Pentecost – June 4, 2017
Consider creation. Genesis tells us that God made humanity from two ingredients. One is dust, mud, dirt, the stuff we now find under our feet. God shapes us from this earthy clay like a kid making a mud pie. But, the Creator does not stop there. God breathes into this shape made from mud, God’s own breath, and the human becomes alive, a creature of matter and spirit. It’s God’s own breath that makes us live.
Today, on Pentecost, we hear that the Lord sends a mighty wind not only down one Jerusalem street, but throughout creation in order to fill a dead world with fresh breath and call back to life the corpse of humanity.
Pentecost means that Easter is not a private affair for Jesus and a few friends. Jesus rose, not for himself alone, but as the front man for an entire new creation. The Holy Spirit comes as a breath of fresh air for all who want to breathe.
A second creation happens: dust and dirt and mud are infused and invigorated with the sublime Spirit of God, and creation gets rolling in a new and better way.
But have you ever noticed that the arrival of the Holy Spirit doesn’t remove the disciples from challenges and hardships, but instead equips them to persevere, even flourish, amid the challenges? And do you also notice that this seems to be the unified witness across the New Testament about the Spirit’s work?
In John, for instance, the disciples are hiding in the upper room out of fear that those who crucified Jesus may come after them. And what does Jesus do as he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them? He doesn’t take them away from Jerusalem or fortify the room in which they’re hiding, but instead he sends them out into that dangerous world: “As the Father sent me, so I now send you” (20:21), and then he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to create in them the courage they will need to follow Jesus’ command.
In Acts, the disciples are waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit and, once it comes, they go out to proclaim the good news to people they had good reason to believe would be at least skeptical if not outright hostile to their message.
Again in Paul, the Spirit is given to enable individual believers to look beyond their individual needs, hopes, or fears and equip them with distinct gifts, all in order to work together for the “common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
Throughout these passages, we get the sense that the Spirit isn’t some kind of super hero sent to rescue us, but is the one who equips, encourages, and stays with us, helping us perceive the needs of our neighbors and community and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with tenacity and courage.
The Spirit is described as parakletos, the one who “comes along side” of us, the one who advocates for us, remains with us, strengthens and helps us.
I think we often hope that the Spirit will just plain save us, or at least take us away from whatever challenges seems to threaten to overwhelm us in the moment. But the operative preposition with the Spirit seems to be with rather than from – as in being with us during challenges rather than taking those challenges away from us.
Easter needs Pentecost. This is the way Fred Craddock puts it…
Without Pentecost, Easter reminds the church that Jesus has now gone to be with God and his followers are left alone in the world. Without Pentecost, Easter offers us a risen Christ whose return to glory leaves the church to face the world armed with nothing but fond memories of how it once was when Jesus was here. But with Pentecost, Easter’s Christ promises to return and has returned in the Holy Spirit as comforter, guide, teacher, reminder, and power. With Pentecost, the church does not simply celebrate but participates in Easter. With Pentecost, the risen Christ says hello and not good-bye to the church.
Easter needs Pentecost. And you and I need Pentecost, and here’s why…
Think of those times when you felt defeated. Personal circumstances had beaten you down. People you trusted had not proven faithful to that trust. The journey of life had reached a dead-end, and the path was so tight there wasn’t even enough room to turn around, much less go in a new direction. And just when it seemed you couldn’t take it anymore, the Holy Spirit of God came, and as he did in Ezekiel’s valley, breathed new life into your dry and brittle bones. And you knew that your life was worth claiming once again, was worth asking for, was worth seeking.
We are Easter people, yes, but even with Easter we still need Pentecost.
Think about creation again. Plants. Trees. Barbara Crafton has this to say about Jesus and the biblical metaphor from Isaiah: A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: Interesting — it is out of the stump that a fresh green shoot will come. A stump that has been hacked to the ground. Chop down a tree and leave the roots in place — a dozen small green shoots, miniature tree branches, will sprout from its ruin. It looked at the time as if the tree of Jesse was all but dead — hacked to the ground. Israel was occupied by the Romans, and the local political leaders were a joke. But the roots were still in place: they had their tradition, their hopeful scriptures, their longing. This was not the first time when hope had seemed lost — the whole story of Israel was one of defeat and rebirth. The whole story of humankind is that story, too. My story is that story. Yours, too. Into every life, defeat. There isn’t anyone who never loses. But with every defeat, there is always the promise of rebirth. Curiously, also, it is often at precisely the spot of our wounding that our hope takes root — not somewhere else in our lives. The new growth springs directly from the ashes of defeat. To help a plant grow stronger, you wound it — snip off some terminal growth and the plant bushes out below the spot where you snipped. Make a slit in a woody stem, wrap it with sphagnum and keep it moist, and it will grow new roots from the wound. People in biblical times knew these things — they grew plants for food. They knew about shoots of hope from wounds. We moderns won’t know it from experience, not unless we are gardeners. Maybe you’ve never seen a plant regroup. Never seen roots grow up out of a stump. Go out for a walk and notice the plants, though, and you will not have walked for long before you see it happening: new life springing right from the scars of the old life’s defeat. Then talk to just about anybody and ask her to tell you about her life, and you will see it again, maybe even more clearly than she sees it herself: something new springing straight from the death of something mourned. Have you lost something you thought you could not live without? As long as you’re alive, your roots are still in place. Watch them, and soon you will see something green begin. (Barbara Crafton) Easter needs Pentecost. The breath of God, the Spirit, is still blowing.
Every day can be a small Pentecost as we recognize the Spirit in us and among us. Every day we can praise God’s deeds of power.
Rather than do much of what we usually do, we can do something different and refreshing. We can look around, consider what’s happening, and answer some questions.
- How is God at work in this situation?
- How is God at work among these people?
- How is God at work in the circumstances of my life?
- How is God at work in this home, this school, this place of employment, this church, this community, this world?
Often we give our attention only to what is wrong, what is regrettable, what is dull. We miss ways in which, even now, God is breathing divine breath into the ordinary mud of ourselves and each other. God is still practicing the divine art of resurrection. The Holy Spirit comes as a breath of fresh air for all who want to breathe.
Happy Pentecost! Amen.