As church began, there was a feeling in my gut that was telling me to go be with my family. But of course, I ignored that holy prompt to be with my church family. Which, apparently, was the wrong decision. The Holy Spirit, who does not do subtle hints very well, just straight up shut off my phone and sent me back to the ICU.
It became clear to me that I was being sent to be the church by my father’s bedside instead of “playing church” in my father’s car in the parking lot. This is what the Holy Spirit does - she awakens us, empowers us, and moves us into place. Throughout Eastertide, we studied some of the different ways this went down with the Apostles in the book of Acts.
But today, as we move into the season of Pentecost, we meet the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the most ordinary and everyday way.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” - John 20:19-23 -
“To span the infinite gap between Divine and human, God plants a little bit of God—the Holy Spirit—right inside us.” As we see here in John’s gospel, that same little bit of God implanted in Jesus, is now a part of his followers all because Jesus breathed on them. (Rohr)
Last week I prepared this really cool illustration for Pentecost to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit breathed life into what we now call the Church.
In hindsight, I understand why that did not happen. This illustration works better with today’s reading. Again, that’s how the Holy Spirit works. To quote U2, “She moves in mysterious ways.”
God's Spirit is always a few steps ahead of us, always guiding us to where to go.
This is a balloon. But without air it’s really nothing more than a floppy, lifeless piece of rubber. Much like how life was with the disciples before Jesus came and inflated their weary souls with the Holy Spirit. They had been completely deflated by fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
They felt hopeless, lifeless, and isolated. And they locked themselves away, hiding in a house too afraid to be seen in public. Then a very resurrected Jesus comes in and breathes into them. It’s not just any breath, it’s God’s Breath. The breath of life.
(Blowing up balloon) When I fill the balloon up with air, notice what it does. It takes on a new shape and expands in all directions. It quickly becomes what it was created to be - something that brings joy and elation into the world.
Something similar happens with the disciples when Jesus filled their emptiness with divine power. They are inflated, stretched, and lifted to new heights. Like the balloon, the disciples become what they were meant to be: inheritors of Jesus’ breath.
But here’s the difference. Unlike a balloon, we humans can’t hold our breath forever. Eventually we have to let it out. Just as we breath in the Spirit of God, so too must we breathe it out.
Jesus comes and breathes the Holy Spirit in them as if to say, “Here. Take the life and power that was given to me and use it to do what I have done to you.”
Although John’s Pentecost story seems to be different than the ones we read in Acts last week, the message is still the same. God comes to us, breathes life into us, and sends us out to live the gospel.
This is what happened on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit rushed through the house like a holy hurricane. Those who inhaled God’s Spirit, immediately went out to share the good news.
The same thing happened to Jesus when the Spirit descended upon him like a dove at his baptism. First, he was sent into the wilderness, and then sent to the people of Israel.
The Holy Spirit is constantly on the move, always taking us along for the ride. Having accepted the Spirit from Jesus, the disciples take a part of him out into the world to love God, love others and serve both.
Since the very beginning of creation “God has been trying to give away God. Jesus shows us that the gift is free and totally available, as available as our breath.” (Rohr)
Whatever you’re facing today, the struggles of life, or the pain of being human you are just a breath away from the healing power of Jesus. That’s how close we are to God, whose Spirit is in us, moving throughout the spaces between us.
The same Spirit that hovered over the dark in Genesis and breathed God’s love into creation is the same Spirit that continues to hover and moves around all of life; breathing love into every living thing. Including you and me!
We are made out of God’s Holy Love. It’s our divine DNA! But don’t take my word for it. In his letter to the Roman churches, Paul boldly declared, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
We did not buy it, or download it, or steal it. It is given freely to us simply because God loves us. We are made from love, for love. It’s who we are. And what we are to be.
We take our first breath when we enter this world and give up our last one when we leave it. But what matters most in this life, is what we do with all the other breaths we’re given. How will we live into who God made us to be in the space between those two life markers?
Anamesa is that sacred and holy space between you and me where we are given an endless number of chances to make God’s love grow in us and through us and all around us.
I think this is why Jesus taught us not to worry about our past or future. He always directs our focus on the present, the here and now. Jesus knows this is where our love and attention is needed because this is where trouble is happening in real time.
Every day, and every breath we breathe is a chance to bear the good fruits of God’s Spirit. According to Paul, those fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
It should not surprise us that Paul puts love first. Because, as Leonardo Boff points out, “nothing shows the presence of the spirit in human life as well as love does.”
This is what being a church is all about. Our purpose, our mission and ministry in life, is to make God’s unconditional, life-giving, love our greatest priority. There is no better way to proclaim the gospel than to be a people who make love a thing that’s as common as breathing.
With the Spirit of God’s love, ordinary people like you and me can do extraordinary things - like forgive those who hurt us, be kind to those who hate us, or simply cross the road and tend to the wounds of those who need us.
Each breath we take is a reminder that God has invited us to partake in this Divine life, right here, right now.
God has entrusted us to honor and share the Spirit of love so peace, justice and equality can become a visible and tangible reality for all. We can use our holy breath to share the fruits of kindness and gentleness. But we can’t use it to produce hate. That is not God.
We can allow the spirit to move through us, to build communities where all people are accepted and honored. Or we can ignore the Spirit and put ourselves first. But when we ignore or reject God’s Spirit, we also ignore and reject God’s Son.
Pentecost is our reminder that we are not simply called to know Jesus or merely study his words; we are sent out into the world to live and breathe the Spirit of Jesus, the very power within us that moves us to live out his Way of Love. For it’s in the many ways we love one another, that the world will know we belong to him (John 13:35).
As a part of his divine body, we are also his holy breath, his sacred heart, his open hands. Like the balloon filled with the divine presence of God, may the divine love of Jesus expand in you.
May he fill you and help you rise above your limitations, and may he forever empower you to carry the life-giving breath of Christ into every space you find yourself in.
Boff, Leonardo. Come Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life, and Comforter of the Poor, trans. Margaret Wilde (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015).
Rohr, Richard. “Pentecost Sunday: The Divine Sparkplug,” homily, May 15, 2016.
Rohr, Richard. Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018)
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.”