Acts 2: 1-21 and John 20: 19-23
The footage from Fort McMurray, Alberta is hellfire:
A caravan of seven thousand environmentally displaced people
in three thousand fuel-burning cars,
— like too long a funeral procession —
…through walls of fire shooting over a hundred feet into the air,
charred tree trunks punctuating the scene,
a carpet of small flames filling any openings in the fire’s walls
while smoldering embers rocket onto the road and the escaping cars.
Thick smoke blankets the sky,
and I wonder how the soldiers,
directing the traffic,
and if what they are breathing will kill them?
Inside the cars, people are sobbing.
For miles, they drive past a ruined landscape,
burnt out homes,
The charred carcususes of home appliances,
The carbonized shells of towns.
The fire has consumed an area as large as Massachusetts.
And it is predicted to grow.
* * * * * * *
A different kind of fire is sweeping across the US.
New York Times columnist and PBS commentator David Brooks
describes breathtakingly effective negative campaigning as
‘calling down fire’ upon opponents.
The reference of course is to the prophet Elijah,
who called for and got,
divine fire to descend on the altar of his rivals,
the priests of Baal,
and the fire consumed their altar and even its stones.
One by one, the GOP candidates were thus eliminated.
Now we have six more months of devastation before the election.
One has to wonder what damage this volatile and toxic mix
of bullying and bluster,
xenophobia and nationalism,
misogyny and racism,
— and its appeal to the darker nature of America —
will do to us and this country?
The earth of our politics will be scorched as never before,
that seems certain.
* * * * * * *
This week, like last, church,
we have two different accounts of same thing as our 1st and 2nd readings.
Last week, the Ascension.
Today, the giving of the Spirit.
When we think of Pentecost,
we tend to remember the first account we heard —
from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:
a rush of violent wind,
sweeping through the room in which the frightened disciples are hoping to hide out in;
…tongues “as of fire” descending upon their heads;
And this Spirit driving men and women out of their hideaway
And into the crowded morning streets of Jerusalem,
proclaiming the gospel of
freedom in Christ and
…proclaiming it boldly, confidently, fluently —
and in a perplexing array of languages???
This, the Bible says, was how the Christian church was born —
a public, compelling, miraculous display of overwhelming, divine power.
(unless like the scoffers,
we suggest it was all really just new wine!)
Acts 2 is the big traditional Cecil B. DeMille production of Pentecost.
Nonetheless, I find myself this year
shying away from the big screen version —
the large assembly, the public display and all its pryotechnics.
I am finding greater comfort in John’s small stage, quieter retelling of the giving of the Spirit
in Chapter 20, our second reading.
I like the image of Jesus appearing to us,
especially where we’re all locked up and hiding away in our fears.
Jesus coming to us where we’ve tried to sequester ourselves,
And reassuring us with his presence and the peace he offers us.
And, then intimately, using his recently renaimated breath,
And blowing the Spirit of God in each of our mouths,
To fill our lungs and our lives
with new life and the power we need
To undertake a mission of
Imagine, the Risen Jesus appearing to his disciples and,
like a parent blowing in the face of an infant to make her laugh,
blowing his spirit into their mouths one by one!
The Greek word for “breath” is pneuma,
also translated as “spirit”.
his followers with his own breath /
And with that sharing and gifting,
Jesus prepares them for the mission of living lives as Christians.
…Perhaps that is how we can understand what is about to happen to Siti —
that Jesus will blow his breath in her mouth
and set her off on a new life?
Closer to us than our own breath and breathing,
the Risen Christ fills us with his own Spirit —
quietly, intimately, completely.
With his breath, God’s power,
we then go about the everyday, unspectacular, grubby work (and it is work) living lives of forgiveness, compassion, justice, peace and wholeness.
breathe, do justice;
breathe, make peace;
breathe, grow in wholeness within yourself and with everyone and everything else.
Although we often long for the dazzling or spectacular,
we live in a time, a world,
in need of people, like Siti,
who breathe in, regularly, the quiet power and grace of Christ’s Spirit
and people who, likewise,
breathe out, regularly, the power and grace of God’s peace.
Our world — so spectacularly broken and burning —
needs people for whom
as normal and natural as breathing.
