Sermon: May 31, 2020

One in the Spirit

Scripture Readings

Spirit Stories: Beginnings

From Genesis chapter 1 verses 1 and 2 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

From the Book of Acts chapter 2 verses 1 through 4

When Pentecost Day arrived, [Jesus’ followers] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

Here end our first readings. 

 Spirit Stories: Renewing

From Psalm 104 verses 24 and 27 through 30 

O Lord, how manifold are your works!

    In wisdom you have made them all;

    the earth is full of your creatures.

These all look to you

    to give them their food in due season;

when you give to them, they gather it up;

    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

When you hide your face, they are dismayed;

    when you take away their breath, they die

    and return to their dust.

When you send forth your spirit, they are created;

    and you renew the face of the ground.

From the Book of Acts chapter 2 verses 5 through 13

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard [the sound of the wind and Jesus’ followers speaking in all languages], a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. 

They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parth-ee-ans,

Med-ees, and Ee-lam-ites; as well as residents of Meh-so-poe-tae-meea, Judea, and Cap-ah-doe-sha, Pontus and Asia, Freh-gee-ya and Pam-fill-ee-ah, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cree-tons and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 

They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They are full of new wine!”

Here end our second readings

Spirit Stories: Pouring Out

From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 12 verses 4 through 7:

There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.

From the Book of Acts chapter 2 verses 14 through 18

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people are not drunk, as you suspect; after all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning!  Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

    Your sons, daughters and children will prophesy.

    Your young will see visions.

    Your elders will dream dreams.

    Even upon my servants, of all genders,

        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

        and they will prophesy.

May God bless our hearing and understanding of all these words. Amen.

One in the Spirit

Before I begin, I want to share that much of today’s sermon draws directly from the work and writing of pastor and theologian Debie Thomas. There are significant parts of the sermon where I use her words directly. And today, I am thankful for her voice, her words and her wisdom. 

Will you pray with me,

Come, Holy Spirit, come,

Ruach: Wind, breath, spirit.

Breathe into our hearts this day.

And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, ruach, wind, breath and spirit. Amen. 

Ruach — the Hebrew word that means breath, wind and spirit. It’s no coincidence that the ancient Hebrew word is used for all three — God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s spirit hovering over the deep. In the Genesis creation story, God breathes life, God blows wind and breath and spirit into the first human. In this morning’s Psalm reading, breath, wind and spirit give life and when they are gone, life, too departs. In Luke’s account of the coming of the Holy Spirit, it arrives as wind and fire, breath and voice — the ability to speak in a myriad of languages. 

Ruach — wind, breath and spirit. 

That which moves — sand and water, mountains and hearts.

That which inspires — literally breathing life into all that is.

That which is as close to us as our breath.

And so on this Pentecost morning, as we remember the pouring out of the spirit, we begin with our breath. 

I want you to find a place to sit comfortably. 

Put both feet on the ground.

Open your diaphragm by sitting up.

Fill your lungs and let your chest expand as you breathe in. 

Feel it empty, as you breathe out. 

As you notice your breath….

Breathe in God’s spirit

Breathe in hope

Breathe in peace

And breathe out pain

Breathe out discomfort

Breathe out grief and anger 

Breathe out fear

Breathe out exhaustion

I’m going to give you 1 minute to simply breathe

And now, feel yourself, by wind, breath and spirit connected to all that is — 

to the people on this Zoom call. 

To all the people on this earth, near and far. 

To all creaturely life that, like us, breathes. 

To flowers and grass and trees — with whom we exchange breath for breath. 

Breathe in love

Breathe out love

As we gather today to speak of spirit and breath, so too must we speak of our brother George Floyd whose last words as a knee to his neck literally squeezed the wind, the breath, the spirit out of his body struggled to say “I can’t breathe.” 

I can’t breathe.

Wind, breath, spirit. ruach

What clearer signs are there of our interconnection, 

our interdependence than wind and breath and spirit? 

In this time of pandemic, of loss and grief, global uncertainty and tremendous fear, we are inextricably bound. 

By what we consume. 

By the measures we take to protect one another from a virus none of us can see. A virus that shows no symptoms in some and takes the wind, the breath, the spirit, the life from others. 

We are inextricably bound by all we touch 

— I’ve never been quite so aware of all the places my hands go — door knobs and railings, light switches and printers, cereal boxes and tissues, and yes to my face as I adjust my bangs or my glasses or wipe tears from my eyes. 

We are inextricably bound by our breath — by speech and song. 

We are inextricably bound by spirit. 

And so on this Pentecost Sunday that we grieve the murder of George Floyd by men who had vowed to serve and protect him. 

On this Pentecost Sunday let us open our eyes and ears and hearts to generations of violence, terror, grief, fear and rage held by the African American community who may seem distant to some of us — simply our fellow citizens. 

