12 June 2011/ Pentecost - Acts 2: 1-21/John 20: 19-23
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary, Baltimore, MD
Make Things New That Never Were
We name you wind, power, force, and then
imaginatively, “Third Person.”
We name you and you blow …
blow new …
Blowing the world out of nothing to abundance,
Blowing the church out of despair to new life,
Blowing little David a shepherd boy to messiah,
Blowing to make things new that never were.
So blow this day, wind,
blow here and there, power,
blow even us, force,
Rush us beyond ourselves,
Rush us beyond our hopes,
Rush us beyond our fears, until we enact your newness in the world.
Come, come spirit. Amen.
-Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, (Fortress, Minneapolis: 2003), p.167
This day we call Pentecost is about making things new that never were. Even Pentecost is made new. Formerly an agricultural feast, then a celebration of God giving God’s people Israel Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and now it is transformed again as that day when the wind blew, or the breath blew depending on your reading, and the gift of the Holy Spirit transformed fearful, hiding, cowering people into hopeful, public, proclaiming people.
That is, there is some blowing going on: “a violent wind” in Acts, a breath in John. In my favorite Terry Gilliam movie, Baron Munchausen, the Baron has some sidekicks: one with incredible vision, one with incredible speed, one with incredible strength, and one with incredible lung-power. Gustabus can blow over an entire platoon of soldiers with a single breath! So when we read of Jesus blowing on the disciples, it may in fact be more like Gustabus than the gentle, intimate breath felt on one’s neck from the one sitting next to you.
When we hear of blowing we are to think, as Brueggeman calls us, of this Wind, Breath, Spirit of God hovering over the waters of chaos we call creation in Genesis 1: perhaps hurricane like winds and forces! The same God of Israel breathes into a handful of dirt to give life to the first person in the very next chapter, Genesis 2.
We are not to concern ourselves with the Bible making up its mind. God’s Spirit-Wind is capable of taking any form, force or character. It is the power of life, the power of creation, the power that can blow something out of nothing!
In both accounts the disciples are hiding behind closed doors – they are fearful. Jesus, God in the flesh, comes in and says, “Peace be with you,” followed by a display of his wounds on his hands and his side. As if to say, “See, here, this is what fearful people do to others. Receive my spirit and be not afraid.” Then he says, “Peace be with you. As the Father sends me so I send you.” Then he breathes on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Then he adds, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Perhaps the single most misunderstood text we have. We tend to think we are empowerd to forgive or not forgive, when really the sense of it is, how do you want your forgiveness? As he teaches them to pray, forgive as you wish to be forgiven. Don’t forgive and carry it with you forever. That would be retaining the sin – it still has a hold on you. Those who feel the breath are to become a community of forgiveness, forgiving the way we would like to be forgiven.
How hard is that? Look at his hands and his side. And consider what is really being said here: get outside of this locked room! Get out in the world! It’s time to make things new that never were! No time to sit around and be afraid. It is time to blow the world into a new world of Shalom and Forgiveness. It will not be easy. Just look at me. But it is what the world needs more than anything – a community of God’s Shalom.
Shalom. That would be his word, not mine. He spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and “Peace” is about as anemic a translation of Shalom as we can imagine. Shalom means justice and peace for all people. Not some people, not a lot of people, not most people, but ALL people! Shalom means respect and dignity for ALL people. Shalom means seeking and serving Christ in ALL people. Shalom means taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
One day several years ago our daughter Cerny asked me, “Dad, what’s the common good?” This was her homework assignment – to define the common good. We talked about it. I should have said, “Jesus calls the common good shalom. Jesus calls us to use the gifts we have been given to continue his work of reconciliation in the world – for the common good.”
Jesus breathes on us. God’s breath gives us life. God’s breath or spirit gives us energy! God in Christ Jesus is sending us out of doors! God sends us to bring God’s shalom to all people. God’s breath, wind and spirit empower us to serve the common good! God in Christ Jesus calls us to make things new that never were before!
This is Pentecost. It does not get any simpler than this: Time to make things new that never were!