Day of Pentecost ~ Acts 2: 1-21/John 20: 19-23
We name you wind, power, force, and then
imaginatively, “Third Person.”
We name you and you blow …
blow new …
Blowing the world out of nothing to abundance,
Blowing the church out of despair to new life,
Blowing little David a shepherd boy to messiah,
Blowing to make things new that never were.
blow here and there, power,
blow even us, force,
Rush us beyond ourselves,
Rush us beyond our hopes,
Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world.
Come, come spirit. Amen.
-Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, (Fortress,
2003), p.167 Minneapolis
This day we call Pentecost is about making things new that never were. Even Pentecost is made new. Formerly it was an Israelite agricultural festival, then a celebration of God giving God’s people Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and now it is transformed again as that day when the wind blew, or the breath blew depending on your reading, and the gift of the Holy Spirit transformed fearful, hiding, cowering people into hopeful, public, proclaiming people.
Luke (in “his” volume II, Acts) and John present similar yet vastly different accounts of this world changing event. In Luke there is wind and fire and the sound of rushing water. In John Jesus breathes on them. That is, there is some serious blowing going on. In my favorite Terry Gilliam movie, Baron Munchausen, the Baron has some sidekicks: one with incredible vision, one with incredible speed, one with incredible strength, and one with incredible lung-power. Gustabus can blow over an entire platoon of soldiers with a single breath! So, when we read of Jesus blowing on the disciples, it may in fact be more like Gustabus than the gentle, intimate breath felt on one’s neck from the one sitting next to you. This Breath/Spirit/Wind can knock you across the room and around the world!
The word is Ruach. When we hear of this ruach we are to think of how the ruach of God hovered over the waters of chaos we call creation in Genesis 1, and the same God of Israel is depicted breathing into a handful of moist dust to enliven the first person in the very next chapter, Genesis 2. We are not to concern ourselves with the Bible making up its mind. God’s Spirit-Wind is capable of taking any form, force or character. It is the power of life, the power of creation, the power that can blow something out of nothing!
Next, the two stories share a picture of Jesus’ friends huddled behind closed doors, in a house, fearful of all that lies on the other side of the door. There was good reason to be afraid. Jesus was dead, though not exactly gone. The Roman soldiers were looking to round up his followers. In Acts he has already ascended into the heavens, in John he keeps coming back and coming back and coming back again. No wonder they are afraid!
Then Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” followed by a display of his wounds on his hands and his side. As if to say, “See, here, this is what fearful people do to others.” Then he says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sends me so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Then all this stuff about forgiveness.
One suspects that when the Risen Lord breathes on you you feel it. You really really feel it. It moves you to a new and unexpected place. It sustains you, enlivens you and gives you the courage to walk out the door and do and say everything you do In His Name.
Next, he gives them power to forgive. How do you want your forgiveness? He teaches them to pray, forgive others as you wish to be forgiven. Don’t forgive and you carry it with you forever. That would be the retention part. Those who feel the breath are to become a community of forgiveness, forgiving the way we would like to be forgiven.
How hard is that? Look at his hands and his side. And consider what is really being said here: get outside of this locked room! Get out in the world! It’s time to make things new that never were! No time to sit around and be afraid. It is time to blow the world into a new world of Shalom and Forgiveness. Shalom. That would be his word, not mine. Peace is about as anemic a translation of Shalom as we can imagine. Shalom means justice and peace for all people. Not some people, not a lot of people, not most people, but ALL people! Shalom means respect and dignity for ALL people. Shalom means seeking and serving Christ in ALL people. Shalom means taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
One day when our daughter Cerny was still in grade school she asked me, “Dad, what’s the common good?” This was her homework assignment. We talked about it. I should have said, “Jesus calls the common good Shalom.” He breathes on us. God breathes in us. The Spirit blows us away! So that we might have life and have it abundantly. So that we might be energized. So that we might be driven out the doors! So that we might get out into the streets and provide for the common good. For all people. What the Bible is all about is The Common Good combined with a huge helping of forgiveness.
In the end, my friends, it is all about this Shalom he talks about. My goodness, he says it over and over again. He calls us to receive his Spirit and his Shalom. It is up to us to accept it, get out of here and work for the common good. That is Pentecost. It does not get any simpler than this: Time to make things new that never were!
So blow this day, wind/ blow here and there, power/ blow even us, force/ Rush us beyond ourselves/ Rush us beyond our hopes/ Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world. Come, come spirit, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire!