It seems appropriate to begin this morning with a word of thanks to the worship committee for bringing us all together for an earlier service today. By now I know you all have your shopping done and your gifts wrapped. But there are always those last minute details that need attention to make your Pentecost dinners as successful as they were last year.
Judging by your reactions, perhaps you don't have any celebrations planned? We go to so much fuss to celebrate the coming of the Christ child. It just seemed logical that someone somewhere might at least get together some fluffy cotton candy to celebrate the other manifestation of God and the birthday of the Church.
Of course, maybe it is not all that odd that we steer clear of that kind of celebration. After all, it is a baby we await during Advent and rejoice in at Christmas. Moreover, the gospels give us an account of Jesus. life. Sure, it was a long time ago, but that fully human Jesus, he was someone to whom we could relate to at least on some level.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, which is the object of our attention today, we are not nearly so lucky. With the Spirit there is no manger scene. There is no cross. There is no tomb. We are left with words about an idea. Two weeks ago we received a good primer on the way we talk about the Spirit with Pr. Lyle's rundown of the various ways this 'other' being has been described. Some of the words — like 'helper' and 'comforter' — are easily understood. Others — like 'advocate' or 'champion' — may require a little nuance. And then there is 'paraclete'...but we don't have to go there again! We are left with something we sense is probably kind of cool, but no real idea how to understand it.
Thankfully liturgical planners have allowed some space to at least try to grasp this strange thing we call the Spirit. The church calendar gives us all of 12 days of Christmas. Easter is a little better with its seven weeks. But those combined pale in comparison with the 5-6 months of Pentecost. It seems to me there is some wisdom to this. If nothing else I wonder if just the sheer length of time in the season of Pentecost can teach us about the Holy Spirit's role in our lives. It underscores how much our lives are lived under the Spirit's care and direction. And the kick-off of those reflections is what brings us together today.
This morning's text from the book of Acts is probably the most familiar representation of the Spirit coming into our lives. My attention for today, though, was drawn to John's gospel account. Perhaps you, too, heard these words and felt you were transported back in time. No, not to imagine life some 2000 years ago. I am thinking more recently, like just about two months ago. Astute listeners will note that we are completing a circle of sorts. We are again locked in that room with the disciples ondering what will happen now that Jesus has been crucified. Kind of appropriate, don't you think? Think about the two months that have passed since that glorious Easter morning. You've seen the pictures from storms that ravaged Alabama, Missouri, and Massachusetts. Around the same time we joined our neighbors cleaning up after our own touch of storm damage. And we have spent the past week anxious and in fervent prayer for a successful resolution in the search for IU student Lauren Speirers.
It is not surprising then that we might find ourselves wondering. Is Jesus still a part of our lives? Today's passage comes at just the right time to answer that question. Not only does Jesus appear, but his first words are exactly what we feel we need in times such as these: "Peace be with you." It is as if we can all take a collective sigh of relief.
Jesus, however, is not done speaking yet. "Peace be with you," he says again, but this time adding, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." This message of "peace" is not permission to kick our feet up by the pool. Perhaps this "Peace be with you" could be read more as "prepare yourselves." Jesus reminds us disciples that God.s work on earth is not finished. One small problem — we saw how Jesus' time on earth ended. How are we supposed to continue in this ministry if even God's son could not escape persecution and the cross? As though Jesus anticipates these questions and reservations he continues. And what happens next is what propels us forward to today for "When he said this, he breathed on them and said 'Receive the Holy Spirit'"
A pivotal verse like this deserves a little unpacking — particularly this word translated as "breathed" here. Taken on its face it sounds kind of creepy. I mean, I realize this resurrection business is pretty awesome, but the guy had just been dead for three days. It would certainly take some heavenly Altoids to avoid the stench on that breath! So maybe there is something else going on here. It turns out that this instance in John's gospel is the only time this word we read as "breathed" is used in the New Testament. One place we do find a similar word form in scripture is back in the second Genesis account of creation: "And the Lord God...breathed into (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life."
The idea here is clear. The author of John's gospel wants to make the connection for us that just as God formed humanity and breathed life into creation at the beginning, Jesus' Spirit forms and breathes life into the church. That is the story of this day. That is why Pentecost is so important. Without it, Jesus' life, death, and resurrection get locked in history's vault as something to remember, think about and reflect on. But in Pentecost, the vault is opened. Our rooms are locked no more. Jesus' Spirit comes even this day, empowering us to become living Christs here and now.
So the question before us today is what does this mean to be a Spirit-powered living Christ in 2011? In other words, what do we do each time God blows us up? One way to find out is to take advantage of the thing about this day that, in many ways, makes it more fun than any other church festival. Pentecost lends itself to some crazy metaphors and analogies. As one who taught science for 6 years, I have been known to use the occasional analogy to get my point across — often the cheesier the better! And given that my teaching experience was with middle school students, I have faced my share of eye rolls, so none of yours today will faze me!
Earlier I noted that Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit could very well be read as him breathing the spirit into us disciples. That being the case, the oldie but goodie, balloon Pentecost analogy takes on new possibilities as well as a little more meaning. The "breath of life" found at creation and from Jesus is what makes up our very being. Each time the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ, comes to us it forms and shapes us. Do we recognize those times?
In those times when a quiet sense of peace falls on you — that is the Spirit entering you.
Share a kind word among friends and the Spirit is there forming you and that relationship
Gather together to worship, giving thanks and praise for creation, the winds of the Spirit flow inside us.
Filled with the Spirit we feel full, light, ready to take on the world.
But then what? Well, what happens when a balloon, filled and poised to fly does not use that power within? It gets deflated. Things are not all that different for us. Those buoyant Spirit sensations do not last. Over time, if we keep that spirit behind locked doors, the power...leaves. That energy, once so alive and full of potential. fizzles. As a result, we, like the balloon, feel deflated...and the Spirit's work is not completed.
The lesson here? In order for the power of the Spirit to do its work, it must be released! Fortunately we get a chance to try again. You see, the winds of the Spirit are a renewable resource. The breaths of life continuing to enter into us...
as we pray in earnest for God.s will to be done on earth as in heaven...
as we invite a stranger into meaningful conversation...
as we find concrete answers to the question, where does the worldneed us?
Heeding Jesus' words and going out into the world...sent as Jesus was, we let the Spirit loose. You don't know where it is going, but it is going to go somewhere and it is going to do something.
Answering our call to discipleship on Pentecost means letting go and letting the Spirit loose. It also means that while we hold onto that comforting, helping, advocating Spirit that we know abides with us, on this day we also acknowledge that from its inception, the Spirit is a bit of a trouble maker. One only has to think of the disciples in that locked room to see proof of that. Prior to this encounter with Jesus I can imagine several disciples would have been quite content to let this whole crucifixion and resurrection thing just kind of blow over. Oh, they would have remembered Jesus fondly. They would probably have told stories about the things they saw and did. But for the most part I envision them heading back to the shores, for example, and regaining their former lives fishing. Not the easiest life in the world, but it was something comfortable, something familiar.
After receiving the Holy Spirit, however, they gave that security up. Powered by the Spirit they embarked on a mission to bring Christ's ministry into the ancient world. That amazing, life changing mission continues for us today. As the Spirit enters us, these coming months of Pentecost offer us a chance to respond to that calling. Where are the locked doors in your life? In our life together? What are Bloomington's yearnings and needs? May this season of Pentecost be a time to seek and find answer to those questions. And may we live a Pentecostal life...harnessing the power of the Spirit...then letting it loose and unleashing it on the world...