But for others they are family members, colleagues, friends, our beloveds

As boldly as we proclaim God’s welcome to all people, as boldly as we proclaim that ALL human beings are created in God’s image, so must we proclaim that black lives matter. Not because other lives do not — but because all evidence here in our nation is that many lives DO matter, but black lives don’t. And so we must proclaim a different truth. God’s truth. Spirit’s truth. That black lives DO matter. 

And now, I want to say very clearly that we are not going to vilify the police. So many of our officers put their lives on the line every day. So many lay down their lives to serve and protect. So many are engaged in a vocation, answering a spiritual call to care for their community. Many end up being first responders in situations of grave tragedy, domestic violence, abuse, addiction and mental illness. 

And they are caught in a system that allows someone like the officer who murdered George Floyd to continue in their job even after complaints have been voiced about abuse of power. So let us not condemn our police officers, but instead let us support those who truly serve and protect by calling for shifts in policing systems so that a violent few do not smear the reputation of the many who serve with humility, love and care.

Beloved ones, we are inextricably bound, and the story of Pentecost is the story of the Holy Spirit. That comes with the sound of a rushing wind — disorienting, frightening. The Holy Spirit that appears as tongues of flame alighting upon the heads of those on whom it pours. The Spirit that transforms “ordinary, imperfect, frightened people into the Body of Christ.” 

As pastor and theologian Debie Thomas so eloquently writes, the Holy Spirit “disrupts and disorients our humdrum ways of engaging the sacred, so that something new and holy can be born within and among us.  [The Spirit carries] us out of suspicion, tribalism, and fear, into a radical new way of engaging God and our neighbor.

Luke [the author of Acts] tells us that the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…”  “At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”

[And] a language equals far more than the sum of its grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Languages carry the full weight of their respective cultures, histories, psychologies, and spiritualities.  To speak one language as opposed to another is to orient oneself differently in the world — to see, hear, process and punctuate reality differently.  To speak across barriers of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, culture, or politics is to challenge stereotypes and risk ridicule.  To attempt one language as opposed to another is to make oneself a learner, a servant, a supplicant.  It is a brave and disorienting act. [An act of relationship. A recognition of our inextricable connection.]

[Beloved of God,] Has there ever been a time when we have needed such brave, border-crossing acts more acutely than we do right now?  [Has there ever been a time when we have needed so desperately curiosity, compassion and courage? Have we ever needed so desperately to risk foolishness? To risk revealing biases we wish we did not have?]

As [cities around our nation literally burn from a hurt and grief that cannot be measured in lost property but only in lost lives, lost culture, lost language, in a lost past and present and future]; as this happens can it be that God desires to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us, so that we might learn new and life-giving ways of being the Church, being the Body, being Love incarnate for a frightened, grieving and imperiled world?  

What languages do we need to speak right now that we’ve never spoken before?  

Where does the fire need to fall, to burn away all that hinders us from being bearers of Good News right now? Today?  

Beloved of God, we are inextricably bound.

When one of our siblings cannot breathe, when wind, breath, spirit is squeezed out of one of God’s beloved children, it is squeezed out from all of us. 

Many of us can say, well, I’m not of African descent. 

And that is true. And for those of us who do not fear for our own lives or for our children’s lives every day, we cannot fully understand what living in that terror is like.

And yet, racism hurts all of us.

It hurts every cop for whom serving is a vocation, a way of giving back and making the world better.

It hurts every one of us who has not known what to say to someone we love who is black or brown and so have said nothing.

It hurts every one of us who have watched as a woman named Amy Cooper weaponized her whiteness and endangered the life of a black man simply because she did not like that he asked her to follow the law.

It hurts every one of us who have no words for the grief and anger we see and feel.

It hurts every one of us who grew up on the wrong side of town.

Every one of us who did not get to learn the language of our grandparents because of prejudice against them.

Every one of us who were told not to be friends with someone because of the language they spoke or the color of their skin or their last name.

When one of our siblings cannot breathe — the truth is that at some level, none of us can. 

And so, beloved of God, [The Pentecost story, this story of God pouring out breath and wind and spirit is] a story for this time, for this moment.  As we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic as people of faith, [as we continue to hear about our siblings killed in the streets,] we will be tempted to grow complacent, or to despair, or to turn in on ourselves and forget that we are part of a much larger whole. 

And so we need this story of God’s ruach, of God’s wind and breath and spirit poured out upon us. 

It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues to break down barriers on the birthday of the Church.  In the face of difference, [the Holy Spirit] compelled [God’s] people to engage.  In the face of fear, Jesus breathed forth peace.  Out of the heart of deep difference — difference of language, culture, ethnicity and nationality, God birthed the Church — one people in and through the Spirit.  So happy birthday, siblings.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  Together, may we grow into all that Christ longs to pour into us, his Body.” Amen. 

NOTE: The italicized words are quoting Debie Thomas, “I Will Pour Out My Spirit.” Journey with Jesus, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay

This Sermon © 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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