This day is a day of hope, Pentecost is a day of promise that it won’t always be this way. Even here this morning, we can look into each other’s eyes, hear each others’ voices, it is a taste and a promise that we won’t always be physically distanced. There won’t always be a disease in our lungs threatening to take our breath.
We also believe, through the saving power of Jesus Christ, that there won’t always be a disease in our minds and hearts that threatens the breath of our brothers and sisters.
This is Pentecost, my brothers and sisters: that the people, “the crowd,” Acts says, “gathered,” and “was bewildered.” Because they heard the sound of a violent wind, and they saw tongues of fire, that element that is hottest, that destroys and cleanses, that kills and also makes new, that purifies, and that eats oxygen — steals breath — to keep itself alive.
This bewildered crowd came and starred at this strange sight:
A sight of people on fire by the indwelling of God’s spirit.
A sight of people set apart, not by their prejudice, or their richness, or their skin, or their education, but set apart by their faith in the God made known in Jesus Christ.
A sight of people who spoke in a language that was universal.
Everyone, all the crowd from all nations, Acts says, heard and understood the words and the story these people told in their very own tongue.
We read here the truth that the Holy Spirit brings together all the divisions of the earth. The indwelling breath of God heals all the fissures of humanity. The Ru’ah of creation burns up tribal divides and makes one people, the people of God.
The work of the devil is division and dissension. The work of darkness is the work of nation rising up against nation. I am not talking about China, or about Britain, or about Russia. I am talking about the divisions that are deep in our own community, the suspicion of someone because of the color of her skin. The fear of another human, of another beloved child of God, because of the holes in his clothes and the smell of his body.
Pentecost is the day that bewildered the world, that confused the crowds, because nations and peoples, tribes, and families, are supposed to keep to themselves, they’re supposed to not mix and not understand one another. It’s been that way since Babel.
Back in Genesis 11, the people of the earth come together and know that they can overthrow God. That they do not need some God separate from themselves, they are great enough. They can do enough. They can do their best, and they can succeed.
And the tower that they build crumbles. The efforts of humanity, unblessed and unsubmitted to God, fail. They fail when humans seek their own glory, they fail in war when nation rises up to subdue another nation. They fail in confusion when trust erodes — when conspiracies are lifted up and waved about like flags, when words are used for fear and for finding your own safety, for raising you up against your neighbor, for discounting another’s words because they don’t fit your perspective of truth.
So what is truth, and where do we find truth, and how do we know that it’s the truth, and not a conspiracy, and not words to oppress, and not a spirit of fear, and not an angel of death?
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, “and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground — then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the round and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” In the beginning, God breathed his own indwelling spirit, his own Ru’ah, into the nostrils of humanity. The breath in us is sacred, and the breath in us is true. If a body does not breathe, it dies. The truth is as simple as that.
Then in John, the second beginning (the new beginning, the beginning again), Jesus came and stood among them, on the first day of the week, and he said, “peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side, and he said 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.”
The indwelling Spirit of God, the Ru’ah of God, the breath of God, fills every lung, fills every heart.
The spirit of fear, of racism, of suspicion, of hate, of darkness and evil and sin, this spirit drives out breath. The spirit of evil crushes the windpipe of our humanity. This is also the truth.
It is the truth that each of us has the virus of evil in our lungs and in our hearts. We are, each of us, capable of great evil. We are, none of us “doing our best.” We are, none of us, “doing enough.” Doing enough, doing our best, this is not God’s Kingdom, this is not truth, this is not the grace of God.
It is God who has done enough. It is God who has done his best. God has given his Son, God has raised this Son — this Son killed by the state, killed by evil, killed by men — God raised this Son from the dead. God has put the breath of life inside each of us. God gives the grace. God gives true hope.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is truth. It is a lie that we are different and divided, it is a lie that we are against one another. It is a lie that there is not enough money or love or food or roofs or safety. It is a lie that people must be oppressed for others to thrive. God made of one blood all the people of the earth. God sent his blessed son to preach peace to those who are far-off and to those who are near.
God, grant that people everywhere may seek after you, and find you. Bring the nations into your fold. POUR OUT YOUR SPIRIT UPON ALL FLESH — we ask with trembling and also with desire — AND, LORD JESUS, HASTEN THE COMING OF YOUR KINGDOM. AMEN.