Sermon for Sunday, May 31, 2020 || Pentecost A || Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23
Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus’ first followers to spread his loving, liberating, and life-giving message. If you were listening closely to the readings, you might have noticed we actually read two different versions of the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the first one from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit spirals into the house like a rushing wind from heaven and anoints the disciples with tongues like fire. In this story, we sense the glorious upheaval in the lives of the disciples as these elemental forces – wind, fire – disrupt and invigorate them to embrace their new ministry as Jesus’ witnesses.
In the second story from the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They lean in close as he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In this intimate story, Jesus delivers the Comforter, the enlivening companion the disciples need to be about their work.
You might ask, “Which story is right? Were the disciples given the Holy Spirit on Easter or on Pentecost?” The answer, as with most things in the Bible is, “Yes. Both.” But to dig a little deeper, these two stories of the gift of the Holy Spirit mirror the two Creation stories in the book of Genesis. In the first, the Creator God unleashes all the elemental forces of the cosmos, making starlight and water and earth and creatures. This story mirrors the rushing wind from heaven and the tongues of fire in the Pentecost story. In the second creation story, God walks through the garden, bends down, forms a human being out of the clay, and breathes life into the human’s nostrils. This intimate story is just like Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on his disciples in the upper room. We need both creation stories in order to have a clearer picture of God. God is both the transcendent creator and the immanent, intimate companion.
We also need both Pentecost stories in order to have a clearer picture of the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the disrupting, chaotic force that compels us to challenge all that stands in the way of God’s reconciling love, to move always towards the liberation of all Creation. And the Holy Spirit is the constant source of sustenance sustaining us each day of our earthly journeys. Without the first movement of the Spirit, we would easily fall into lives of complacency. And without the second movement, we would easily burn out in endless pursuit of righteous quests without the constant nourishment needed to see such quests through.
With these two images of the Holy Spirit in mind – the disruptive force and the constant comfort – I wonder how the Holy Spirit is present in your life at this time? How do these seemingly opposite roles – the disruptor and the comforter – play out in your life of faith?
For the rest of the sermon, allow me to offer some examples. These examples are far from an exhaustive list, but I encourage you to listen for a way in which the Spirit moves in your life or a way you wish the Spirit would move.
First, the prayerful impulse. Two weeks ago, I talked about the Spirit’s role in our prayer. When we decide to pray, we are actually responding to the Spirit’s invitation within us. The Spirit as disruptor makes us pause, change our heading, and respond. The Spirit as comforter helps us trust that when we respond, God is there.
Second, the creative impulse. Being made in the image of God means that God gave us the gift of imagining. The Creator made us to be creative. The Spirit as disruptor causes us to think, “What if?” The Spirit as comforter helps us take that creative spark and lengthen it into the creative process. First the idea, then the follow through.
Third, the discerning impulse (which we also talked about in a recent sermon). When we are lost and don’t know which direction to go, the Holy Spirit is present, beckoning us with its enlivening presence. The ancient biblical languages use the same word for spirit and for wind. The Holy Spirit is the unseen wind, which subtly pushes us in one direction or another. The wind is both constant (the comforter) and unpredictable (the disruptor).
So we have the prayerful impulse, the creative impulse, and the discerning impulse. Fourth, is the peaceful impulse. Right before Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends, he says, “Peace be with you.” This peaceful presence is the Holy Spirit as comforter. The Spirit as disruptor comes into play here because peace is not just the absence of conflict; it is the presence of justice, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said. The Holy Spirit acts as a disruptive force in our lives, urging us to challenge all systems of oppression that do not promote the dignity of people. The pandemic has continued unmasking racial and economic disparities in our country. In recent weeks, the racially-charged killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery revealed again and again the terrible truth of our country’s past and present: that the lives of people of color matter less and are more endangered than the lives of white people. The disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit compels us to confront and dismantle the cancer of white supremacy that has deformed our country from the beginning. And that means beginning within ourselves, asking the Spirit to reveal how we participate consciously and unconsciously in systems of oppression. Thus, the peaceful impulse is not about maintaining an unjust status quo, but about working towards new realities that extend peace wider and wider.*
This impulse of the Spirit leads directly into our last one in our short list of examples: the connecting impulse. We envision God as the Holy Trinity using words of relationship: Father, Son; parent, child. The loving flow between the two is the third person of the Trinity, whom we call Spirit. This same love connects us to God and to one another. The Spirit as comforter invites us to dwell in this love, to allow God’s love to permeate all our relationships. The Spirit as disruptor calls us to reach out and connect to people outside our comfort zones, to expand our realms of love. The disruptive Spirit grants us curiosity, which is the fuel for this expansion. The comforting Spirit grants us compassion, which allows us to love ourselves and our neighbors, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
Everyday we have the opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit in both disruptive and comforting ways. The Holy Spirit moves in our lives in prayer, creativity, discernment, peace, justice, and connection (to name a few). When we are too comfortable, the Holy Spirit will disrupt us. When we are in too much turmoil, the Holy Spirit will comfort us. So listen for the rush of the Holy Spirit’s disruptive wind. Feel the breath of Jesus warm on your cheek as he shares with you the Holy Spirit’s presence. And live each day with the expectation that the Holy Spirit is moving, enlivening you to embrace Christ’s loving, liberating, and life-giving Way.
Get started challenging racial injustice. Here are few resources:
65 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
Resources for the Season of Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi