The Spirit is a Wild Goose!

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on The Day of Pentecost, May 27, 2012.  The text for the day is Acts 2:1-21 and the key verse is “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (vs. 4).”


Dear Friends in Christ,


Today is the Birthday of the Christian Church.  On this day, 1979 years ago, something happened that has changed the world forever.  What happened marks the reason why you and I are gathered together in this place.


What happened?  The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, burst forth into the world in a new a mighty way.  It was according to God’s plan.  It was what he promised.


Remember how disheartened the followers of Jesus were when he was put to death?  They were afraid for their own lives, some doubted that he was the Son of God, some even denied that they knew him.  And then the Day of Pentecost came, and after that they were so on fire, so lacking in fear, so confident that Jesus was the Son of God that they proclaimed their belief everywhere and most even gave their lives.  What happened on the Day of Pentecost that made such a difference?


It was the arrival of the gift that had been promised, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You heard Jesus words today in the gospel reading.  Jesus told the disciples before his death, “I will send you the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  It is to your advantage that I go away (that is to heaven), for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”


So Jesus ascends to heaven and just 10 days later the promise is fulfilled in Jerusalem.  St. Luke tells us that the disciples were in a room and they heard the roar of a mighty wind and on their heads tongues like fire appeared and they were able to speak in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them ability.  And people who were gathered, probably near the temple, were able to hear the believers witness in languages that they understood.


Just think what a different world it would be if God had not sent the Holy Spirit and if believers had not opened their mouth and proclaimed the good news of Jesus.




Today in church here we have lots of the symbols of the Holy Spirit.  Red is a bold color and reminds us of the new-found boldness of the apostles.  The tongues of fire remind us of the Spirit giving the ability to proclaim the good news to people everywhere.  The wind reminds us that the Spirit goes where it wants and to whom it wants.  Finally the dove is a well-known symbol for the Spirit, found in the gospels when God wants to speak to Jesus.


There is another symbol for the Holy Spirit that I want to tell you about.  Celtic Christians chose the wild goose instead of the dove as the symbol representing the Holy Spirit.  While the Roman Church imagined the Holy Spirit in the form of a peaceful, graceful dove, the Ancient Celts understood the Holy Spirit to be like a wild goose….A wild goose is one noisy, bothersome bird.  When the Spirit comes in the bible, it never seems to be sweet or safe.  God’s Spirit called the prophets to speak to Israel in words that were bold and sometimes dangerous.  Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s Spirit blowing through a valley of dry bones and bringing them to life.  John the Baptist dressed in camel’s hair and eating wild locusts proclaimed, “I baptize you with water but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” 


It was this wild goose that Jesus referred to when he preached his first sermon and quoted Isaiah, saying, “For the Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of  the Lord’s favor.”


In some of the Lutheran Churches in Europe you will see the symbol of the goose associated with Martin Luther.  For we believe he was made bold to proclaim the good news of Jesus by this untamed Holy Spirit.


Just think what a different world this would be if Jesus had not made it possible for you and me to proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world.  The Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, once told this story that shows how important it is for us to carry on Jesus’ ministry.  In the story, Jesus returns to heaven after his time on earth.  The angels gather around him to learn what all happened during his days on earth.  Jesus tells them of the miracles, his teachings, his death on the cross, and his resurrection.


When he finishes his story, Michael the Archangel asks Jesus, “But what happens now?”  Jesus answers, “I have left behind eleven faithful disciples and a handful of men and women who have faithfully followed me.  They will declare my message and express my love.  These faithful people will build my church.”  “"But" responds Michael, “what if these people fail?  What is your other plan?”  And Jesus answers, “I have no other plan!”


Here’s the point:  Jesus is counting on you and you and you and me.  But the good news is, we are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is here to inspire us, make us bold and even give us the words to say.


Want an example of how this might happen in your life?  A teacher was asking students in her fourth grade class to name the person they considered the greatest person alive in the world today.  Their responses were varied and interesting.


One boy said, “I think its Tom Brady.  He has all those Super-bowl wins.”  A little girl said, President Obama…and still another said  Taylor Swift. " Her music is awesome.” …and on and on it went with the students mentioning a wide variety of celebrities.”


But then it was little Donnie’s turn.  Without hesitation Donnie said, “I think it’s Jesus Christ because he loves everybody and is always ready to help them.”  Mrs. Thompson smiled and said, “Well, I certainly like your answer, Donnie, because I’m a Christian too… and I also admire Jesus very much.  But there’s one slight problem.  I said the greatest living person…and of course, Jesus lived and died almost two thousand years ago.  Do you have another name in mind?  Here was the simple, innocent, confident, wide-eye, spirit-inspired response of young Donnie.  He said, “Oh no, Mrs. Thompson.  That’s not right at all.  Jesus Christ is alive!  He lives in me right now!”


That’s the good news of our faith and the message of Pentecost.  It is my hope and prayer that God’s Spirit will come into each and every one of us again and again.  Let us open our mouths and actually tell others what we believe.  May that snapping goose get us good.