Pentecost 2012: Breath

Acts 2: 1-21

We creep quietly into the room, peer over the side of the crib and look and listen.  We don’t hear anything, and we wait, holding our own breath to see the soft rise and fall of the baby’s chest.  She’s breathing.

Maybe this scenario takes place in a hospital room, although it is not very quiet here.  Machines beep, make that noise – whoosh – buzzers sound off … even the light seems loud.  Still, we tiptoe to the bedside, fearfully watching for the rise and fall of the sheet that shows us breath, and therefore, life.  We sigh, relieved, when we see evidence of that life-sustaining breath.

There are other types of breath:  the rasping, gasping breath known as the “death rattle;” it is painful even to hear, and in its presence we pray for peace, for quiet.  We feel guilty about wishing for the cessation of breath, but we wish and pray for it anyway.  Surely that breath is not about living, we think.  There is the joyful breath of a child trying to blow out a candle, even if the candles are too far away for a gentle breath to reach. “Whoo.”  We smile and give thanks for precious life among us.

Breath of the Holy Spirit comes to us quietly in the second creation story in the book of Genesis:  :then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  We read that breath gave us life …

And then there is the breath of Pentecost:  “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”  This sounds like a storm, a hurricane!  And it is an entirely new kind of breath.  On the feast of Pentecost, it is new life, life with and in the Holy Spirit, that comes into our bodies.  This is new life for those who are already breathing.  We are supposed to feel this rushing wind, know that it comes from God, and know that our lives are forever changed.

Have you ever been in the midst of a miracle?  Yes, no?  I experienced a tangible, quantifiable miracle one time and I did not and have not told very many people about it … what would they think?  When something strange or out of place happens, the first thing we do is look around.  Did someone else see that?  We catch someone’s eye, look for verification?  “Did you see that?”  “Did you?”  Did you hear anything?  I don’t know … did you?  And we come to a whispered understanding of what our story going forward will be.  God knows that we do this sort of thing.  And so God sends the Holy Spirit to us in a huge crowd, in the form of a rushing wind and tongues like fire.  It is hard to deny something as fantastic, as over-the-top, as that.  Because we were all there, and we all saw it and felt it and experienced it.  And we understood.  Maybe.

Peter helps us this day, and for those who stand by, sneering – we know who we are:  “What ARE they doing?  What are THEY doing.  They must be drunk.”  Peter declares that we (or THEY) are not drunk, and he reminds us of the words of the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is a miracle that will not be denied, will not and cannot be hidden.  We have looked at one another, felt the wind – the breath – and have seen the tongues like fire upon each and all of us.  God has brought us new life.  We are told to prophesy – sons and daughters, we shall prophesy.

How will we, the church manifested here today, prophesy?  How will we share in the breath and life of the Holy Spirit within our walls and outside of our doors?  We have updated and refurbished and put many physical things in place to make our worship space fresh and new.  How do we now show it off in a way that welcomes people into our midst and into the new life that the Holy Spirit has given us?

This congregation knows how to welcome people, and I challenge us to do exactly that:  to do what we are doing and to do even more.  Invite one another into your (our) homes.  Not comfortable with that?  I understand.  … Meet for lunch.  Meet for coffee right here, in the church, in the classroom, in the parish hall.  The church will provide the place, the refreshment; we offer ourselves, and the spirit of God that breathes life into each of us will provide all that we cannot ….  So come, and come together in the spirit of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

We are separated in time from the apostles and from everyone who was in Jerusalem at this festival.  We are not at separated from their situation.  The apostles and other followers of Jesus were trying to regroup after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.  They, like we, are trying to discern what a life of faith together looks like without the physical Jesus in our midst.  We continue to ask and discern, every day.

What next will set our hearts on fire?  What next will the power of the Holy Spirit do within us?  We are called to live in a new way, in a way that manifests the breath of the Holy Spirit living within us.

“Spirit filled souls are ablaze for God. They love with a love that glows. They serve with a faith that kindles. They serve with a devotion that consumes. They hate sin with fierceness that burns. They rejoice with a joy that radiates. Love is perfected in the fire of God.” ~ Samuel Chadwick

Again, we tiptoe, looking for life, listening and watching for breath.  Only this time, the breath is within us, and the life that of the Holy Spirit.  In what way will we make that breath be known?

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