“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”– Howard Thurman
Jesus appears to the disciples
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
The text we have before us today is John’s version of Pentecost. But this isn’t the version of the Pentecost story we’re used to, is it? We’re used to Luke’s version of Pentecost as told in Acts. Now, that version of Pentecost is very dramatic. There are violent winds, people suddenly speak the same language, and of course, those tongues of fire resting on the heads of the faithful. Luke’s Pentecost is finally about dramatic transformation. He tells us that 3,000 people were baptized that day.
But John’s version of Pentecost is a little different. John tells us that the Risen Christ entered a locked room, bid the disciples peace, and then “…he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Now, on the surface this may seem less dramatic and certainly less chaotic than Luke’s account. Jesus just breathed on them and offered them the Blessing of the Spirit. But I think t’s interesting to consider “spirit” in its original context here; in the original languages of the Bible.
The word in Hebrew that’s translated as “spirit” IS Ruah. And here’s the interesting part. Ruah means more than just spirit, It can also be understood as breath, OR wind. And the Biblical Greek of the New Testament tells much the same story. Pneumatos, (pneumatos) from which we get the English word Pneumatic, can also be translated as “air or breath, wind or spirit.”
So, when Jesus “breathed” on his disciples and imparted to them the gift of the “Spirit” his very breath was the Spirit! And for all of you familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, John’s version of Pentecost harkens back to the second creation narrative in Genesis where God’s own breath becomes humanity’s breath, and then, by extension, across the arc of time and space, God’s Breath, Gods’ Spirit, becomes ours. Our very breath contains a bit of the universe, and the expanse of the universe contains a bit of our being, our essence, …our breath.
So, if you think about it in these terms then, God’s Spirit is both the breath that’s within us and at the same time, it’s the wind that’s blowing all around us. The Spirit is within and around all things. All things are intrinsically and forever …interconnected! So, that means the Spirit is God, and therefore God is within and around all things. And since this indwelled and enveloping spirit has been with us all along, the effect of John’s Pentecost may not so much about new birth, as it is about rebirth. It may not be so much about a new covenant it is about a renewed covenant. A covenant that would change the hearts and minds of disciples, both then and now. The lasting effect of Jesus’ Breathing on the disciples may be the very thing that we need to understand and comes to grips with in order to renew the face of the earth! [i]
This is Good News for us 21st-century Christians as we think about Pentecost in a very real and living way. I mean, think about it! The same Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, God, is the same breath that filled the lungs of Jesus, which is the same gentle spring breeze that caresses our cheeks and tickle our hair, which is the same Spirit that warmed the hearts of those disciples on the Emmaus road and inspired those gathered in that locked upper room, which is the same Spirit that’s looking to inspire a rebirth within each of us.
So, I would say, when it’s all said and done, that John’s version of Pentecost finally contains the same message of transformation that we see in Luke’s version. Which is significant for us today, as the effects of this global pandemic continue on into the summer, and as every terrible statistic and every terrifying projection flash cross our screens. It seems to me that if we let this terrible situation and these dire predictions; if we let this time of necessary isolation and smart social distancing, this time of wearing masks in public to protect our neighbor even when they don’t realize it; if we let these times cause us to withdraw, then, I believe we run the risk of missing the opportunity to see the transformation that’s possible.
I mean, who’s not amazed by the generosity of spirit, by the nobility of spirit, that we have witnessed in our health-care workers, and those essential workers who are keeping things afloat. Who’s not amazed by our friends and families who tend to the most vulnerable in our midst? Who’s not amazed by the creative and loving ways that neighbors have reached to other neighbors, finding connection, and yes, rebirth.
A wonderful example of this can be found right here in Cable. All across town we were asked to display a single word of hope in the windows of our businesses and churches. Those words were collected and used to create a beautiful poem of encouragement. It’s the little things that will finally get us through this.
You know, as I think about all these essential workers, the words of encouragement displayed in our windows, and of neighbor helping neighbor, I’m reminded of the words of the great Howard Thurman. He once said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”[ii]
My friends, as we continue to BE the church, separated in body but unified in spirit, may we too seek to “come alive!” May we “come alive” as we continue to be the kind of people whom the world needs in this moment! And may we, each of us, “come alive” to the reality of the interconnectedness of ALL things. An interconnection that begins deep within our being through the Breath of Life. But it doesn’t stay there. Our breath expands outward every time we exhale, connecting us with all things on the Winds of the Spirit, binding humanity and all of creation together in one Spirit; the Spirit of the Living God!
May it be so for you and for me. Amen and the people of God said, Amen