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A Wild and Windy Way 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
06/12/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
PENTECOST SUNDAY
JUNE 12, 2011

A Wild and Windy Way
Numbers 11:24-30
Acts 2:1-21


One of the most intellectually challenging courses I ever took was an Introduction to Philosophy of Science. It was taught by a professor of worldwide reputation in the field, and he described himself to be a materialist. That is, only the material realm was real to him. The whole category of the spiritual was not. He was openly hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular. This meant that regularly disdainful comments and dismissive remarks were made about Christians and Christian faith. These were often brilliantly stated, so quite challenging to this college junior who had not thought all that much about such matters. He told us once that he had participated in the dissection of a cadaver in medical school when he thought he wanted to be a physician. He said that in dissecting that cadaver he did so without ever finding any evidence of a soul, concluding that all such talk was empty and meaningless. A student in the class way smarter than I was asked him if he had discovered personality or character or emotion in his dissection. "Does that mean they do not exist, either?" My teacher never responded to this comment. By the way, I always have thought since that his not becoming a physician was a gift to his patients. After all, who would want to be treated by a physician who believes you are merely and only the body you inhabit?

Yet I have also encountered people over the years who have believed in nothing but the soul. They are folks who want to save souls, and if they learn that yours is saved, they are almost a little disappointed. I never enjoy encountering such folks, for they always leave me with the suspicion that they are more interested in my soul than they are in me. I have been made to feel like I was a scalp to be collected, or a star in their crown, or a number to add to the magnitude of their success. I have a Jewish friend named Allan From who works as an attorney in Raleigh. He said to me once, "Tell me the truth, Todd. Don't you Christians get extra points for trying to convert Jews?" My friend Allan was made to feel more like a project than a person by such people. At times when I have encountered such people, I found myself almost wishing I didn't have a soul!

There was a time, though, not too long ago, when people spoke easily and naturally of the soul. In Bartlett's Quotations, that dinosaur of a reference tool, the subject of "soul" takes up six columns, "spirit" three columns, while "body" only fills one-and-a-half columns. The most quotable folks from the past best described us as souls and spirits, and not as bodily creatures. They made us more real by making us less tangible. They knew that while we had bodies, we were not identified by them. Now I would never wish to diminish the importance of our bodies by saying this. Our bodies are miraculous gifts from God. But I am not my body. You will not find me in my arm or leg. Indeed, I could lose them today and would not cease to be me. I may be identified by my body, but I cannot be indentified with it. Who I am most deeply is something other than this body, this husk that holds my soul.

When people of another age spoke of soul, they meant the vital, enlivening, animating spirit of the self. They had no problem in believing that "God is a Spirit," as John says, for they knew themselves to be spirits as well, who could commune with God, "spirit to spirit."

You do not possess a soul; you are a soul. You do not have a spirit; you are a spirit. To speak of you without mentioning soul or spirit would be like describing an opera without mentioning music. Opera is music. So, the self is soul, and hence spirit.

So if the soul is the self in the deepest sense of that word, then it makes perfect sense to say that it may be lost. But losing your soul is not like losing your keys or your wallet, where you suddenly miss them and try to recall the last time you had them. To lose your soul is not to misplace some possession; it is to betray your deepest sense of self.

Remember Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies? He turned out to be Luke Skywalker's father who had lost his soul, betrayed his true self to become something less than who he was. All good novels or plays are about this struggle to keep or to lose one's soul, one's truest self, from Harry Potter to Hamlet, to Lord of the Rings, to A Tale of Two Cities. This is finally the story of all of our lives. The nobler the self at risk, the greater the tension that builds and the deeper the tragedy should it fall. It is the nobility of Othello that makes the tragedy of Othello, for it breaks our hearts when so admirable a spirit is destroyed. I read recently an interview of Robert Redford in which he said one of the best movies he had ever seen was The God Father, Part II. The God Father, Part II is one of the greatest movies ever made because it tells the story of how a young man so full of promise, Michael Corleone, loses his soul, his best self.

In A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas Moore is told by his daughter Margaret that he can secure his release by swearing an oath he does not really believe. All he has to do is say the right words. "When a man takes an oath, Meg, he is holding is own self in his hands. And if he opens his fingers – he needn't hope to find himself again." So Sir Thomas Moore chose not to open his fingers. He loses his life, but he keeps his soul. It is, I believe, always a good trade!

On Pentecost Sunday, the day we tell the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit, we speak of Spirit as the animating element of life, the energy of our souls. The Holy Spirit pervades our being as our breath runs through our bodies, giving us life. While the Spirit comes "like the rush of a mighty wind" at Pentecost, this Spirit of God was there from the beginning of time, moving over the waters of creation as the breath of the Creator God. In Numbers, God's Spirit is given by the Lord to the seventy elders, and especially to Eldad and Medad. They begin to prophesy, and when Joshua tells Moses to stop them, Moses declares, "Would that all God's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!" We believe this is what happened at Pentecost. God's Spirit moved and people spoke each in their own tongues, and the Spirit enabled them to understand each other; it brought them together. This is always the work of God's Spirit, which is why Paul spoke so often of "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit." But it also brought them to life. It gave them passion and purpose, making them truly one. And that has been the work of the Holy Spirit ever since. It caused Peter to rise and speak, to share the Gospel.

The Spirit moves all the time, like the wind. Poet Robert Frost spoke once of "the surprise of remembering something I didn't know I knew." Hemingway once said, "Most of the time I write as well as I can; occasionally I write better." How do you explain this, except by the movement of the Holy Spirit, which like the wind, "blows where it wills"?

A friend of mine told me this past week that sometimes he preaches better than he can. Teachers sometimes teach better than they can teach. Singers know when they are no longer carrying a tune but are being carried on the wings of a song. Whether we are MBA's or M.D.'s or money managers or mommies or millionaires or machinists, there can come to us "moments of glad grace" when we are granted unusual degrees of insight or peace or skill or purpose, or best of all, love. E. Stanley Jones told of the night he felt God's call to carry the Gospel to India. "I felt like I wanted to put my arms around the world!" These are the moments when we all feel the winds of the Spirit blowing through our lives.

Jesus said that the Spirit is like the wind – it blows where it wills – mysterious and invisible, but recognized and felt when it passes. Christina Rosetti asks:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

So it is with the Spirit. Feel the Spirit this day! Let it touch you and fill you with passion and purpose. It so filled the early Church that they were accused of drinking too much! Would that we would be so alive, so full of passion and joy and delight that folks would wonder what has gotten into us!

On the day of Pentecost, it seems more important than ever to affirm the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and giver of life." We are a people who have grown "rich in things and poor in soul." More frightening, many of us have grown tired and fearful and discouraged. We need more than ever we have as a people to receive the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and Giver of life." No gift is more precious, or more life-giving.

So remember, dear friends: You are a soul of infinite value to God. Life, your life, is precious, sacred, God-given, holy. Which is why Peter could proclaim in the first sermon ever, "For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord, will be saved." That is the Gospel truth.

AMEN.
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