Pentecost -- 12-June-11
I was talking with a missionary who had experience in the Mideast. And I was explaining to him my frustration with the Persian students at ASU. I had heard that they were open to discussing spiritual matters and several of them had been dropping into our outreach bookstore near campus. But my conversations with them never really went anywhere.
During a pause in the conversation he sized up my style, and said -- “You know, Brad, that personal space is culturally defined...”
Okay, in my mind I’m thinking, “What does that have to do with the cost of eggs in China?”
“If you are an American you start to feel uncomfortable if people get within an arm’s length of you when you’re talking. But Persians -- Iranians won’t take you seriously unless you move in a lot closer. If you are having a real conversation with someone it is expected that you will be talking face-to-face. They want to be able to smell your breath and you need to be smelling the spices on theirs.”
Okay -- not exactly what I was hoping to hear.
The next time one of the Persians came into the store I moved in a little closer -- half an arm’s length -- then as we talked 12 inches. And I began to ask him about the well-being of his family.
Soon I was talking with him, literally face to face. He was less than a foot from me. I could smell his breath -- he was breathing on me. And yuk.
I told myself, “No, I’m not moving. I’m holding my ground.”
The conversation evolved and it became animated and lively. Within a few minutes we were talking about the Koran and his view of God.
He asked how it is that Christians believe in three gods. (We don’t but that’s what he’d been taught at home.) It was a great conversation -- and I eventually looked up at the clock -- an hour and a half had passed -- barely noticed.
Shamil became a good friend and there were many more conversations before he returned to Iran and I lost touch with him -- all because I allowed him to breath my breath and I his.
John 20:19 --
“That Sunday evening (that is Easter night) the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 THEN he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit...”Of course, in both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same -- ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. Each of these words is used interchangeable for breath, wind, and spirit in the respective language. It’s related to the idea of air in motion.
- In Genesis 1 -- the ruach, wind, spirit, breath of God hoovered over the waters as God called the creation into being.
- In Genesis 2:7 -- “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
- In Ezekiel 37:9, the vision which we studied a few months ago, the dry bones are reassembled and then God breathes life into them.
- In John 1:33, early on in the book, John the Baptister says of Jesus, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit (or Holy Breath) -- anticipating John 20:22.
- In John 14:16 -- Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit (or Holy Breath), who leads into all truth.”
Some have suggested that when Jesus breathed on his disciples, cloistered in that room behind locked doors, it was merely symbolic of something intangible that he was giving to them.
Other’s have said, no, this is an actual anointing of some sort -- an anticipation of the Pentecost event that would follow in 50 days.
My inclination is to see it all not so much as an anticipation but a beginning. For the anointing -- the breath of the Spirit comes many times on the believers -- and yet it is all a part of the same outpouring -- an outpouring which is rarely a duplication of the previous anointings.
The wind blows as the wind blows -- unbound by any pattern or formula. God breaths life into dry bones and life into new bodies -- and life into us.
Sometimes this breath of God leads people to believe that everything is out of control and that chaos reins -- as in Acts 2. At other times the breath of God confronts the chaos in our lives and challenges us to put things in order. In Galatians 5:22-23 -- “But the fruit of the Spirit (the Breath) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
At all times the breath of God enlivens for mission. That’s the key point this morning. THE BREATH OF GOD ALWAYS ENLIVENS US FOR MISSION.
And that is what is happening here in John 20 -- Jesus breathes his breath of life into the disciples, filling them with the new life they need to continue on with his mission -- to participate in his mission after he is gone.
Now, I’m seeing three important and interconnected ideas at work here.
The first is, INTIMACY. It is only as Jesus is close enough that he breathes on the disciples. The breath is a sign of God’s presence. God is close.
And the temptation is to want to freeze the frame there -- to linger and enjoy his majesty. To want to hold onto Jesus -- to keep him from moving on -- to be close. And closeness is good.
This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your Holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word -- spoken to me
And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm lost without you
This is good. But notice again in the text -- John 20, starting at verse 19.
“Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. (A very standard greeting -- very rich -- but also not extraordinary.) As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!”
You can imagine what they are thinking and feeling -- relief -- a sense that they’d never let him go -- that they’d be there together forever -- that Jesus is finally going to bring peace to the whole situation and that they all be able to go on extended mountain top retreats together. Because he is there, the kingdom of God, as they understood it, would finally start to take shape.
Remember, one of the last questions that ask him before the Ascension is “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom.”
They were still clearly operating with some major misperceptions.
Vs. 21 -- “Again he said, “Peace be with you. (And here it comes... the point of it all... wait for it.) As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
I wasn’t there but I’m pretty sure that was not what they really wanted to hear. They wanted to stay with him. They didn’t want him sending them off somewhere -- anywhere.
And that is the second idea at work here. SENDING.
The disciples wanted to stay with Jesus and the others. They wanted to hang out and develop authentic community together. They wanted to be there enjoying Jesus-time.
But notice the flow in the story. He sends them -- commissions them. Then he breaths on them.
Vs. 22 again -- “Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
That’s always going to be the way it is. If we’re close enough to Jesus to smell his God breath, then we’re close enough to trust him, so then he’s going to send us out to pass the word along.
And it is an incredibly powerful word at that. Something we can only get by being breath-close to Jesus.
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
In other words Jesus is entrusting to them -- to us -- his power and authority.
And this isn’t a charter so that the disciples can set up their own independent salvation franchises. No, there is a connection that is presupposed.
The words of Jesus in John 5 apply to this relationship as well:
“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”We can say the same thing. It’s not my will -- not my call -- but that of the one who sent me. I’m just the authorized messenger.
We’re called to go out and offer forgiveness. And we can only do that because of the breath of God in us -- the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And it means that working in partnership with God we will have a certain amount of authority to offer and confirm God’s forgiveness.
Don’t be bashful. It’s not your private-independent call.
The third important idea this morning is EMBOLDING. (Is that a word? It is now.)
The anointing of the Spirit emboldens us and enables. I have no trouble telling someone that if they put their trust in Christ Jesus, if they confess him as Savior and Lord, and turn from their sins -- that they are forgiven of their sins. They are therefore in good standing with God -- now and forever.
I will say the same to you. If you trust Christ, confess him as your Savior and Lord, and turn from everything in thought word and deed that is contrary to his ways -- you are by the grace of God forgiven. And indeed it is totally by his grace that you are even able to acknowledge Christ and to turn from sin. The Holy Spirit empowers you to do that. (And if you’re taking that step this morning I want to hear about it. Make a note on the communication form.)
And the Holy Spirit empowers you to extend his forgiveness. We see this in the Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as well. The wind comes, the flames dance over people’s heads, the disciples start speaking in Spanish and German and Eritrean and Chinese -- I’d say English but English didn’t emerge until 400 years later -- and Peter gets up to address the gathering crowd.
Acts 2:37 says --
“When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”As many as the Lord our God invites.
38 Peter replied, ‘Change your hearts and lives. (that is, repent) Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.’”
It’s all about mission. And God breaths on us to enliven us for participation in his mission. Intimacy. Sending. Embolding. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Your commission -- whether he has placed you in a campus bookstore talking to Muslim students or to your grandchildren or the people you meet on the street. The Holy Spirit continues to blow upon us to enliven us for his mission.
Let’s join together in affirming our faith as we sing We believe. This is a song written by Graham Kendrick. It follows along with some of the traditional creeds but the reason I think it stands out is because it includes the sending work of the Holy Spirit.
We believe he sends his Spirit
On his church with gifts of power
God, his Word of truth affirming
Sends us to the nations now...