What Binds Us?

Do words bind us, or something deeper than words?

The lessons of the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday include the account from Acts 2:1-21, of the mighty wind and the tongues of fire coming down on the Jesus believers; and the account by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:22-27, of the Spirit groaning within us and within a creation in labor pains.


The Jesus believers waited in Jerusalem for the Spirit to come to them, and it did in a dramatic fashion, in fulfillment of a prophecy of the prophet Joel, and as indicated by the Apostle Peter. And the believers, touched in this way by the Spirit, spoke so that people from all over the Jewish Diaspora–all over the world–understood.


And Paul describes another connection that is too deep for words. As the believer groans along with the suffering creation, God understands.


We all want unity. Like Rodney King in the midst of the Los Angeles riots that followed his horrendous beating by police, we cry out, “Why can’t we all just get along?”


And one of the ways we imagine this might happen is if we speak in propositions, with such eloquence and obvious correctness, that others will be persuaded to come over to our side. We will agree and then we will all be happy together.


But it never happens that way. What usually happens is that the more we refine our thoughts and the more we define the boundaries between truth and error, the more upset we get with others. We define them more and more as defective or just plain “other.” And then we begin to see that they do not deserve the benefit of our morality. We can love and gladly break bread with those who are still within our boundaries, but what in heaven’s name can we do with those others?


In my 40 plus years in the ministry I was buoyed up by fellowship with a succession of groupings of pastors. In each place I ministered I found a Bible study fellowship with pastors. Most often it was ecumenical. Sometimes it was mostly Lutheran. But looking back, I believe what bound each group of us–what made us feel we were, like the Jesus believers in that Pentecost experience, “all together in one place,” was not a common creed. It was something deeper than words. It was awe-filled trembling before the Word of God. It was love of the people we served, and inner groaning for some way to feed and heal them. It was a trust in an unseen force that opened us to trust one another enough to be honest and ready to learn and grow.


Fellow DeKalb pastor, Janet Hunt, shared at today’s pastor’s Bible gathering, that she would preach these lessons plus the story of the Spirit giving life in the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel 37:1-14. She said, and the rest of us there agreed, the idea is that the Spirit is a mighty wind that blasts through boundaries and always has the effect of surprising us, or even blowing our minds.


Our words–even our most precious words in the form of our doctrines about God–do not have the power to bring us “all together in one place.” Only the movement of the Spirit can do that, and that by groans and other motives too deep for words.


About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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