The Gospel of the Holy Spirit
A sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor*
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Did you know the word “conspire” means to breathe together? Take a breath. Now blow it out again. There! You have just launched a conspiracy. You can hear the word “spirit” in there too – to conspire – to be filled with the same spirit, to be enlivened by the same wind. That is why the word appeals to me, anyhow. What happens between us when we come together to worship God is that the Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us, knitting us together through the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the breaths we breathe. It can happen with two people and it can happen with two thousand people. It can scare us or comfort us, confuse us or clarify things for us, but as far as I can tell the Holy Spirit never bullies us. We are always free to choose whether or how we will respond.
Now take another breath. If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years or so to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating, which means that every time any of us breathes we breathe star dust left over from the creation of the earth. We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya and air that has turned yellow with sulfur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo, not to mention Hitler... Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby’s first breath, or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us with it into the next person, or tree, or blue-tailed skink, who uses it to live.
When Jesus let go of his last breath – willingly, we believe, for love of us – that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was set loose on earth. It was such pungent breath – so full of passion, so full of life – that it did not simply dissipate as so many breaths do. It grew, in strength and in volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through an upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath, and it worked.
There they were, about a hundred and twenty of them, Luke says, all moping around wondering what they were going to do without Jesus, when they heard a holy hurricane headed their way. Before any of them could defend themselves, that mighty wind had blown through the entire house, striking sparks that burst into flames above their heads, and they were filled up with it – every one of them was filled to the gills with God’s own breath. Then something clamped down on them and the air came out of them in languages they did not even know they knew.
Like a room full of bagpipes all going at once, they set up such a racket that they drew a crowd. People from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost came leaning in the windows and pushing through the doors, surprised to hear someone speaking their own language so far from home. Parthians stuck their heads through the door expecting to see other Parthians, and Libyans looked around for other Libyans, but what they saw instead were a bunch of Galileans – rural types from northern Israel dressed in the equivalent of first- century overalls – all of them going on and on about God’s mighty acts like a bunch of Ph.D.’s in middle eastern languages.
Before the day was over, the church had grown from one hundred twenty to more than three thousand. Shy people had become bold, scared people had become gutsy, and lost people had found a sure sense of direction. Disciples who had not believed themselves capable of tying their own sandals without Jesus discovered abilities within themselves they never knew they had. When they opened their mouths to speak, they sounded like Jesus. When they laid their hands upon the sick, it was as if Jesus himself had touched them. In short order, they were doing things they had never seen anyone but him do, and there was no explanation for it, except that they had dared to inhale on the day of Pentecost. They had sucked in God’s own breath and they had been transformed by it. The Holy Spirit had entered into them the same way it had entered into Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for the same reason. It was time for God to be born again – not in one body this time but in a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and pass it on, using their own bodies to distribute the gift.
The book of Acts is the story of their adventures, which is why I like to think of it as the gospel of the Holy Spirit. In the first four books of the New Testament, we learn the good news of what God did through Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts, we learn the good news of what God did through the Holy Spirit, by performing artificial resuscitation on a room full of well-intentioned bumblers and turning them into a force that changed the history of the world.
The question for me is whether we still believe in a God who acts like that. Do we still believe in a God who blows through closed doors and sets our heads on fire? Do we still believe in a God with power to transform us, both as individuals and as a people, or have we come to an unspoken agreement that our God is pretty old and tired by now, someone to whom we may address our prayer requests but not anyone we really expect to change our lives?
On Easter Sunday, we led a worship service at a Residential Re-Entry Center staffed by Volunteers of America. Prisoners who have good behavior may be sent there to finish out their sentences. To qualify they must get a job and live in the center. The director talked with us about coming regularly and we have offered to come lead a service once a month at 9:00 am on Sunday mornings. Any Bread member who wants to participate must go through the VOA volunteer process. Please let Jorene or Charlie know if you want to participate in this ministry.
Hot Dog Picnic
On June 11 immediately following worship we will gather in the Fairmount Park near Arts 5th Avenue for a picnic. We will invite our neighbors to join us. It will be an opportunity for us to make new friends. We will have supplies available so we can make more of our car bags to give to our friends who need food and we will invite our neighbors to make some bags for their cars, as well.
We need volunteers to bring hot dogs, buns, condiments, charcoal, chips, drinks, fruit----Let Charlie know what you can bring or you can give a donation and someone else will buy the food.
Kickball Game for Veterans
Nick wrote: "While you're remembering those courageous American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to continue to live in and perpetuate the idea of freedom and democracy... Take action. Kicking' For Defenses raised $3000 for Boot Campaign in its inaugural year and hopes to triple those numbers this year. It's REBoot program is revolutionary in it's approach to making certain our veterans are returning to civilian life with a positive mindset towards their futures and a clear conscience from the difficult tasks we've asked them to take on in combat. This year's tournament will honor the memory of Officer Patrick Zamarippa, a FW Paschal alum, 3 tour Navy vet, Dallas Police Officer, husband, father, son, brother and friend. We cherish the memories we had with Patrick and support the beautiful family who will continue to be shining examples of strength and resilience. Fort Worth's own Alma's Paleteria will be on hand to sell its premium paletas (Mexican ice cream pops) with a portion of the proceeds going directly to the family.
Bread intends to field a team for this worthy cause. If you play kickball--have ever played kickball—have ever seen a kickball--please sign up. We need ten players – we need YOU!