Small Catechism, The Creed, Article Three
In the church, it’s always the Spirit through the gospel!
I think it was five – maybe six – years ago. In late Fall. When acorns fall from the trees. In places, they cover the streets where they crack and crumble beneath the tires of passing cars. It was the time of year herds of doves graze on the bits and pieces. Anyway, this one, particular day, I was driving Lanie to swim practice. We made a turn, and there was a flock of doves in the middle of the street. I slowed down. Then slowed down, some more. Most of the birds flew away. Key word: most. There was on who didn’t budge. It just kept on pecking at the pavement. I slowed down a bit more, but it was too late. The last thing we saw was a little puff of feathers. There were a few moments of silence3. Then Lanie said, “Dad?” “Yeah?” “The dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it?” “Yes.” “Why did they pick such a dumb bird?” All I could say was, “Good question.” But every year, since then, when the topic of the Spirit has come up, I remember her question. “Why did they pick such a dumb bird?” No disrespect, no sacrilege, intended.
So, here we are, again. Fifty days later. The feats day of the Holy Spirit. Reading the same twenty-one verses that we’ve always read. The same twenty-one verses we always will read. The quintessential passage about the third persons of the Trinity. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly ….” The rush of a violent wind! Tongues, as of fire! And of course, speaking in other languages! That’s what we’ve come to expect! What we’ve been taught to expect! The sensational! The spectacular! The supernatural! Things that astonish and amaze!
But in this mouthful of verses, the Spirit is anything but dove-like! This day, this moment, the kingdom comes! The power and the glory appear! This is everything we could imagine! Everything we could dream of! In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, John … even in Luke’s gospel … the Spirit appears as a dove! Restrained! Gentle! Innocent! Maybe, even a little dumb! But here in Luke’s second volume – the Acts of the Apostles – the Spirit is anything but the sound of sheer silence! Here, the Spirit is the whirlwind! Here, the Spirit is the earthquake! Here, the Spirit is the fire, the inferno! Characteristics more of an eagle! Of a condor!
Today is Pentecost. The feast day of the Spirit. But it happens to be the fifth-Sunday of the month, as well. A Sunday, for over a decade now, on which the sermon is focused on a morsel of the Small Catechism. And I figured, this time around, it’s fitting to take another look at Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed. “I – we – believe in the Holy Spirit.” “I believe,” the good doctor writes, “that on my own, that by myself, I cannot. Cannot come. Cannot believe. But instead, the Holy Spirit – through the gospel – calls and the Holy Spirit – through the gospel – enlightens and the Holy Spirit – through the gospel – makes holy and keeps in the faith.”
But notice … in this description, this explanation, everything is so subtle, so understated. Nothing to amaze. Nothing to astound. No rush. No fire. Instead, the Spirit is more like a dove! A dove descending and alighting! If it was an eagle! A hawk! Something that could catch our attention! Something that would hold our attention! But a dove? Just a dove? In the second chapter of Acts, the spirit is a bolt of lightning! It’s a clap of thunder! The Spirit changes lives! Changes the world! But a dove … Nothing more than a handful of water … nothing more than a pinch of bread and a sip of wine … nothing more than a handful of promises … Grace, love, and communion! The Lord is with you! You are forgiven!
There’s something vulnerable in that. Something defenseless. Something exposed. Something more like the unexpected puff of feathers. It’s god in the ordinary. God in the everyday. God in the things we overlook and ignore. The Spirit isn’t in the shouts, but the whispers. The Spirit isn’t in the exceptions, but in the common, in the routine. The spirit shines … at times and in places we least expect. Not simply on one Sunday each year, but on every Sunday. Whenever and wherever the gospel is spoken and heard! Whenever and whenever the good news is given and received! Not by choice! Not by decision! But by grace! The Spirit isn’t the god who is faster than a speeding bullet. The Spirit isn’t the god who is more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The spirit is the god of heartbeats and breaths! The god who gives life to earth and to ashes and to dust!
So, it’s that time, again. The Day of Pentecost. The Feast of the Spirit. We read the same words. We say the same prayers. And if we were in the fellowship hall, we’d be singing the songs we’ve always sung. The songs of our parents and grandparents. Of their parents and grandparents, before them. But this time, we remember not the power. Overwhelming. Overshadowing like an eagle. We remember, instead, the love. Quiet. Gentle. The Spirit looking more like an unexpected puff of feathers. We remember the love in the calling. The love in the enlightening. In the making holy and in the keeping.
That’s what we believe in. The church. The communion. The forgiveness. The resurrection. The life. So, my friends, this morning, listen! Listen closely. Listen carefully. And instead of a violent wind, you might just hear the murmur and the sigh of a dove …