Breathe on us Breath of God-Happy Birthday Church! Homily for Pentecost 2014
For the last week, I have had some unpleasant bug. Once again I feel my human frailty physically and in my spirit. I was supposed to be vacationing on the beach but I only got there for two nights as my breathing was heavy with coughing and new symptoms developed. I fully enjoyed being at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and part of God’s beautiful creation including seeing parent dolphins teach their young how to eat about five feet away from us as we waded in the water. Yet I needed to rest in bed as much as to be renewed by this. I’m feeling better now but I am sure that I should not breathe my germs on anyone, and I pray for God to renew my body as well as my soul as I prepare to preach on Pentecost. But the beautiful thing is that it is not my breath but the Breath of God that will renew our people.
“ ‘Peace be with you. As Abba God sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John 20: 21-22
Jesus left his disciples with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He filled them with his Spirit so they could carry on his work of love, inclusion and justice. Still they were frightened, they had not fully tried their wings to see if they could fly-could really carry on the work of the kin-dom. On Pentecost, this gift came again in a dramatic way enlivening the followers, the men and women gathered together, with the abilities to reach out to peoples of all languages and cultures with the Good News of the living Christ. The Pentecost story in Acts 2 is such a wonderful accounting of how God provides the church the gifts that are needed to include everyone in the church. In the diverse group gathered in Jerusalem peoples of all then known languages and cultures had gathered. Suddenly, as if with the force of a hurricane, all could hear the Good News in his or her own languages, the disciples could preach to everyone! What a wonderful message of unity in diversity and in how Christ and the Church mandates, breathes, diversity.
In our church tomorrow the reading from Acts will be read simultaneously in African languages and in Spanish and English and possibly Italian. How exciting it is to hear the first Pentecost enacted in this way and to know that our church like the Pentecost church is such a diverse group of followers. Our youth leader, Efe Jane Cudjoe, is now home from her semester in Viet Nam, South Africa and Brazil and she will reflect with us on her experiences of the Spirit of God in those lands and diverse cultures.
Pentecost is one of the happiest feast days of the Church. We gather with excitement, we wear red and we welcome God’s Holy Spirit once again to breathe life into us so we may be the church that Jesus founded and intended. We are ever mindful of the need for renewing God’s spirit within us, not because it has left us, but because we are so often overwhelmed by life’s events and no longer hear or heed it. We need a fresh infusion, for God Transcendent as well as Immanent can indeed breathe new life into us! An African-American Gospel Song goes: “Spirit of the Living God, Fall fresh on me, melt me, mold me, Fill me, use me, Spirit of the Living God, Fall fresh on me”. That is our Pentecost prayer.
Acts 1:12-14 and 2: 1-11
The Spirit comes to the followers of Jesus, the men and women gathered in the upper room, in a dramatic and indisputable manner with what sounded like a “violent rushing wind, the noise filling the entire house.” – not a little breeze this time – something like the hurricane that we know well here in Florida. And how they must have been amazed and afraid! Their spirits were ignited by the Holy Spirit and they burned with the Spirit. Wind and fire, symbolizing the presence of God, filled them and they even began to speak in other languages. Here God gives the church, the first Christians – the power to preach, teach and witness to Christ, Risen, Living and present, and to present the Good News to all people; no matter where they live or what language they speak. And this power is given on the harvest feast of Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) celebrated by the Jews seven weeks/50 days after Passover. As such Pentecost is the reminder of the covenant the Jewish people and Moses made with God on Mt. Sinai. Luke is telling his followers that the Spirit brings us a new Covenant as God’s new people – that all people, “Gentiles” are now heirs to God’s promises of faithfulness and love. And we are to preach the Good News everywhere – and especially to the poor, the disenfranchised and outcast of our world even as Jesus came to do that (echoing the purpose of the Prophet Isaiah) and fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic vision: “The Spirit of God is upon me because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those that are poor.” (Is. 61; Luke 4:16-20).May the Spirit of God be upon us to do this as well!
1 Cor. 12: 3-7,12-14 (TIB)
Clearly the Spirit distributes gifts “as She will” – No one, no church, no government, absolutely no one can get in the Spirit’s way of distributing gifts. So, my friends, clearly women – yes, women – and men – young and old of all classes, colors, cultures and languages may be filled and called by the Spirit. I sit here today in deep thanksgiving for that – Amen?!
Now here are the gifts Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12 – but these are just some of the gifts of the Spirit.
- Wisdom in discourse (i.e. teaching/ discussion/communication)
- Knowledge, the word of knowledge
- The gift of healing
- Miraculous powers / also …… as mighty deeds
- Speaking other languages
- Interpreting other languages
- The gifts to be apostles, prophets, teachers, administrators (and, yes, priests!)
But, Paul reminds us, it is one and the same Spirit who produces all these gifts and many more and distributes them as She will – “as She will”!! (The words for Spirit in Greek and in Hebrew-Sophia and Ruah are indeed feminine).
Let us now think about these gifts – and name in our hearts other gifts given to each of us by the Spirit.
But gifts are not necessarily or even usually given in especially dramatic ways – just God’s Holy Spirit to the spirit within ourselves. The breath of God, the breath of Jesus. One of our young people, Natasha is discerning her path to higher learning. Sometimes the answer seems easy and clear, sometimes not so easy or clear. We pray for her as she makes her choice of college.
“We all drink of the one Spirit” (v. 13) – and here is the symbol of the living water and water as the giving of the spirit for we are baptized into one body – but it has many different and necessary parts – different gifts. As we USE and DEVELOP these many gifts we can join Jesus the Christ in turning the world upside down!! Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on a group of frightened people and they were no longer afraid – AND THE CHURCH WAS BORN!!
The spirit of the living Christ that Jesus imparted to his disciples after the Resurrection en-couraged and em-powered them to go forth. But the Pentecostal visitation of the Holy Spirit was different, it was dramatic and it was inclusive, for all gathered in Jerusalem. The followers of Christ, now empowered, could reach the whole world through the many gifts that God gives to each one of us, the body of Christ.
And the body of Christ is diverse and of infinite variety. The first Pentecost came with loud sounds – wind and fire – the way that the Spirit spoke to the people of old. Peoples who today are still struggling for peace- those from Israel, Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and parts of Africa, Asia and Rome, Jewish converts and Arabs alike were united by the Holy Spirit. Today the Spirit of God still speaks to the Church in many different ways – and it still says “Peace, Justice, Love and ALL are welcome. Receive the Holy Spirit, be instruments of peace, be re-newed, forgive all, and live!
May God empower us again to bring our many gifts to God’s world. Spirit of the Living God, fall Fresh on us! Happy Birthday Church! Amen.