Wild Goose Chase

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Before preaching, I want to share this story with you called the Cyclist by Mark Nepo:

On the day of the race, he waited with the others and felt that life was waiting in the hills. He couldn’t quite say why, but a blessing was about to happen. As the gun went off, he could hear the rush of all the racers breathing—like young horses in the morning.

He had trained for months, up and down the sloping hills, cutting off seconds by wearing less and leaning into curves. His legs were shanks of muscle. He often said, “It’s the closest thing to flying I know.”

On the second hill, the line thinned and he was near the front. They were slipping through the land like arcs of light riding through the veins of the world. By now, he was in the lead. As he swept toward the wetlands, he was gaining time, when a great blue heron took off right in front of him; its massive, timeless wings opening just in front of his handlebars.

Its shadow covered him and seemed to open something he’d been chasing. The others were pumping closer, but he just stopped and stood there, straddling his bike, staring at what the great blue had opened by cutting through the sky.

In years to come, others would ask, “What cost you the race?” Wherever he was, he’d always look south, and once in a while, he’d say, “I didn’t lose the race—I left it.”[i]

Thus ends the reading.

May the Spirit of God disturb you.
A woman enters a church
adorned with a sign:
May the Spirit of God disturb you.
She discovers that
the church had posted those words
to honor Gertrude Lundholm,
a member who shaped and inspired
generations in her community
and who had died only the week before.

The sign recalls, how, every week,
during the passing of the peace,
while others had said, “Peace be with you,”
Gertrude had embraced her neighbors,
and replied, “May the Spirit of God disturb you.”[ii]

The words catch me off-guard.

Why do you think she used that phrase?
When asked, Gertude had once told a friend:
“Many Christians seem to think
the peace of God
is just about
their own internal peace of mind,
as if being a Christian,
is kind of like being a kind of tranquilizer.”
She continued,
“but God intends to stir us up …
to make us notice new things,
to keep us from being complacent.”

There is something about the Spirit
that upends us and takes us by surprise.
I imagine that is one of the reasons
that the ancient Celts, from Scotland and Ireland,
called the Holy Spirit the Wild Goose.
They preferred the term Wild Goose,
over and above
that of a gentle dove,
because there is something about a wild goose
that cannot be
domesticated,
tamed,
or predicted.

Perhaps then,
the Spirit is calling us on a wild goose chase,
not in the sense of
embarking on a fruitless endeavor,
but rather in the sense of
setting out on a journey
that takes us to unexpected places.

May the Spirit of God disturb you.

I was mulling over those words
the other week
as I gathered with other Essex clergy,
Ken Peterkin and Brett Hertzog Betkoski
to plan our upcoming Worship Festival.
The sun shone warmly that day
as we met outside by the water.
at Trinity Lutheran Church in Centerbrook.
I plopped myself onto a bench facing Falls River.
As we discussed logistics,
I noticed a family of geese
making its way though the water.
The two adult Canadian geese blazed the way,
followed by five fuzzy goslings
trailing determinedly behind their parents.
As I looked out on the birds,
I couldn’t help but think
that this Essex church collaboration
was a surprising place to be.
For so long, churches, of all sizes,
have gone it alone,
silo-ed in their individual communities,
and yet here,
the Holy Spirit
has disturbed us into learning
that we are the Body of Christ all of us,
no matter what building or denomination
we may worship in.

The wildness of the Spirit has blown us together,
invigorating our lives in the ways that we have:
worshiped together,
studied together,
prayed together,
and even played games together’

That moment by the water seemed
an invitation,
a blessing,
a beckoning:
May we pursue the Wild Goose.

Like the disciples.
Like the disciples,
in today’s story,
who know what it is
to be blown by the Holy Spirit
out of confined spaces
into the world.
They also know what it is to be afraid.
This is hardly surprising
in light of what they have been through  —
the death of their teacher Jesus,
the intensity of the grief that washed over them
like a rolling wave from the deep, dark sea,
the astonishment of witnessing
that Jesus the Christ had risen, risen indeed.
Jesus told them to wait,
because God was sending them the Spirit.
In anticipation,
they linger in a room for days on end,
waiting, holed up, confined, worried.
At times, I imagine,
they contemplate what it would be like to venture out.
They consider what it would be like
to tell others
about what they have seen and experienced
– that life is possible in places of death,
that healing can happen in places of pain –
but it seems like … what? … like folly.
After all, who would believe them?
Sometimes, one or the other of them,
would go to exit.
They would get as far as
the threshold of the building,
but each time
they would retreat back.
They decide to stay, to wait, to remain.
Until, at last, the Spirit comes
in a flash like fire,
beckoning them out of these places of comfort,
into the world,
on what must have seemed like
a fool’s errand.
The Spirit disturbs them
from their places of confinement and trepidation,
outside into the spacious expanse
of growth and joy,
tears and liberation,
trust and mystery.
Astounded,
they tell about their holy experiences
in a cacophony of different languages.

Onlookers peer forth and the author tells us,
“All were amazed and disturbed.”

That moment of fire was
an invitation,
a sign,
a send-off:
May we embark on the holy adventure of God.
May we pursue the Wild Goose.

How is the Spirit of God
calling to you in your life?
 
When I think of my life,
I astonished by the ways that
the Spirit has
startled me,
changed me,
opened me up
in ways I could have never
anticipated or imagined.

I can remember, a few years ago,
when we connected with
the House of Peace Mosque in Meridan.
One of the first stories, I learned
was how his mosque
had been shot by one of its neighbors.
Thankfully,
no one had been hurt,
but the incident had left multiple bullet holes
on the wall of their worship room.

How do you respond to something like that?

One of their faith leaders,
Zahir Mannan,
had responded when asked,
we forgave him,
because it is what God commanded of us.
When I had heard his words,
their simplicity put me off-kilter –
Zahir had forgiven him
– not because had felt warm and fuzzy –
but because God commanded it.

The story continues –
the entire mosque forgave the neighbor,
who later apologized,
and committed himself to educating others
so they did not make the same mistake.
I was moved when I heard of the neighbor’s apology
but I didn’t take them seriously
until one day,
I traveled to the mosque,
with a group of people
from the churches here on the shoreline
for a Friday night
Coffee & Conversation.
At the gathering,
there was a man,
that I could not quite place,
until he opened his mouth to introduce himself:
I’m Ted Hackey, a neighbor.
The neighbor, I suddenly realized, looking at him
as he drank soda and ate cookies with the rest of us.

How do you respond to something like that?

I remember someone asking a question about Islam
and Mr. Hackey going over to the information with
pamplets and handouts.
he knew them well enough,
that he was able to find the one
that answer the person’s question
and bring it over to her.
When he did,
Zahir looked at him
and they shared a bright smile
that only two brothers could experience.

Stunned by the Spirit.

At that moment, I was stunned by the Spirit –
who bypassed my notions of what is possible
for others and for God.

Dead end?  Bad egg?  Person too afraid to leave their room?
The Spirit sees that we are more than that.
The Spirit sees our possibility.
The Spirit sees our heart —
our suffering, our pain,
our struggles,
and calls us beyond their constraining grip
out into to the vast outdoors,
where there is:
growth and new birth,
tears and liberation,
freedom and healing.

The Good News of the Wild Goose Chase
is that we don’t always have
to go around hunting for the holy.
The Holy also finds us.

How has God found you?

What wild goose sightings have occurred in your life?

How have you experienced God,
or goodness, or love, or beauty, or Jesus in your life?

[people write their Wild Goose sightings]

This is our way of sharing about
the marvels of God
in a cacophony of languages.

I will send you off today with this poem
called Discernment
by Mark Nepo —

The trouble with the mind
is that it sees like a bird
but walks like a man.

And things at the surface
move fast, needing to be
gathered. While things
at center move slow,
needing to be
perceived.

What I mean is
if you want to see the
many birds, you can
gather them in a cage
and wonder why
they won’t fly.

Or you can go to
the wetlands, birding
in silence before
the sun comes up.

It’s the same
with the things
we love or think.

We can frame them
in pretty cages or follow
them into the wild meadow
till they stun us with the
spread of their magnificent
wings.

May you go forth today,
chasing the Wild Goose
into the meadows of life
until at last you stumble upon.
the marvels, the mystery and the magnificence
of the Divine.
May your life never be the same.

Amen.

[i] This is the story of the “Cyclist” and it comes from As Far as the Heart Can See by Mark Nepo.

[ii] This story comes from In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie Miller-McLemore.

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