals, read books, retreat to the wilderness, and ventur afar on pilgrimage to layer our footsteps, our prayers, our hopes and longings upon those of generations gone by.

Now don’t get me wrong — these are important and powerful ways to hunt for the Spirit. Often the impact of such seeking is transformative, and we are never the same.

And yet, in our hunting far and wide, let us not miss the invitation of the very first verses of the Bible. Let us not miss the wisdom of not only our Christian tradition, but of so many of the world’s traditions. Let us not miss the innate knowing of our bodies.

That the Spirit is already here.

Right here.

Within us.

In our breath.

It should be no surprise then that Spirit is not something that we cannot keep to ourselves. How long can you hold your breath? Perhaps for a little while, but not forever! Spirit exists to be transmitted, to be shared, to be taken in and poured back out.

It was there in the beginning, hovering over the chaos of the deep. It is there in the beginning moving over the unformed cells that grow into any living thing.

It is there in a newborn’s first cry — baby breathes! Life is here. Spirit is present!

It is there in a child’s first giggle.

And it is here with us, within us, until we take our last breath.

We need look no further than within ourselves to find the Holy Spirit. And the truth is, if we do not look within, it will be much much harder to find the Spirit without.

And when we do look within, we begin to see the Spirit in others, too. Indeed, in all of creation.

When God’s spirit is loosed, the earth is indeed renewed! Life is renewed.

Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to the young woman, yes, her name is Moana, on her quest to find a hero, her hunt for her truest self and for the Spirit of renewal. She finds the hero, but he is fickle — not quite as reliable, brave or all-powerful as she had hoped.

And, ultimately, she does find the Spirit of renewal.

But only because looks within.

Only because she listens to the voice within herself

that calls her to courage and compassion.

Only because she understands that sometimes

renewal is the other side of the coin of destruction.

Only because she trusts that life will, in fact, overcome death.

Today, in the midst of a world that is literally burning;

In the midst of a pandemic raging and taking the lives of tens of thousands of people;

In the midst of the greatest uncertainty most of us have experienced or even heard about it;

In the midst of our personal struggles and griefs

And yes celebrations and joys, because those continue,

they do not stop for a pandemic or ecological crisis,

In the midst of all of this, may we hunt, not for a hero,

But for the Holy Spirit through whom all things are renewed.

And may we begin that hunt right where we are.

Within ourselves.

With our very breath.

Come, Holy Spirit, come,

Ruach: Wind, breath, spirit.

Breathe into our hearts this day.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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