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Wild Goose

Text: Acts 2:1-4

When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove. It is a calm, soothing image, an image communicating that since God is in our midst, we can relax and take a long, deep breath.  

         It was not until my first visit to the remote, ancient abbey on the isle of Iona in the Western Hebrides of Scotland that I was introduced to a far different image for the Holy Spirit. It is the old Celtic image not of a dove, but of a wild goose with wings aflutter, disturbing the still waters below. In Celtic imagery, the Holy Spirit is sometimes as rambunctious as a goose — wresting us from our sedentary ways, disturbing the status quo, injecting us with the fire of God's love.

Scripture is full of passages depicting the Holy Spirit as a wild goose. In Genesis, the wild goose flaps its wings and then breathes new life into the primordial chaos. According to the prophet Isaiah, the wild goose of God’s Spirit is on the loose. The prophet writes: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

         Throughout church history, though, the image of the Holy Spirit as a gentle dove has won the day. Maybe that is because you and I already have enough tumult in our lives and in the world. In the Gospel of John, just before his death, Jesus assures his followers that God will send them an Advocate, a Comforter. As lovely as that promise sounds, the promised Comforter comes not to make life comfortable. The Spirit comes like the wild goose we meet in Genesis and Isaiah, comes to lead us into places that we have no desire to go, to work for people we would just as soon avoid, to fight for peace through nonviolence when we would rather just fight.  

I want to thank John Borden Evans for putting up the festive streamers this morning and I am impressed by the bright colors that many of you are wearing today. Nonetheless, Pentecost may be the least observed of all the major Christian holidays because, like the wild goose, it is a holiday that refuses to be domesticated. It cannot be tamed into an occasion for the sentimental slop of a lame birthday party or for extravagant gift giving or for over the top music. It is not a calm and serene holiday no matter how hard we try to make it so. 

Every Pentecost, we are reminded that the wild goose of God’s Spirit is on the loose, the God who not only loves us, forgives us, inspires us, but who stirs us up and calls us out, who wakes us up and who blows back the curtain from all our hiding places. When you and I are hiding from a destructive addiction, the wild goose blows us into recovery to face what we have avoided for years. When we are hiding from domestic abuse, the wild goose blows away all our excuses for why we are not getting the help we need. When we are hiding from gross work inequities, when a woman makes far less than a man for the same work in America, the wild goose blows away our willingness to settle for feeble excuses for pay inequity rather than to work for equality of pay in our land.

         Learning to fly with the wild goose of God’s Holy Spirit is not just an annual Pentecost moment, it is a daily spiritual journey. It requires that we learn a different kind of life, a new way of living. Bill Tenny-Brittain writes, “It’s learning faith and trust and how to let go. It’s letting God explore the nooks and crannies of your heart—not with a candle, but with a miner’s light so God can crawl down into those hidden caverns beneath our shame to excavate and alleviate the wounds. It’s healing those hidden wounds and realizing they’re not shameful, but that they’re scars worthy of a Purple Heart, because we got those wounds doing battle for our soul. They’re only shameful in the dark. In the light of day, they are what make us strong.”

          On the first Pentecost morning, the biblical story from Acts tells us that the Spirit of the Living God, flapping about like a wild goose, invaded the house of disciples who were giving up on God. It is this same wild goose that still flies wherever believers are giving up on God today, giving up on the church, and settling to be spiritual but not religious – whatever that means! It is the same wild goose that still flies wherever Christians and people of other faiths refuse to give up on the possibility of reconciliation and justice in Gaza and in the Ukraine. It is the same wild goose that still flies whenever we resist welcoming refugees and immigrants into our land, stirring us to remember that we are a land of refugees and immigrants and extending hospitality to strangers is what people of faith do.  

          When the wild goose of God’s Spirit flapped its wings on that first Pentecost morning, diverse people were able to hear each other, to move beyond different languages and cultures and to understand each other. How I long for that wild goose to get flapping in 21st century America. How I long for the miracle of listening to happen today so I can hear and understand those who live outside my echo chamber of where I get my news. How I long for the miracle of listening to happen so I can hear the cries of those protesting on American campuses and not simply dismiss them as young and naïve, or worse, simply as trouble making radicals. How I long for the miracle of listening to happen so I can hear the distinct voices of those whose sexuality or color of their skin is different from my own.

         On that first Pentecost morning, the universal interpreter was the wild goose at work flapping its wings until everyone there was able to hear and to understand each other. On this Pentecost, then, join me in prayer for the wings of the wild goose of God’s Spirit to get flapping!

That said, sometimes the Spirit does fly right beside us as a calming dove, bringing peace into our broken lives, reconciliation into our deep holes of hurt, hope into our darkest places, as a quiet and soothing balm to our souls, as a gentle dove.  But, the first Pentecost story is not the story of a dove; it is the story of a wild goose, the story of the Spirit of the Living God at work, stirring things up, stirring the church up, stirring us up until we too take flight.

This may not ever be the most popular of Christian holidays, but it is one that I would never want to miss. So, join me in praying for the wild goose to arrive at Cove today and to send us God knows where and to remind us that wherever we go, God is already there.

Come, Holy Comforter! come!

         Come, Wild Goose, come!

                  Come, Holy Spirit! come!









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