And here’s the good news:
Pentecost didn’t just happened once,
in a certain way or
a long, long time ago.
There are, in Luke’s Acts of the Apostle’ alone,
multiple times —
when the Spirit is poured out,
amazing things happen,
and people come to faith.
~ when Philip baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch, or
~ when Paul has his experience on the Road to Damascus and is converted, or
~ Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, and Peter’s “conversion” to a more universal understanding of Christianity.
How many other bible stories can you think of
that are a repetition and extension of the power of the Holy Spirit?
I think they starts, really, at creation,
where Genesis says:
“a wind from God swept over the waters.”
The spirit continues through the history of God’s people Israel,
And on into the history of the church,
Right down to our day and in our lives.
There are a variety of episodes in the Church’s history
that we might also appropriately name another Pentecost:
~ the flourishing of the monastic communities in the middle ages,
~ the Reformation,
~ the revivals of the first and second Great Awakenings in North America
(the second of which Old First and its year long guest preacher Charles Grandison Finney played a role in),
~ the birth of Pentacostalism on Azuza Street in LA and how its swept around the globe and changed the face of the church;
~ the role of the church in the North American civil rights movements and liberation movements in the rest of the Americas…
But beloved, it’s not just cataclysmic, world-changing, historical events.
Pentecost happens in our local contexts as well.
What change do we need around Old First that only God’’s help could make possible?
Pentecost happens in our individual lives too.
Can you identify the times and ways that only God’s power
can explain things that have happened in your life,
even things that you yourself seem to have accomplished?
Church, Pentecost isn’t over!
That’s why Jesus can make the astounding promise:
Very truly, I tell you,
the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do and,
in fact, will do greater works than these.”
Did you hear that?
We who believe in Jesus will do even greater works than he!
giving life to the dead.
Do we believe that, church?
I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t.
It feels too astounding,
Too far fetched.
But sometimes, aided by Holy Spirit, I do see it.
In Tony Pavolini’s gumption in coming back to Philly
for a 2nd try at finding an anchor on a new life here.
The deep desire of folks at Old First,
Where Outreach is already pretty front and center,
To figure out what and how we might accomplish even more.
The desire to take up the difficult but crucial conversations about racism and white privilege.
The number of people willing to engage in our Approaching the End of Life series,
And the laughter and joy that have become so much a part of our consideration of a pretty heavy
Two name just a few of the recents ones that occurr to me.
Beloved, I do see in you, the continuing story of God at work by the Spirit. —
Living our faith, working on ourselves, supporting one another,
Reaching out in love and mercy to those around us.
Claiming the power of God for our lives dedicated in witness and ministry..
And here’s the blessing:
The more we see God’s spirit moving in people and events and the world,
The more we name this…
The easier and the more obvious it becomes.
So here’s my suggestion, church:
Look for Pentecost and Spirit movements in your life.
This week specifically:
keep your eyes peeled
for places where you see God’s power and peace at work.
Figure out in the next 7 days
where the Spirit is active in your life
(and I will figure out a way for your next week in worship
to share what you have noticed)
Beloved, it’s Pentecost, and a bright, beautiful and windy day.
God’s spirit is pouring out on us.
We may be strolling in you wounded souls and skins
And yet, that same Spirit can wrap loves arm around us
And kiss our pain and brokeness to healing.
Let’s make room, overly settled ones,
For a Divine wave that is surging over us…
And within us,
And can unsettle not just our placid and docile lives,
But even unsettle our closed mouth silences.
Not even our deep-seated fears,
can stop inspired mouths from sputtering
words of grace that can blow open the most tightly shut doors
Not even the strongest provincial proclivities,
Can stop inspired feet from following
And going places that the powers that be don’t want us to.
Not even our own limitations and selfishness,
Can stop inspired hands from letting go and reaching out to others,
Offering help and hugs and love
In a way the world desperately needs to know.
Come, Holy Spirit, come:
Blow down all the walls that separate and keep us unequal,
And rush right through all our blue law Sunday limitations.
Make us one, inside and out.
And set us about the ministry and mission you would have us do.
Oh, what Spirit can do when set free,
What God’s people are capable of when set free,
Tousling the world’s hair,
And taking everyone’s mind of baser things
Until love has swept us all away.