Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost 2011

Preached @ St. Anne’s, Damascus, 6/12/11 - John 20:19-23


e are gifted two differing accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples today. The first, in our Acts reading, involves fire and wind and speech. The second, from the Gospel of John is the gentler scene of Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying to them “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Two different scenes, two different remembrances, each provide a glimpse of the activation of the third member of our Trinity, that wily Holy Spirit.

Having two different accounts might seem confusing, odd. But anything to do with God, any time we try to describe that which cannot be described….anything to do with God calls for the usage of imagination and artistry and flexibility. For, our writers today are attempting to articulate something that is indescribable. In Acts, the disciples were all together in one place, then a violent wind rushed onto them, and divided tongues, as of fire, settled over them. As of fire…. Right there, we have the author of Acts using imagination, asking us to do the same, to try to explain this event that happened to all of them…..and can and does happen to all of us.

As of fire, the author of Acts says. If we think about fire, there are many aspects that make this imagery complicated. For fire can warm us, as in a hearth or around a campfire. It provides illumination in a dark place. Fire can burn us, scar us, scare us, destroy possessions, can take life. These are very strong and disturbing images of the Holy Spirit. Fire also can cleanse. Think about those ravaging forest fires that are raging in Arizona. After those horrific fires are extinguished, a short while later, new growth, new green does appear from the devastation. .

Our liturgical color today is red, evoking this image of fire. We enter the time after Pentecost tomorrow, and our liturgical color changes to green. Fire (and red) symbolizes for us a big change, a dramatic altering of how we interact in the world. And many of us yearn for those gigantic moments in our lives and our memories, quite often, can recall those events very clearly. But most of life (hopefully) is stable and calm and filled with slow growth, as the color green evokes. Excitement is only part of the story today: it certainly kick starts the disciples ministry, and ours. But the job of our working to effectuate the kingdom’s development here and now, calls for slow and balanced and methodical work, prayer and sacrifice.

This leads to the imagery in our Gospel from John today. John provides a different understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit. We heard these verses at the beginning of our Easter season. These verses were part of the Gospel reading for the Sunday right after Easter. What’s left out today is Thomas’ questioning of those disciples who first witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. The point of that Gospel reading was all about our coming to believe over the course of our lifetime….. A different focus then today. Today the focus is on Jesus breathing on the disciples and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The imagery of breath pervades through Scripture. Jesus breathed the Spirit onto his disciples, harkening back to one of the creation stories in Genesis and God breathing into the nostrils of Adam, giving life. This gift of life, like the gift of faith that God grants us, comes to each of us through our own journeys, living in intentional community, worshipping and sharing all of life’s moments: the treasured and the tragic…. These differing images in our Scripture readings today show us the complexity of life, the complexity of God: power, fire, wind, and yet also that still, small, quiet voice we so often hear and to which we often do not pay attention.

So we have a diversity of imagery to describe what happened to the disciples behind those locked doors…. All of us learn differently, think differently, so having this diversity of approaches is important. And this idea of diversity ties in wonderfully with our reading from First Corinthians were the diversity of gifts given by the Spirit are celebrated by Paul. Paul says, in part, To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one…wisdom…to another knowledge….to another faith…to another healing…to another miracles…to another prophesy… to another…discernment…to another…tongues….to another…interpretation.

We pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In those prayers today, we want to be energized by its fire, enlivened by God’s breath, filling us with desire to fulfill our responsibility to act for the common good. And that energy and enlivening are meant to sustain us in the long green season we are entering, were steady and continual growth and development, help us to accept the change that comes with growth. This Holy Spirit that is the indwelling of God within us, is meant to challenge and change us. And change is never easy, in anything we do in our lives. But that is part of what we are called to this Pentecost day: an open-hearted willingness to walk into the new and accept that which comes with grace and humor and thankfulness.

Jan Berry, the lyricist and writer, wrote a poem that is called “Exuberant Spirit of God” that sums up my prayer for all of us this Pentecost day. It goes like this:

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Bursting with the brightness of flame

Into the coldness of our lives

To warm us with a passion for justice and beauty,

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Sweeping us out of the dusty corners of our apathy

To breathe vitality into our struggles for change,

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,

Speaking words that leap over barriers of mistrust

to convey messages of truth and new understanding,

We praise you.

Exuberant Spirit of God,




Burn, breathe, speak in us;

Fill your world, and us, with Justice and with joy.



Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: First Blooms, 2011, jfd+

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