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Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’

Keep Breathing, Beloved

A Sermon on John 20:19-22, with allusions to Genesis 1:1-5 and 2:4b-8

 

Pentecost

Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes like a mighty blast of wind, as in the Pentecost story that we remembered earlier.  But more often, the Holy Spirit comes like a gentle breath, as in the gospel lesson we just read.

I don’t think Jesus’ disciples could have taken a mighty blast of the Spirit that night behind locked doors.  They had heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony that she had seen Jesus, but they were still traumatized.  They didn’t know what to make of what had happened on the cross two days earlier, and they were afraid that the authorities might be coming for them next.

What Jesus did that night was true to God’s character.  God always takes into account what is going on with God’s people, and comes to them in ways that fit the situation and address them where they are.  Jesus came quietly and stood among them, and the first thing out of his mouth was a word that they so badly needed to hear:  Peace. Sweet, sweet healing peace in the middle of turmoil within and without.  “Peace be with you” Jesus said, and before they had a chance to reply, he showed them his wounded hands and feet.  It truly was Jesus, and he wasn’t just a figment of their imagination.

“Peace be with you,” he said again, and then he added, “Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  Jesus’ mission was now their mission.  They would love as he loved.  They would do as he did.

And then Jesus was silent.  All they could hear was the sound of his breathing.  Jesus breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

It was so quiet and gentle and low-key, and yet this was nothing less than a new creation.  Just as God breathed over the face of the deep at the first creation, and just as God breathed life into humanity in the beginning, the risen Christ now breathed new life into his followers and into his church, overcoming hopelessness and despair.

It is so disheartening, with people we love contending with difficulties that go on and on, without any good resolution in sight.  And when will the time when we can embrace come again, when we can gather without fear of making each other sick?

This has been such a disheartening week.  It is discouraging how badly people treat each other, how little regard they show for other people’s wellbeing.  Some people are refusing to do simple things like wear a mask to help protect others, and insisting on doing things that put others at risk in the name of their own rights.  The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and all the aftermath is heartrending, and even more so because it points to great unhealed wounds in our nation.  Sometimes the kingdom of God seems further away than ever, and all our efforts to practice and teach the way of Jesus’ love seem not to make much difference.

The picture of Jesus’ disciples huddled inside, disheartened and afraid really speaks to me now as we flawed and fearful disciples navigate these troubled times.  This story invites us to be quiet, quiet enough to hear Jesus speak the word of peace to us.  Quiet enough to hear him renew our call to mission.  Quiet enough to hear him breathing.  And in the breathing to find the strength we need to go forward.

Sometimes in the midst of pain and distress you can almost forget to breathe, or to breathe deeply anyway.  I remember when the ambulance was on the way to take me to the hospital before Laura was born the doctor was talking to me on the phone line, and he said, “Keep breathing.”

The living Christ is among us, breathing into us the very breath of life, the Spirit of healing, the Spirit who makes things new, who overcomes hopelessness and despair.  Remember to breathe, beloved.  Help one another remember to breathe.  Breathe deeply, beloved, and receive the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

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'' photo (c) 2010, Jair Alcon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a sermon from the archives on Acts 2, and it alludes to the falling walls of Jericho.  It speaks of the Holy Spirit blowing the walls of the church down, blowing the church open.

Falling Walls

A Sermon on Acts 2:1-21 with allusions to Joshua 6:1-5

On Pentecost morning the congregation of Jesus was gathered together in a house.  They had moved beyond the fear of the earliest days after the crucifixion, those days when they locked the doors, they were so afraid.  They had moved into the wonder of the resurrection.  But they still hadn’t moved out into mission.  They hadn’t taken their story public yet.  The early church worked on internal matters, like choosing someone to replace Judas Iscariot in the central group of twelve.  It wasn’t that they didn’t have anything to say; they did.  What they needed was an opening, some way to start.  And they needed the power to do it.

On Easter evening, Jesus had breathed his Spirit onto and into his church in a most gentle way.  Perhaps it was because his objective then was to begin to heal their wounds and fill them with peace.  The Spirit came as gentle breath.

But not on the day of Pentecost.  That day the Spirit came as a great, noisy blast, a gale force wind.  His presence rested on each and every one like a tongue of fire.  And that set their tongues on fire.  They couldn’t keep their mouths shut.  They were so full of Spirit that the good news of Jesus spilled out.  And it spilled out in all the languages of the known world: Parthian, Median, Egyptian and more.

Suddenly the church was talking with people from all around the known world.  The noise had drawn a crowd.  Somehow the church wasn’t inside any more.  It was outside.

Most pictures of Pentecost that I’ve seen picture the disciples still inside, a tongue of fire resting on each one, and they’re talking to each other.  But wouldn’t it be better to picture the disciples outside, talking with folks from all over the world?  The action is outside!

An artist named Leonard Freeman created a painting that he titled “Lord, Build This House.”  Freeman intended to show the pieces of the church coming down from heaven and being put together by God.  That’s not what I thought of when I first saw this painting, though.  I think it looks more like the church is being blown open, and there are the people with their arms outstretched to the whole world.  At the blast of the Holy Spirit, the walls fall.  (See the cover of The Practicing Congregation by Diana Butler Bass, Alban, 2004.  The print is also available online from many outlets.  You can view it here.)

Luke doesn’t tell us just when or how the disciples got outside.  If the walls of the house didn’t fall away literally, they certainly fell away figuratively.  Walls became irrelevant.  The barriers between those inside and those outside had fallen away.  Most obviously that particular day,  language barriers had fallen away.  Notice: the Spirit didn’t make the outsiders able to speak and understand the language of the church, and then bring them to the church.  The Spirit empowered the insiders to speak the native languages of the outsiders, and took the church out to them.

Jesus’ disciples were out of the box.  They went public.  Their presence—and that of God’s Spirit—was heard and seen.  It was unmistakable.  Their presence, and God’s presence in them, couldn’t be ignored.

Sometimes I wonder how well the presence of this congregation of Jesus’ disciples can be seen and heard.  I wonder.  (more…)

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Easter and Pentecost mark two movements in God’s great work of resurrection.  Here is the story of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, a small congregation in Oxford, North Carolina that is experiencing resurrection.  The congregation’s junior warden describes the first phone call he received from their now-vicar as the “craziest Holy Spirit moment.”  How apt!  When God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom, you’ve got to expect crazy Holy Spirit moments. 

This story comes from Faith and Leadership, a great web site from Duke Divinity School.  In the sidebar you can click on another article about a model the Episcopal Church is using for leadership in small churches.  Read St. Cyprian’s story and be inspired for Easter and Pentecost!

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