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Sermon: Pentecost Year A

The Rev. Eileen Weglarz

May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

At Pentecost, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”… and there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues like little flames of fire appeared among them. And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Spirit. Wind. Breath. These three English words are translations of the same single word in the original languages of the Bible, ruah in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. Genesis chapter 1 pictures the creative Spirit-Wind-Breath of God moving over the face of the deep in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 recounts God breathing the Spirit-Wind-Breath of life into a lump of clay, making a living human being. And who can forget Ezekiel’s depiction of the exiled people of Israel as like a valley of dry bones whom God will resurrect by breathing into them the Spirit-Wind-Breath of God.

Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church. It is the day when God breathed the breath of new life and the fire of Divine Presence into the Church through the preaching of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, the one who brings peace, life, and the forgiveness of sins to a broken and dying world. 

But the other biblical images of God’s Spirit-Wind-Fire remind us that Pentecost is more than just the birthday of the Church. It is God’s act of life-giving renewal for the whole creation. Through the Church, God blesses and gives life to the people. As Veselin Kesich wrote in The First Day of the New Creation (Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), “The Spirit is sent to us by the Son, the Son is revealed to us by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a substitute for Christ, but prepares us for Christ, forms him in us, makes him present in us.”

And when that happens, we can all be transformed into God’s image from one degree of glory to another.

From fear to confidence,

From old creation to new creation,

From self-centered story to God-centered story.

It is a gift to have this story going on in our lives right now. And if that is truly the case with each one of us, what a joy to be the ones who get to invite others into the story!

The disciples were huddled in fear when everything changed for them and their world was turned upside down—fear of Rome, fear of the other Jews in the established religious institution. They feared for their very lives for being considered heretics.

We aren’t much different from them today. Every day we are living in fear. Look at what is going on around us. People are dying by the thousands from a history-making pandemic. And our country is in chaos over yet another incidence of police brutality to a black brother.

The other day Tom and I were planning the music for the next two months, and before we pick hymns I like to briefly skim over the readings for each week. Do you remember, Tom, what I said about many of the Old Testament readings coming up in the weeks ahead? Lots of stories are coming up concerning family dysfunction and fighting. And look at the human family—dysfunction in the form of racism and appropriate outrage over the fact that it still exists after 400 years in this country!

By the way, it might be time for you to put on your crash helmet and fasten your seatbelt because it’s time to get real. And real isn’t going to feel too good. Apparently not much has changed in more than 2000 years since Jesus came to change and transform life as we know it. What a sacrilege, what a crime! 

When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they became emboldened to share the Good News of Jesus. They began a period that would last for several hundred years—forming, correcting, and creating a theology, praxis, and system of spiritual authority. THEY WERE ENLIVENED AND GIFTED TO DO THE WORK OF JESUS—TO BE THE BODY OF JESUS ON THIS EARTH AND CARRY FORTH HIS MISSION. And yes, in the end every one of the original disciples died a martyr’s death, just like Jesus.

Friends, Rome and a stagnant religious system still exist, in both government and in the Church, a Church that is more interested in historical institutional practice than in transforming the world still exists in many places. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to come and transform us! And give us courage! Heal our emotional and psychological dysfunction stemming from unresolved childhood issues! Give us a hunger and thirst for God’s Word and God’s Ways! Get us out of our egos and self-centeredness and into our hearts and spirits!

If that had happened for some of our law enforcement personnel, we wouldn’t have seen police brutality. I’m only going back to 1991 and the death of Rodney King, and then leading all the way to our current time: Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Antwon Rose, Jr., Ahmaud Arberry, Breanna Taylor, and most recently George Floyd.

Don’t you find it interesting and pathetic that several of these people cried out, “I can’t breathe?” They were deprived of breathing! The very breath of God that gives life, God’s ruah, was denied to several of these people, this past week George Floyd. America watched in horror as Officer Derek Chauvin intentionally put his body weight on Floyd’s neck with his knees. And then another officer stood there, watching the whole thing, taunting Floyd by telling him to get up and get in the car when he couldn’t even move! 

Maybe, the men we thought were police officers were imposters—people dressed as police officers, because they certainly did not portray the training, integrity, and moral values of a “normal” police officer. And disclosure: My father was a city cop, so I am not a cop hater. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to come and transform us!

