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May 27, 2012
John 15: 26-27; 16:4b-15
There are so many ways to approach the Pentecost readings—birth of the church, gifts of the Spirit, advent of the Comforter. We’ve got dry bones being knit together, tongues of fire, sighs too deep for words, and a Guide to the truth. But the overarching theme that runs through all these texts, as with the readings from Acts in the run-up to this week, is relationality. The Spirit is inclusive; it leaves no one out. The Spirit brings the power of expression, speech, language—it assumes a speaker, a listener. Communication by definition requires more than one. Speech requires breath—the breath of God animating the dry bones, recalling the breath of God animating Adam—the gift of life itself from a God who needs a world to fully express the relationality of God’s own nature.
Just a sampling of details from these stories illustrates the theme. The people are gathered in one place and a wind from heaven fills the room, leaving no one out. Each person speaks in another language, unknown to the speaker but understandable to other speakers of that language. Again, no one is left out. All hear the same message; namely, God’s deeds of power. God’s power, as the Bible says over and over again, is not the power of empire. As process theologians say, God’s power is in God’s omnipresence and invitation. If the power of empire is domination, income disparity, marginalization, then God’s power is equity, diversity, inclusivity.
The great theme of inclusivity speaks through the diversity of language and geography, child and adult, male and female, slave and free. And from a process perspective, Pentecost is both discreet historical event and always everywhere happening. Any person, any assembly, any moment in history, can experience this transformation. It is an ever-present invitation.
Pairing this reading with the one from Ezekiel focuses us on the animating breath of God. The bones rattle and come together, but the ruach, the breath of God, is needed to make these bodies more than animated corpses. Indeed, it is tempting to compare this text to the current cultural fascination with zombies. Zombies are soulless creatures animated by only one overwhelming need: to consume. There is no relationality when other human beings are no more to each other than prey, creatures to be devoured.
Psalm 104:22-34, 35b
In the same breath, so to speak, the psalm emphasizes the point: “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.” As the psalmist notes, the only appropriate response to this to rejoice and sing praise.
In his letter to the Romans Paul uses the illustration of childbirth first metaphorically, with the Earth and its fruits, by which he invokes in our minds the literal experience of human childbirth. Then he ignites the metaphor with the further suggestion that this life we now experience is like the life of the roots, deep in the Earth, before the fruit emerges into the unimagined world of sun and sky. Just as the placenta-enclosed infant cannot see what is on the other side of its mother’s belly, we cannot see what is on the other side of this life. The Spirit is present on both sides, however, and acts as a midwife, assuring us that even as the mother is present to her child both before and after its birth, God is present for us in this life and in whatever is to come.
Speaking from a process perspective, incarnation is mutual and unfolding: in every moment God is received or born into us, and we, in turn, are received or reborn into God. The rest really is too deep for words.
John 15: 26-27; 16:4b-15
For the early church, the Spirit is the assurance not only of God but of the truth of Jesus’ message and ministry. In a pluralistic world, if we really respect the faith of others, then although an experience of Jesus may be unique to us, the spirit of truth is not limited to one person, in one place, in one time. It moves. It lights on first this person, then that one. The Spirit, as the readings have been indicating all month, is inclusive. It speaks in different languages, so that it can be understood by people in the language that they know. Its message is God’s power, which by virtue of its being God’s is differentiated from worldly power. It is deeply relational, desiring both to be known and to bring people together. It rested, for a time, in Jesus, but did not die with him. Pentecost is more than the birth of the church; it is the assurance of God’s presence in the world.