Reflection for Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

June 3-4, 2017
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3B-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23
Preacher: Margot VanEtten (Campus Minister, Newman Center at the College at Brockport)

A burst of flame
and the small group bursts out of their fear-locked room
crying out in all languages
undoing the curse of Babylon’s ill-conceived tower,
bringing the promise of new life to all people
in all their languages,
massed together in the Holy City…

Jesus breathes on his friends,
Breathing the gift of the Holy Spirit—
the Breath of God, the Wind, the Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation—
the Breath/Spirit, Ruach (in Hebrew, breath, wind and spirit)—
the very Breath of God entering them, bringing the power to release spirits shackled by sin.

With Pentecost we see the promise of God’s new creation, the Kingdom Jesus launched, brought to its full power.

The Holy Spirit is released over Jesus’ disciples, over all God’s new people—and over us, all these centuries later. The whole history of Israel is brought together, recapped and healed, and at last the promise that through Abraham’s seed all nations are to be blessed. And we are among those who receive that blessing, just as the first crowd who listened amazed in Jerusalem on that Pentecost.

We don’t look for tongues of fire to appear after the Bishop’s hand leaves the forehead of the newly-confirmed person, and we don’t expect to hear ourselves or our children suddenly speaking in foreign languages in the Cathedral. But if we had eyes to see, fire would be all over the place, and every Christian would glow.
Pentecost. The day the Church is fully born. The day the community of faith is animated by the Holy Spirit. But far more than a looking back to celebrate our beginning. Each one of us is inhabited by the very Breath of God. Like the tongues of fire above the disciples’ heads, that flame burns in the very core of our being; the pillar of fire that once terrified the Egyptians and guided the Israelites across the desert now makes its home – its Tabernacle—within each of us.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat in my office with some wounded soul, overwhelmed with the pain or difficulty she or he is sharing, with no idea on earth what to say or how to help them. But somehow, if I quiet my perplexed mind, from deep within some word, some idea, some thought wells up. The person brightens or visibly relaxes, and together we find a way forward. Meanwhile, part of my mind wonders “where on earth did that come from?”

That’s the Holy Spirit at work. We’ve all had moments like that—whether it’s Martin Luther King throwing away some of his prepared text and moving heaven, earth and people’s hearts crying out “I have a dream,” or someone feeling a gentle nudge inspiring them to stop in a coffee shop—where she bumps into an old friend who desperately needs someone to talk to right now.

This morning I heard a young man named Joshua Weilerstein describe how, while at college studying to become a violinist, he went to the library and rented a DVD of a concert. Some guy he’d never seen before popped up next to him and asked if he was renting that DVD. Joshua said he was thinking about it. “If you watch it, it’ll change your life” was the cryptic reply as the stranger walked away. Lo and behold—he did, and it did! He watched the video. I forget what great conductor was in it, but by the end of the program Joshua knew that he wanted to be a conductor, not a violinist. Now he conducts some of the world’s great orchestras. (He never saw that stranger from the library again.)

The Holy Spirit, God’s very breath, God’s presence in our lives, whispering (sometimes shouting), working through strangers, or through the nudges in our own hearts. As followers—as friends—of Jesus, we are promised this gift, and all we need to do is open our hand and receive it. Pay attention. Look. Listen deeply. The same power that poured over Jesus’ small group of friends and disciples at
Pentecost is ready at every moment to burn within us. And when we let it, we can become a clear lamp for all that power, all the love of God, to pour into our world and bring light and joy to our little corner. (And sometimes, to people we don’t even know who will never see us again.)

Margot VanEtten
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