Now, before we become too smug, news flash. In some families, and in our Church families, we see similar behavior. We might not be physically killing each other, or at least we don’t think we are, but there are some at work who “kill” the very life of the Spirit and vision for mission in church meetings with negativity, anger, personal fears, and dysfunction. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to come and transform us!

And there are those in any environment and place who “kill” the reputations of others by lying and spreading false, misleading stories about people. And there are those who “kill” the good health of others by raging at them and demeaning them. Do you know that negative energy directed at a person actually kills cells in the person’s body? 

Do you know that negative energy directed at a person actually damages that person’s immune system? Do you know that hatred continuously directed at another person can shorten that person’s life? Not to mention what it does to the perpetrator’s health and very soul. Sadly, they will have to answer to Almighty God. By the way, what I am talking about is physiology and neuroscience.

We might not be kneeling on another person’s neck physically, but we might be doing it spiritually and energetically. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to come and transform us!

Friends, the hatred and fighting in our institutions and among our fellow human beings are ruining our society and our institutions. Are you as broken-hearted and angry at this injustice that we have recently witnessed in our country as so many are? What happened is SIN!

Are you ashamed of behavior you might have exhibited against someone that might have contributed to their broken spirit or health? If you committed these acts, you have SINNED!

And if you stood by on the sidewalk and did nothing while George Floyd gasped for his last breath; and if you witnessed someone being torn to shreds verbally by others and did nothing or said nothing—it’s the sin of omission. Remember our various prayers of confession in the prayer book: Things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid, sins by thought, word, and deed. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to come and transform us!

Sorry folks, but it’s time to get real! None of us gets out of this one unscathed. It’s time to stop flirting with SINS against humanity—the humanity Jesus died for. We tear to shreds decency and any positive energy that exists for good in this world. And when we do, we break the very heart of God. We might as well be watching Satan laugh at Jesus as he hangs on the cross in tortuous suffering. 

I can’t help but think of all the people who give their very lives trying to save others in this pandemic because of love and the breath of God within them. They get it! Thank God for them! They are examples for us. They died martyrs’ deaths. God rest their souls! And God protect those who are still serving in hospitals and essential services.

It’s time to open up our hearts and minds and spirits to God’s ruah, God’s Breath. To let the very breath of God wash over us, permeate us, and transform us. Only when humanity is willing to let the Great Spirit of the universe change us will we see changes in society, government, our families, and our institutions and churches.

When that happens, we will be like the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s vision. We will rise up—dead, dried up, broken bones that we are, and stand tall, full of God’s Breath and the Holy Spirit of Love, and again be the People of God! 

And like the first disciples, we will worship in the fullness of the Spirit, we will love in the fullness of God’s love, and we will get out there and grow the church, through our love and strength of faith, instead of whining about how the church is in decline, and being afraid of doing anything innovative or new to stop it!

Let us pray…

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Spirit of the loving God, descend upon our hearts. Melt us and mold us, God, into your image. For though you created us to reflect your grace and compassion, we frequently turn and pursue selfish paths.

Forgive us, Divine Creator, and when we are tempted again to go our own way in life, open our eyes and ears and hearts to your holy purposes. Take the dimness of our souls away. Fill us with gratitude for your abundant gifts, and use us in your service.

God of compassion and grace, hear our deep cravings for peace—peace in our hearts, peace in those relationships most significant to us, peace in the world. As we ponder the sobering toll that warfare and hatred take, remind us of your vision for human life.

In the midst of a world of suspicion, fear, violence, and greed, embolden us to plant holy seeds of justice and mercy and peace and hope. In our personal times of discouragement, Holy God, remind us that your mercy never fails, your compassion never ends.

Spirit of Pentecost, Spirit of freshness, Spirit of new life, teach us to love one another as we ought to love. Hear us now as we pray for our parish community, that we may become a place to deepen faith, proclaim peace, embrace community, welcome others, and serve our neighbor, all in the compassionate spirit of Jesus.

We pray also for people of all faiths around the world as they seek to embrace the holy passion of living for your glory, O God.

Hear us gracious God, as we lift before you the family and friends of George Floyd, and the City of Minneapolis, all in special need of your healing mercy and grace. And may George rest in peace in light eternal with you, and may he be able to breathe.

Spirit of God, descend upon our hearts. Stoop to our weakness and enliven us. We pray in the name of the One who came living and proclaiming a new way of life—Jesus the Christ. Amen.