Today, around the world, Christian Churches are celebrating Pentecost, a remembrance of the moment God breathed Christ’s church into being.
To honor this day, I invite you to take a deep breath, hold it for as long as you can, then let it out as wildly as you can. Ready? Let’s try it.
Now hold on to whatever you are experiencing. Because as you will see in our reading, Pentecost is a time when the Breath of God came rushing in like a wild wind, blowing in a new era.
Up to this point, the disciples were waiting for the Advocate, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, to show up as Jesus had promised before his ascension. Believing Jesus meant what he said, the disciples don’t just sit there twiddling their thumbs. They use the time to share to the gospel, and to create a new kind of community – one that lives out the gospel, and the way of Jesus. As they gather together, something incredible happens.
READ: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ~ Acts 2:1-4
The Spirit of God is a tricky thing. It can be difficult to grasp on many levels. Yet, it’s a profound part of creation and an intimate part of God’s being. With a quick word study, you’d see the Hebrew word ruâch and the Greek word pneuma, which are used to describe the Holy Spirit, also mean wind and breath.
Wind is easy to explain. I can feel it and hear it or watch it as it lifts up kites or kicks up dust. Same with breath. On cold days I can see it. Every morning I can smell it. And anytime I exercise I always hear it. Breathing is such an automatic response, that we rarely even think about it until we can’t do it.
But Spirit is something unique. It has no particular scent, or shape or form. It seems invisible and hard to grab hold of. And yet it’s not. We can sense it and feel it. Henri Nouwen described it best when he said, “In the Holy Spirit, God comes to be as close to us as our own breath.”
No wonder the same word is used to describe wind, breath and Spirit.
In Genesis, God’s Spirit is used to breathe life into all creation. It was the first thing to BE and it has never ceased to be. Because of this, we can believe God’s Spirit has never left us. It’s the air in the atmosphere. The wind that kisses our skin. The breath that fills our lungs. No matter where we are, what situation we find ourselves in, the Spirit of God is present - always leading us back to God’s perfect love and grace. It seems a shame to only celebrate it once a year.
If COVID has done anything good in the world, it’s brought our attention back to our breath. Here is a virus that, in most cases, attacks the respiratory system. Many who were infected did not survive, even when they had ventilators to help them breathe. But even those who didn’t get sick were made aware of their breath. Each time I put on my mask, I was mindful of my own breathing every time my glasses fogged up.
Although being fully vaccinated has helped me breath a little easier, I can’t help but think God used this pandemic to tell us something. “Slow down. And breathe.” The Holy Spirit, the very Breath of God, is an invitation to breathe life in. But it is a gift given with purpose.
I believe we are given God’s Spirit so we can share the Spirit of God’s love with “every breath we take, every move we make” to quote Sting.
Of course, COVID wasn’t the only pandemic that infected our country, or made us aware of our breathing. It was barely a year ago when a cell phone recorded George Floyd pleading, “I can’t breathe.”
I don’t recall how many times he said it before he died, but his murder exposed the truth about the sin of racism, a deadly virus that threatens the very spirit of our country, and the Spirit that breathes life into the body of Christ.
But here’s the amazing thing. As one man let go of his final breath on the streets of Minneapolis, God’s breath came roaring through the streets of our communities like a wild and raging cyclone. Like it did in ancient Jerusalem, God’s breath filled people’s lungs; empowering new voices to stand up against injustice and demand equality for all.
Again, Pentecost isn’t a onetime event. It happens every day. We need to honor it every day because where there is life, there is the Spirit of God – a gift given to the world so everyone might live life, and live it abundantly.
So, let’s take another deep breath. Hold it as long as you can. Notice your heartbeat. Feel how the air pushes against your chest and throat, begging to be released. Now let it out. It feels good, right? Just as God invites us to breathe in the Holy Spirit, God doesn’t expect us to hold on to it. We have to let it out.
In a Pentecost sermon given years ago, Barbara Brown Taylor told her congregation, “The same Spirit of God that had entered Mary and given birth to Jesus, has entered those who believed so that God could be born again.”
With a single breath, God transforms disciples into apostles. And empowers them to create communities of God’s love throughout Asia Minor, northern Africa, and southern Europe. Imagine, then, what the Spirit of God can do through us.
There are over 2 billion people claiming the name of Christ. The Christian Church alone has over 45,000 different denominations throughout the world. But how many of these churches resemble, even in the slightest bit, that first church?
Have we lost that thunderous roaring Spirit we once had? Has our infighting and division stripped us of our unity and vitality? You might be inclined to say yes. But let us not forget that while unity was instrumental in creating the church, uniformity was not.
The Spirit that moves in and around us, is as unique to us as our own breath. It speaks through everyone differently; revealing the diversity of God’s love and the many ways the gospel is proclaimed. Young, old, male, female, rich, or poor the Holy Spirit is given to anyone who wants it, because God’s love always needs to be proclaimed.
We need to always celebrate Pentecost if only because it reminds us that we are still a part that first breath that ushered in the first church. We, like them, are called to proclaim the gospel truth in all that we do, as the Spirit moves us to do so.
While churches might not always agree with one another on how to do things, we are still one body whose head is Jesus Christ. We share a common purpose – to spread the good news of God’s redemptive love to the furthest corners of the world.
Again, Henri Nouwen said it best. “The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.” That’s our mission. To be like living Christ’s in the world - loving God, loving others, and serving both.
Here’s the thing I hope you have come to realize: God uses the Holy Spirit to anoint ordinary people like you and me, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven and to bear the good fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With just one breath, God made us partners in a beloved community to complete the mission of Christ; extending God’s redeeming love to all people – strangers and neighbors alike.
Pentecost challenges us to live into that love by making Christ present in the midst of all that we do. This might mean wearing a mask a little while longer until the virus is no longer a threat. Or standing up and shouting out for racial justice and equal rights for all people. We can breathe in the power of God’s spirit. But we can’t hold it in forever. It must be shared.
This is our time to breathe like the Good Samaritan who showed such compassion for the injured stranger in the road. It’s time for us to breathe like that little boy, who with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, fed the hunger of the world.
It’s time to breathe like Jesus, who loved us so much he was willing to die for us. From his first breath in Bethlehem, to his final breath on Golgotha, Jesus proclaimed the good news with every breath he had. And the world has never been the same since.
So I hope you can see that Pentecost is not just a one-time event any more than it is an annual birthday celebration. It is the very gift of life from God, for the people of God. It’s the one thing that keeps our heart truly and fully alive. So let us take one big breath and let it out once again as a reminder of this life we’ve been given. Amen.
Bartlett, David L., and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.
Lindsay, Cheryl. Sermon Seeds for May 23, 2021 (accessed on May 19, 2021). www.ucc.org.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Day Book of Wisdom and Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home by Another Way. New York: Cowley, 1999.
Walker, Kathy. The Advocate for May 23, 2021 (accessed on May 19, 2021). www.episcopalchurch.org
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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