June 5, 2022 * Pentecost Sunday, Year C
Lessons of the Day: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; Psalm 104; John 14:8-17, 25-27
I had a professor in seminary who gave us a most peculiar assignment. As class ended one day, as we were all packing up our things, as she was at the door preparing to leave the classroom she turned back to us, “Oh! You have an assignment for next week! Write an essay.” And then she left! The students were just a little confused. We waited for a few moments for the professor to return with the remaining instructions; but, she didn’t come back. We rushed out to the breezeway to find her but by the time we got there, she was gone! Since the class was an exploration of Jewish wisdom, I wrote a short essay on the meaning of the Hebrew word for “wisdom.” The essay wasn’t actually important, as we would discover. The point of the exercise (as I remember) was to explain why instruction is important. Instruction, of course, is what Jewish wisdom is really about.
Today’s sermon is not about Jewish wisdom but it is about instruction. Indeed, today I want to offer some instructions for Pentecost. Doesn’t Pentecost sometimes get treated with vagueness: It remains blurry because it happened to the apostles and a few other disciples behind closed doors some two thousand years ago! We might look at it as a birthday party, when the church was born, and celebrate ourselves for a few hours! If we are lucky, this day will become our yearly reminder that there is indeed a third person of the Trinity. And those things aren’t bad for Pentecost is all of that! But we have a tendency, I think, to overlook the broader implications of Pentecost, the implications that beckon us to new life for the new kingdom in a transformed world.
So today, I’m going to offer some instructions on how we can make Pentecost our own, how we can invest in Pentecost, and begin walking in the Spirit today. I’m going to start today in a rather unusual place, with a song by Jimmy Buffett. While I’m not a huge Jimmy Buffett fan (famous for his “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Margaritaville”), one of his songs came up on a Spotify album a few weeks ago that struck me and made me think of Pentecost. The first verse:
I bought a cheap watch from a crazy manJimmy Buffet, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On
Floating down canal
It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands\
It always just says now
Now you may be thinking that I was had
But this watch is never wrong
And if I have trouble, the warranty said
Breathe in, breathe out, move on.
Did you hear the bridge: Breathe in, breathe out, move on. I think those are absolutely wonderful instructions for Pentecost.
First, “breathe in.” Our biblical narrative begins with the depiction of God breathing over cosmic chaos.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless, and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” ().Genesis 1:1-2
The Hebrew word for “Spirit,” ruach, also means (variously) “breath” or “wind.” The opening scene of Genesis depicts God breathing over the formless chaos, bringing it into order with creation springing forth.
Moreover, consider the second creation myth in Genesis 2 in which creatures are described as having “the breath of life.” God’s breath is placed within all living things. In the act of creation, God imparts life into his creatures, a life that is connected within the Lord’s sustaining power. In a unique moment, God’s breath is imparted into the one who bears God’s image. God does not merely bestow life upon humanity, God places God’s breath within them. In the creation of Adam, we read that “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Similarly, Job remarks that “the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). So, breathe in the Spirit, the breath of God that gives life.
Second, “breathe out.” God’s breath does not only create life but also brings about new life. God’s breath re-creates. We see this in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. Here the bones are re-animated when the breath of God is placed within them. In fact, there is a distinct moment in the vision where the bones are assembled with tissue, muscle, and skin, but do not yet possess the force of life. Ezekiel records “I looked and tendons and flesh appeared on them, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them” (Ezekiel 37:8). The full animation of the lifeless bones occurs only when the breath of God flows within. “So, I prophesied as he commanded, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast army” (Ezekiel 37:10). This vision of the dry bones, animated by the breath of God, becomes a wonderful picture of resurrection. God breathes new life.
For many of us this year, we have felt as if we are living in the “valley of the shadow of death.” It has not been a year for easy breathing. The pandemic made it, quite literally, impossible for many to breathe, and all who have been lost are God’s beloveds. All of us have been wary of our own breath in this season — not wishing to bring harm to others, while also trying to protect ourselves. As in the Book of Acts on that first Pentecost, the Spirit revives us, breathing new life into our community.
But those on whom new life was breathed, for whom the Spirit revived their souls, did not then just hold their breath and keep the Spirit to themselves. Instead, those disciples breathed out again! They breathed out the Spirit as they proclaimed the good news “and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). This is where we come in! The breath of God has breathed new life into us, now it is our turn to breathe the same breath into the world, to revive dry bones.
Third, move on. The book of Acts is a story of God using ordinary people to create a new world through the power of the Spirit. What is portrayed in the book of Acts isn’t just a sober description of what is, of a world dominated by Caesar, where enmity and selfishness and greed keep men and women estranged and tearful. Acts, instead, display a stubborn refusal to keep quiet, a tenacious refusal to accept the world as unalterable and given. Acts is a story of a people willing to be empowered, where the ending is far from fixed and the outcome not predetermined. Acts is the story of God breaking through, of the Spirit’s disruption, and of a people’s response to that disruption.
Pentecost should remind us to expect God to do something extraordinary with ordinary people. Pentecost says the forces of domination don’t control us. The grace of God that the world witnessed in the life and ministry of Jesus showed up at Pentecost as the promised Holy Spirit turning ordinary women and men into extraordinary disciples.
We are the spiritual descendants of that Pentecost community of souls. We are the ordinary people empowered by the Spirit, just as they were. We have doubts, questions, and anxieties about what God will do with us, just as they did. We wrestle with daily situations in family, work, and community, just as they did. We are followers of the same Jesus, called by the same God, and can be instruments of Pentecostal power from the same Holy Spirit that changed those trembling souls. Signs of Pentecost power are still before us! Yes, the forces of greed, selfishness, violence, hate, fear, and oppression still surround us; but, they do not rule us. You and I, like the first followers of Jesus, are a Pentecost people; we are Holy Spirit-powered forces of God’s love, hope, truth, and joy in the world. We are here to make the kind of difference in our time that the women and men of the first Pentecost made in the narrative of Acts.
Those first disciples were not understood. They left their Pentecost experience and people thought they were drunk. They were criticized, persecuted, shunned, jailed, violently mistreated, and unjustly condemned. Pentecost people aren’t always popular but Pentecost power doesn’t come from popularity. Pentecost power doesn’t come from profitability. Pentecost power doesn’t come from violence. Pentecost power comes from the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, truth, justice, and peace. Pentecost power doesn’t come from fear; it comes from the Spirit of hope.
We are a Pentecost people, the spiritual descendants of the first ones. The Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we can become mighty signs of God’s grace, truth, hope, and joy in the world. So let it be our prayer that the world will see signs of Pentecost in our lives. Let the world hear sounds of Pentecost in our voices. Let the world feel the touch of Pentecost in our deeds. Let the world see the joy of Pentecost in our faces. Let the Spirit of love live through us! Let the Spirit of truth work justice and peace through us! Let the Spirit of hope overcome fear and pain through us!
God has given us the Holy Spirit, so breathe in, breathe out, and move on! We are signs of Pentecost in this time and in this place. Amen.