Sermon for Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 2:1–13 | 1 Corinthians 12:1–13 | John 20:19–23
Pentecost is pretty big church celebration. Of course, we hardly hear about it culturally—unlike Christmas and Easter. (Medieval festival Whit Sun/day.) In terms of Jesus, however, besides his birth and death and everything in-between, Pentecost helps with that lingering question: “Okay. So what?” The stories handed down—that is, the gospels—tell about the man, Jesus, as healer and teacher; and wildly popular in some groups. And also unpopular as he critiqued the status quo. Certainly, he was apt at pointing out the human tendency to mix everything up and create suffering: But all of this is just like the flour and water and yeast that have yet to be combined; or allowed to rise; or baked into bread. Pentecost is the bread part: What Jesus kept pointing to and promising: Acts. 1: “Go to Jerusalem. Wait for it… wait for it.” And in John 16, “I’m going away but I’m sending the Spirit. And your weeping and mourning will turn to joy. You are loved. This is something that will stick with you and carry you through.” (My summary.) So, the Spirit that is hinted at and that we know, “happens big-time” on Pentecost as that process that brings it all together:
Our interior experience of God’s presence and love that is Spirit driven; the gathering and binding of community and the impetus to share the love and freedom that is accessible to us- that God would have the whole world know.
(Interior Experience) Now, I know we are—or at least I am—a bit suspicious of this Spirit thing: like the ones who say, “Wow, they must drunk.” In some ways, it’s very personal—and involves physical sensation and emotion—two things we are pretty suspicious of. But I think “Spirit” gives us a way to talk about these common experiences of this “Self” being part of something we can’t quite put a finger on—but that brings us into deeper understanding about who and what we are. It connects us to Creation and Created-ness, we hear that the the Spirit “moved over the face of the waters” before anything else we recognize existed: and IS the very breath of that animates humans. (Gen. 2) Hebrew and Greek cultures did not distinguish between wind and breath and spirit. The mysterious and miraculous movement of the wind was also the Divine moving in and out of their lungs: The miracle of human existence was connected in any air that moved. And hence, why some Jewish scholars believe that the name of God, YAH WEH, is not a word per se—but rather the sound that is made when we breath IN and OUT… In other words, you the Spirit is simply here. All around us. When we listen to the birds sing; or hear thunder follow lightening; sit in quiet amazement at mountain splendor; laugh with a friend; pray in silence. THAT is the Spirit.
(Community) Also—with wind and air—you cannot avoid breathing in the the same air—the same elements—that are shared by much of creation. Every breath takes in trillions of air molecules and only a few are useful to you: 2 lbs of oxygen is needed by your body every day. Studies show that oxygen from plants and spreads throughout the atmosphere of it’s hemisphere of origin in 2 months: Worldwide in one year. Which means, apparently, you have breathed the same atoms as Shakespeare and Jesus. (Curt Stager Your Atomic Self 2014). Which means we are connected to one another in this very basic way. This is important for the early Christian communities for cohesiveness and energy as they experience God’s Presence—to have this Divine wind/ breath/ spirit with them. And also, on the day of Pentecost, this profusion of languages that comes with the wind/ spirit/ breath is a way for people all around the globe to also have understanding of their experience: To hear the Word about Jesus who was God’s great communication of good news; of love for and between all who breath this air.
This has particular relevance as we think about how to be stewards of the literal air we breathe both in and out—in terms of viruses and particulates. It is also reminds us that there is no distinction with God’s Spirit in this diverse creation: (I included that second assigned reading as a reminder.) And we are stewards of the metaphorical air we all breathe: Our connectedness to prejudice and discrimination—and the harm they cause. Our mutual injury that courses through the air when we deny that God is a God of justice and righteousness—the Spirit speaking through the ages in the prophets: You must care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the alien among you—because in Biblical days (as often today)—there is imbalance, injustice. As there is today with being black in America—or even female—or... what else? Breath, wind and even fire are here to move us. The old ways aren’t working. There is no shame in admitting that. The Spirit will not let us collectively alone until we bear witness to all the earth of God’s love in Jesus. For the involvement of the Spirit is not just Creation, but re-Creation: The Psalm for today is 103: “You send forth your Spirit, and they | are [re-] created; and so you renew the face | of the earth.”
You know this is whole point of Jesus, right? This is the good news—otherwise, it is not good news. And it is not only for some. Diversity is inherent: Also, we all have good and different gifts to share in this work of the Spirit that is/ should be the church, per 1 Corinthians.
The Spirit is present in creation and continues to re-create in personal and global ways: It’s not going to always feel in-control; Hence “trust” in the Spirit, which is of God. We wait for God in the times of uncertainty—holding that space open for something different and new to happen with all the difficult feelings too—maybe anger: Instead of defending or even hating—even when the openness feels beyond our control—we also get joy; like the disciples “rejoiced” and Jesus promises. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, “Awe precedes faith.” God is in all of creation and when we see this, those moments of awe are Pentecost moments. The experience of your connection to God and Jesus: Which is, the Spirit. Pentecost moments will slowly break down the power of sin: As the gospel of John would define it—whatever keeps us from seeing and knowing that Jesus is what God looks like in a person: And I encourage you to take a close look at that. Jesus may not be what you think. (He doesn’t hate anyone.) Pentecost, like faith is general, is a shedding and a letting go: Of what I think. What I want. So God can just be God through me. In whatever language. Whatever place. So the world can know love. Thanks be to God. Amen.