Less Fire, More Bubbles
Have you ever watched a toddler try to master blowing bubbles for the first time?
Entranced by the beautiful floating globes her parent has produced, she dips the wand in the bubble solution, brings it to her face, purses her lips…and blows an almighty explosion of air that achieves nothing but a spray of soap.
Pouty lips and even sometimes a frustrated chucking of the wand to the ground often follow.
She has learned that you have to blow hard to blow out the candle on top of the birthday cake. Why is it different when you blow bubbles?
Violent wind and gentle wind—both are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
But in the Church, especially on Pentecost, we have often erred on placing too much emphasis on the violent wind in the Book of Acts, sometimes forgetting entirely the tenderness and gentleness of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the Gospel of John.
Jesus does not impart the Holy Spirit to the disciples with the force of a hurricane.
It is as small and as simple as breathing out, a gentle, patient descent of the Holy Spirit, as gentle and patient as the breath necessary to blow bubbles.
We are often as astute as toddlers trying to blow bubbles in our approach to being in relationship to the Holy Spirit.
We’ve all had (or at least wished we’ve had) the loud, bright Holy Spirit experiences, the moments in worship and in life when God’s presence is forceful, awakening, invigorating, when we can practically feel the tongues of fire descending on our heads.
But the experiences of being breathed on by Jesus—those can pass us by entirely unless we’re deliberately developing the spiritual discipline of being on watch for them.
Perhaps the reason we only want to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts is because we only want to identify with the disciples in Acts.
By the time we get to this point in the Book of Acts, the disciples have at long last somewhat got their act together (pun most definitely intended).
They’re organized, they’ve elected a new disciple to replace Judas, they’re on time to their 9 a.m. worship service and it’s a good sized group gathered.
They’re building community, they’re doing good works, and Peter is writing and delivering some pretty decent sermons.
That’s the kind of disciples we want to be, that’s the kind of church we want to belong to, and so that’s the type of descent of the Holy Spirit we remember and talk about.
But the Holy Spirit is gifted to the disciples in the Gospel of John when they are at their absolute lowest point.
They don’t have their act together at all.
It was Sunday night, Easter night, and they are locked away in the upper room, afraid for their lives.
Their last encounter with Jesus ended in their slinking away, hoping to avoid notice, as he was arrested and taken away to be crucified.
Mary Magdalene has come and told them she has seen Jesus alive, but why would they believe such an insane story?
Everything is a chaotic swirl of fear and grief and regret.
Even if what Mary says is somehow true, they’re probably in no hurry to see Jesus again, knowing that they have betrayed and abandoned him just when he needed them most.
The moment came for them to stand up and be counted as his followers, and they failed.
Now, in this moment, this moment of shame and fear, is when Jesus comes to breathe the Holy Spirit into them.
The disciples are looking down the barrel of a frightening and desolate life after Jesus dies.
Their own lives are at risk from the Romans as members of his movement.
If they are not hauled off to be crucified like Jesus, they face an unimaginable to return to their pre-Jesus lives of the mundane toil of village life, the descent of normalcy that might as well be a death sentence after all the color and brightness and challenge and hope they have experienced following Jesus.
And they are consumed with heartache over the last thirty-six hours and their own failure to show any loyalty to this man they loved so much.
It’s not a climate that matches our usual vision of the descent of the Holy Spirit, is it?
But Jesus knows.
He knows their pain and their desolation and he comes to them in the midst of it.
He also knows that this is not the right moment for tongues of fire and the rush of a violent wind.
That might well push the disciples over the edge altogether, given how fragile they are at this moment.
He knows what they need, and so he gives them his love in the form of the Holy Spirit in something so gentle, so small, so light and warm: his breath.
He breathes out grace and comfort and love, and they breathe in hope.
Just as we know that it takes a small, gentle and deliberately controlled breath to create a fragile and beautiful bubble, Jesus knows that it takes the same type of small and gentle breath of the Holy Spirit to fill and lift our fragile and beautiful souls.
And so we might consider how we invoke the Holy Spirit here and now, and at all moments in our ministry together.
Sometimes we need and should call upon the Holy Spirit to descend upon us with a rush of wind and fire.
But sometimes we are closer to the disciples in the upper room on Sunday night, lost, afraid, uncertain, and we need Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit into us with tenderness and gentleness.
Remember that once the Holy Spirit descends upon us, it doesn’t flit away and come back only once a year on Pentecost.
It is part of God’s presence within us.
So too we are called to breathe that Holy Spirit back into the world, to share with others the grace that has been bestowed so freely upon us.
That breath of the Holy Spirit is what animates our prayers here in church every Sunday, what gives life to our worship and takes the words that we say from being black marks on a piece of paper, to being the very voice of the Body of Christ, speaking our hopes and our commitments to God and to the world.
When you came into church this morning, along with your bulletin you picked up a little vial of bubbles. Today when we say the Prayers of the People, I want you to blow bubbles here in church.
Why? Well, first of all blowing bubbles is just fun!
If there is one thing we are guilty of as Christians, it is taking ourselves too seriously.
When I picture Jesus on Earth, along with his moments of compassion and anger and thoughtfulness and seriousness, I picture him having fun and laughing.
We all know that God laughs at us, if only for the number of ridiculous situations we get into.
Well, the Holy Spirit laughs too.
The Holy Spirit wants us to have fun in worship.
I expect there to be some giggling out there while we’re blowing bubbles during the prayers.
But the other reason I want you to blow bubbles is this: they will represent the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit within us filling our prayers and lifting them before the throne of God.
Fascinating and ethereal—we can’t keep and treasure bubbles.
We can’t put them in a box and admire them later.
They last such a brief and beautiful moment.
The same is true for our worship.
Our worship happens in a moment, animated by the breath of the Holy Spirit and then floating away into the sky.
And that makes it all the more precious.
We can’t hold onto our prayers either, but God finds them as fragile and beautiful as bubbles.
God looks on our congregation and delights at what we offer every Sunday—our worship, our hopes, our dreams, our needs, our sorrows and our griefs, all lifted before God in prayer.
Today when we blow bubbles during the Prayers of the People, we’ll get to see what God sees every week: the Holy Spirit, breathing through us with such gentleness that a new and fragile and beautiful creation floats toward heaven and out of sight.