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A Quiet Pentecost
This is Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Before being a Christian celebration, Pentecost was a Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments, knowing Gods’ character through knowing the law.
Similarly Luke tells us in Acts of the giving of the spirit. I would call this the Loud Account. The other account of Pentecost is small and quiet. Let’s glance at each story. Luke is the host of a large celebration. John is the host of a quiet one. Luke’s account in the second chapter of Acts takes place in Jerusalem. There were 120 people in the house with thousands in the streets for the Jewish festival of Pentecost as it remembered the giving of the Ten Commandments. Luke says it was like a giant wind that swept through the room. Each heard what others were saying.
Often people talk past each other, so in love with their own sound that they never hear others. Then it happens where people begin to really hear. Sometimes we can fall in love with our anger and shut out what others are trying to say. It’s like a wind that sweeps in. I love the image of wind because we seldom see it, but something happens and you hear, and they also hear.
It reminded me of Exodus 20, the giving of the Law. The people come before this mountain. A strange weather front moves in and the wind picks up and the people tell Moses they can’t stand it and ask him to go up the mountain and ask God what’s going on.
But this other Pentecost story in John is quiet. Mack Watts preached on this text at my ordination in the United Church of Canada. I remember he took a teddy bear that his granddaughter had where she asked him what is it stuffed with? I remember, he looked at each of us, and asked what were we stuffed with?
The Spirit of God asks will you remain open, receptive, workable by Gods Spirit, or are you going to turn into know it alls, giving people answers to questions no one is asking. The scene in John has all the doors locked. Minds closed perhaps. Even though the door never was opened, they find Jesus there right where they are.
Christ says Peace be with you. Peace is with you.
Not scary right? It’s a good word. Jesus shows them his scares and they recognize him. It’s the same with us. When we show our scares then we find that courage is right there. There we become human beings, gorgeous human people. Warts and beauty wrapped up into one. In those moments you lock up and there is Jesus. You’re standing in the word.
Jesus says it one more time; Peace is with you. As God has sent me so I send you.
And then a strange thing happens; he breathes on them The Holy Spirit. We all hope he didn’t have too much garlic on his breath. But he says receive the Holy Spirit. So this story doesn’t have Exodus 20 behind it, rather it alludes to Genesis 2, where God breathed human life alive.
Let’s think a minute - what if God had not imparted God’s own spirit to us. Then humans would be like animals. Can you imagine people living like animals? If we were animals we would spend ourselves in eating and drinking and sleeping and going to the bathroom and being attached to others and dying. Just like animals I suppose if humans were like animals they might be taught tricks some even taught to work.
Beside this animals can be groomed to look pretty. I saw this on a dog show, or was it the Voice, no maybe it was American Idol. You see if we were animals we too could get groomed to look pretty nice, paraded on stage winning ribbons and prizes with others saying, look bachelor number one or she’s the prettiest.
But all this is only true if God never breathed into us. I suppose that if humans were animals they would mark territory and then shoot, no I mean bite anyone who wandered into the wrong neighborhood.
Without the Spirit of God humans might even develop lines of pedigree. Like a dog we might call ourselves purebred, and claim that they came off the Mayflower, or from one of the better families. We might discriminate on the basis of skin color, or sexual orientation
But no instead God took this creature from clay, which means the earth, held it up like a mother holds a baby and breathed into us humanbeingness. Which means we have spirit also, namely the capacity to transcend ourselves and ask who am I? God said I have breathed into this one my own life. This is why we are discontent when all we do is eat, drink and work and show off and die.
Discontent because there is something inside of a human breathed person, which longs for God. Whether searching the heavens, or writing poetry, or playing music, or perhaps making new formulations and equations that play after the presence the God as Einstein said.
When old David was king remember how he made war, killed people and bragged about it. He came back to Jerusalem for some rest and saw this beautiful women married to another one of David’s’ soldiers. The soldier was out in battle so David had him done in, and then took this guy’s wife, Bathsheba, as his wife. Well I am king he thought. The prophet Nathan came to David and said to him. You did it, didn’t you? And David felt like an animal. And then he prayed. Do you remember what he said, well he prayed, O God, do not take back your spirit because then I would be an animal.
And so it is that John says the Son of God took a bunch of frightened disciples, with nothing remarkable about any of them. Most were smelly fishermen, one a tax collector; another was a militant, Simon the Zealot. They were an odd bunch and Jesus breathed on them Receive the Holy Spirit.
They became the church, writing scripture and going out and serving people, hurting when others hurt, emptying their pockets for other people’s children, housing indigent people. Who are these people? They are people on whom God has breathed.
What would happen to the church if God’s spirit was withdrawn? A self-serving church might survive for a couple of weeks until people realized they might be better off at the health club.
I cannot explain the spirit of God. Jesus said it was like a mystery, like the wind. You do not see the wind, and yet you know when it comes and when it goes. I saw a tree bent over one day and asked what happened. A guy said the wind last night caught it and bent it over. And I saw a man, proud and arrogant, joking, saying he didn’t need the church, saying faith is stupid. And then one day, I saw him with tears of joy sitting in a pew.
What got into him? What is that?
I saw a ship, out maybe a mile away. The sails were hanging limp and the ship was going nowhere. Then suddenly the sails were filled, and the ship began to move toward its port.
Another time I heard a teen ask. What is happening? And then she began to be filled with purpose and meaning. What caused that? And someone said the Spirit. The wind of God. Do you believe it? The breath of God is over you, around you and in you. Now you’re a human gift. What is it stirring up inside of you?
Sunday, May 22, 2016