The readings for Sunday, June 8, 2014:
First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
First Reading (Alt.): Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 37 (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b NRSV)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 2:1-21
Gospel: John 20:19-23
Gospel (Alt.): John 7:37-39
Ah, Pentecost, day of fire and wind and foreign languages.
Contemplate how much of Scripture circles around the breath of God. Reread Genesis--creation comes into being because God breathes it into life. Something similar happens in the Gospel of John. Jesus breathes on his disciples and transforms them. Likewise in Acts--that great rushing wind. For those of you in love with words and older translations, we often find the same word in these passages: Pneuma (yes, that root that creates our modern word of pneumonia).
The twenty-first century church, at least some branches of it, is in serious need of the breath of God. Perhaps you are too.
I often think of those first followers, who went out with the breath of God in them, and transformed the world. In the history of social movements, few have been as broadly successful as Christianity. My atheist friends would chime in that few have been as destructive--we both may be right. What an unlikely story: a small band of weirdly talented or distinctly ungifted men and women head out in pairs, carrying very little with them, and they survive enormous obstacles. In the process, they change the culture--and often, then, they move on. Think of the distances that they travelled--often on foot. Think of how hostile the culture was. You wouldn't be able to suspend your disbelief if you read it in a book.
The breath of God should transform us in the same way. Jesus transfers his powers to his disciples; we're given the power to do what he does. Now, if only we could believe it.
Maybe the key is to act as if you do believe it. You can do remarkable things, even if you don't feel like you can.
We start on a small scale. We go to church. Maybe we remember the weekly lessons on Monday. As years go by, we're better at being Christians throughout the week. We bolster our efforts with spiritual reading and prayer. As we find ourselves transformed, we transform those around us. Many of us stop at this stage or we run out of time--but some of us will go on to transform society: maybe we'll start a food pantry or create legislation that takes care of foster children. Maybe we'll challenge our home countries to look out for the civil rights of all. Maybe we'll issue the same challenge to other cultures. Hopefully, whether it be on a small scale or an international scale, no Christian can be immune to the call to care for the dispossessed, whether on a small, interpersonal scale, or a large, international scale.
It's also important to talk about the cyclical nature of the spiritual life and work. Even Jesus needed to retreat to solitude at times. Even Jesus had to practice self-care. If you feel that you've had the very marrow sucked out of your bones as you've cared for the world, maybe it's time to retreat. Even if you can't physically leave, you can let the machine pick up the phone and turn off the electronics. If you can't do much else, claim some time for the occasional nap. No one can go at an insane pace for very long and stay sane.
Pentecost is an overlooked church holiday. No church holiday gets as much time as Christmas, not even Easter. But Pentecost is such an important reminder of why Christmas happened. God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description.
So, receive the breath of God. For a powerful meditative exercise, you might imagine that as you inhale, God breathes into you. Breathe deeply.