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 2:1-5
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.
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If COVID has done anything good in the world, it has 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 - to share the Spirit of God’s love with “every breath we take, every move we make.”
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.
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 communitiesf 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.
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
illustrations by Dreamstime.com ( https://www.dreamstime.com/illustration/breathing-exercises.html)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”