Day of Pentecost
June 4, 2017
John 20: 19-23
This morning we have two stories about the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We are used to hearing the one from Acts that starts with the cowering disciples, the Holy Spirit’s arrival, the crowd that includes Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, and Peter’s mind-blowing sermon. We don’t usually recognize the one from John, because it is Jesus’ first visit to the disciples on the day after his resurrection, the visit in which Thomas was missing. But look again: after greeting them, “Shalom,” he shows them his hands and side, answering the very question Thomas will ask next week. (If you don’t know that story, let’s talk) He gives them marching orders “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he promises his Spirit for their work of proclaiming God’s law, and God’s mercy to the rest of the world.
Luke’s story is by far the most dramatic with the rushing wind and flaming fire over each disciple’s head, but I think the one from John is the one most relatable to us, with Jesus breathing courage and tenacity into us, individually and collectively, when we are afraid, discouraged, adrift, when we’ve forgotten that we are part of something bigger.
Jesus offers the greeting of peace, as is customary when arriving, but then he intentionally offers them the blessing of peace. Peace for their hearts, now they know he is truly back from the grave, and that their work together has not just crashed and burned. Peace for their souls, as they see in his resurrection that his outlandish promise to return was not so outlandish, but true, and that God’s promises are reliable and trustworthy. Peace for the days ahead as he challenges them to continue the work for which he has trained them, the work of healing, and feeding, and connecting people to life forever in God’s name. As much as we want the promise of Jesus’ Spirit to be about our individual comfort, finding us a place of rest and renewal, my experience of the Holy Spirit’s work has mostly been about urging us way beyond our comfort to take on all the ways that evil would separate us from each other and the work of changing the world for the good of all people.
Think about the counter-cultural history of The Church: from the beginning it erased the boundaries between rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. In a world more stratified than ours, the earliest communities struggled to create the body of Christ as one holy communion. Believers always provided for the feeding and healing of each other and early on, the rest of the world. Monasteries provided hospitals and food for the poor, and maintained the archives of written records. It was the church that rose up and organized the movements to demand equal rights for citizens of color who had been enslaved by Jim Crow and Apartheid laws. In every case, the Holy Spirit drove believers to see the injustices of the systems in which they lived and blew them out of their individual comfort into a movement that changed the world forever. They risked their lives and their reputations to participate. The peace of Jesus was what gave them the conviction that what they did was helping to right the wrongs that they saw, and the Holy Spirit gave them the courage to dare.
Daniel Erlander, in his narrative of the Bible, says that after the Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost, Jesus’ ‘troublemaking friends’ went merrily on their way, healing, feeding, preaching, and building alternative communities.
The thing is that our faith, our peace, is not given to us for our own comfort. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to ask questions of the world we live in. Questions like why we have to have “Red Nose Day” to raise money to feed kids whose parents are likely working two jobs, instead of providing a living wage so families can feed themselves and live in an appropriate home. Questions like why some people can have healthcare in the wealthiest nation on earth and some can’t, and why for all the money we spend the outcomes are only modestly effective. Questions like why people who return from the sacrifices of military service don’t get the best healthcare we can offer, and their wives and kids are not given the best support we can give. You can contrast Jesus’ ministry of healing even the most obnoxious people in his world for free, for feeding thousands of people without asking whether they have come prepared with their own food. Of touching lepers and dead people and unclean women without hesitation to show that God’s mercy is for everyone without exception. And then ask what the Holy Spirit might be urging us to do to act more like Jesus’ himself, or like his original disciples, or like our history as his body, the Church, has acted in the past.
The peace that Jesus brings is the understanding that God sees a better world than we can even imagine, and that we are part of how God envisions a place where all have the peace of enough to eat, a safe place to live, a promising future for the next generation. Maybe then we can have the peace we all crave, freedom from war and violence, freedom from fear, freedom for all to live in dignity in a beloved community with Jesus’ love at its heart, and God’s mercy as the pattern in the way we treat each other. Amen.
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