Human beings have been aware for a long time of the power of the wind and have harnessed it in various ways. As we look for new ways to generate the electricity modern living demands, wind power is once more coming into fashion. To use the wind means putting the turbines where they can be influenced by its power. The turbines don’t determine where the wind will be. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a wind blowing where it wills. The Holy Spirit has the power to change people, such as those we hear of in the Acts of the Apostles who found themselves feeling such love and generosity that they sold property to help eliminate poverty in their community. That same Spirit blows still.
On Tuesday the readings at the 2pm SLT service were Acts 4:32-end, Psalm 93, John 3:1-8. My reflection is given below:
There is a lot of effort going on around the world now to find better ways of generating energy, ways that don’t contribute to global warming. There are disappointments in negotiations which bring nations together, such as the recent one in Copenhagen, but individual governments do seem to be looking at what they can do to make the situation better in practical terms.
The UK has been elevating wind power to importance. By January this year we had installed enough wind turbines to generate over 4 gigawatts of electricity. In October 2008 it was only 3 GW. Installations are accelerating and by the end of 2010 we will have a capacity of 6 GW. In 2007 only 1.5% of the UK’s energy was generated by wind turbines and 4.5% from all renewable resources. In that same year the European Union target was set at 20% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. For the UK that will mean 33-35 GW of wind capacity. A big area of development is offshore wind farms. As an island we have a lot of coastline and it’s estimated that we have over a third of the total offshore wind available in Europe. This is enough to make three times the electricity we need as a nation. By 2020 we will need 7,500 wind turbines to enable us to hit EU targets.
Of course, the recognition of the power of the wind is nothing new. Ships have sailed using wind power for centuries. Windmills have produced power to grind flour for a long time also and I can remember windmills being used to pump water up from the aquifer to irrigate fields when I was young. This use of wind has not been confined to just the UK but happened all over the world and continues to be developed worldwide. Wind is free, plentiful, and very, very powerful as anyone who has been in a gale, never mind a hurricane, will know.
To use the power of the wind we have to study it and build turbines where it’s normally windy, arranging the turbines in the right orientation to take advantage of the wind. We don’t command the wind but simply arrange to use its power. Jesus would have known a great deal about strong winds as Galilee is subject to huge down drafts which cause storms on the Sea of Galilee. What he said was true: ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’ A storm brews up apparently out of nowhere and subsides and goes who knows where, often leaving damage behind it.
The word used for wind in the gospel passage is the same word as that for Spirit. The Spirit too goes wherever he wishes, coming from somewhere unannounced, blowing onwards to somewhere else, and impacting those in his path. The Spirit is not someone we can control but the power can be used to drive the spread of the gospel. In the Old Testament he came to individuals for specific purposes. At Pentecost he came to the disciples and those gathered with them in the Upper Room. Now the power of the Holy Spirit is given to all believers.
When we are born physically, so much changes for us. We go from a temperature controlled environment surrounded by liquid where we are fed automatically to a noisy, varying world where we have to breathe and feed, where we are subject to hunger and thirst, heat and cold. We have no choice in the matter, we simply have to adapt. Birth is not something we can control. Similarly when we are born of the Spirit, we are effectively projected into a different world and we are not in control. Things change for us in so many ways and new possibilities open up for us.
I assume that the people we hear of in the story in Acts never imagined for a moment that they would change their way of living so radically. I doubt that many had sold land and property in the past to give to others in need. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, this group of new Christians found themselves wanting to share their goods and to show their love for one another by helping each other out. As a result of this sharing, poverty in the group was eliminated. They no longer felt that their possessions needed to be jealously guarded but that they were there for all. All that we have comes from God anyway so it makes a lot of sense not to hold on to it too tightly, although it’s a natural thing to do.
Sharing property in this way has been tried as communism but the motivation there is different. If someone lives in a communist state they have no choice about sharing whereas the Christians shared because they wanted to. In a communist state there is no private property but with the Christians they sold what they wanted and kept the rest, although it sounds as though they didn’t mind sharing everything regardless of to whom it belonged. No one had to participate in this selling and sharing among the Christians as a way of belonging to the group, paying some kind of entry fee. The action was a loving response which grew out of the action of the Holy Spirit within each believer.
I suppose there’s a risk that we might think it was easy for those early believers to do this. I’m sure they lived in very special and exciting times when everything was moving very fast and was very new. Many think they were expecting the return of Jesus any time so that might have helped them to be less possessive. It must still have been difficult to sell land that may have been in a family for many years, or sell a house, in order to give money away.
Love is a hallmark of the Holy Spirit. This love for one another led to a unity in the fellowship of believers – they were ‘of one heart and soul’. We are not told that everyone suddenly became exactly like one another. The coming of the Holy Spirit did not make them into clones, but they handled their differences in such a way that they still maintained spiritual unity. We are told that this was a group characterised by grace. There is no wonder that others who did not belong to the group were attracted to it, with its very different way of living.
Some people are still called to live in community today, holding property in common and living and working together. That’s a challenging thing to do even though it has many benefits. For most of us, we will continue to live in small units or alone. We can still acknowledge that what we own is given to us by God and try to be generous with what we have, whether that be time or money. We can also try to be generous in our response to others who are different from us. In that way we can hope that others will see grace in us, be attracted to our community and come to know the Good News.
The Spirit continues to blow where he will and we may well be surprised where we are blown to by the incredible power that he has but I think the journey will be an exciting one.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor