Baptized with the Holy Goose

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

      Pentecost has always been a bit of a mystery for me. I think it’s one of the hardest events following the resurrection of Jesus to understand: the giving – or baptism – of the Holy Spirit.

 Domestic goose    I did find an interesting bit of trivia this week. The Celtic Christians didn’t choose the dove as their symbol for the Holy Spirit. They chose the wild goose. It sounds strange to us, but it has a long tradition in Ireland. The image of the dove has become so familiar to us, and in fact, we’ve made it sound like doves float in as light as a feather and land with hardly moving a blade of grass. Have you ever seen a dove land? Some of them aren’t so graceful. Sometimes when the Holy Spirit comes, it isn’t so graceful either. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is more like a wild goose descending on you and landing on your head.

     A wild goose can be one noisy, bothersome bird. But it’s not an improper image of the Holy Spirit who often has to jar us out of our complacency. Maybe it’s an image we need to shake us out of an overly safe and overly sweet image of the Spirit when it comes upon a person.

     When the Spirit came to people in the Bible, it never seemed to make dogmatic people happy. The results of the Spirit shocked and upset them. The Spirit inspired prophets to speak to Israel in words that were bold, in-your-face, and sometimes dangerous. Prophets were often noisy and bothersome to the religious establishment who made God all about rituals, sacrifice, and rules.

     John the Baptist was no dovelike image, and he said, “I baptize you with water but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  

     Maybe it was this Wild Goose of the Holy Spirit that entered Jesus when he preached his first sermon, quoting Isaiah and 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 prisoners/captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the time of God’s grace” (Luke 4:18).[1]

     That statement must have been shocking to the religious authorities. The poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed:  these were all the outcasts of society. The dogmatic leaders said God was punishing these people for their sins. It was a shock to hear a new rabbi say the Lord had sent him to help outcasts and sinners, not to berate them.

     The children of Israel had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years before Jesus’s birth. They celebrated Pentecost to commemorate the day Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. The Law was a good thing. It helped establish order for a large group of people. It set some boundaries that defined how people should treat each other.

     As good as laws might be in helping control the external behavior of some people, it cannot change anyone’s heart. And in reality, the celebration was only lip service because the righteous authorities were constantly  ignoring the poor and the sick. That’s what Ezekiel said was the sin of Sodom – “arrogance, overfed, and unconcerned about helping the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49-51). Several prophets told the people, “You honor God with your lips but not with your hearts.” This is the continuing mantra of prophets today.

     So why didn’t God, in the manner of the Old Testament, destroy Jerusalem for killing His Son? Because the truth is — God is good, all the time. The Son who came to reveal the image of the Father said, “I am the truth.”

     On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were shaken by a Spirit that filled them with the fire of passion for this message. They spoke boldly about the wonderful works of God. They proclaimed the things they had witnessed in and through Jesus.

     I wonder if that is what being baptized by the Holy Spirit is all about? When you become so convinced about the truth – that God is good and has been good since the beginning of time – that it puts a smile on your face and a dance in your step.

     People don’t become godly because the Holy Spirit inspires them to follow laws. A change has to take place internally that causes them to fall on their knees in awe – and the only thing that can do that is recognizing the complete goodness of God. The apostle Paul wrote to one of the churches, “Don’t you know that it’s the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?” It’s the goodness of God, not the fear of God, that has the power to change you on the inside.

     The Holy Spirit’s work is to create such certainty of faith in us, an unshakable trust that Jesus Christ has shown us the fullness of the Father and we are convinced we have no reason to fear anything in death. You might be surprised at Martin Luther’s explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit that I found in the Church Postils.

     When the Holy Spirit suggests that you let go of some of the laws in the Bible, that’s when the Holy Spirit feels like a not-so-holy Goose coming in for a landing. It shakes you up and frightens you a little until you get your bearings again.

     Yet, there are times when the Holy Spirit may be more like a softly crashing dove, or like the soft flame of a candle, or even the flip of a light switch when a light bulb goes on in your head and you realize the truth and you say, “I get it! Jesus has shown us the heavenly Father.”

     Instead of fearing Laws that threaten you, you become inspired to be good for Goodness’ sake. You become inspired to love your neighbor because you realize the Divine Breath of the Spirit entered your neighbor when he or she took their first gasp of air, too. All have received the Holy Breath of Life. You can start to treat your neighbor like you would treat God’s own Son, because all of us are God’s sons and daughters who have received the Breath of Life.

     When the Holy Spirit hits you with this truth, you are set free to live with boldness and joy and confidence because you know that all is well with your soul. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will look at Jesus and say what Thomas said when he saw Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, “My Lord, and my God!  I get it! I finally get it! This is the good news! I’ve got to tell someone – God is good…all the time!”


[1] Mickey Anders, The Wild Goose, Acts 2:1-13, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc. ChristianGlobe Illustrations


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