>In the beginning, God created humankind from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man and women became living beings. Then God blew a breath into Israel, and as Ezekiel tells us, their dead bones came to life. At Pentecost, the culmination of fifty great days, God’s breath, a wind, breathes life into the new people of God – the church.
How, in this post-modern, secular world, does God breathe life into us so that we can proclaim the Gospel of Christ? How does the Holy Spirit light the fires in our hearts and minds?
We are Californians, Americans, citizens of other nations living, working and studying here, we are Native American, African, Asian, European, variations on these, and more. Each of us, in our own language, hears the Good News. And each of us, in our own manner, proclaims the Gospel, sometimes, as Brother Francis said once, actually using words – that is how it happened for the apostles in the upper room.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the followers of Jesus in those first fifty days. They met in a place that was secure, familiar, where they broke bread with Jesus, and where he appeared to them, as in the Gospel of John, where he breathes on them and bestows the Holy Spirit, charging them to forgive sins, commissioning Peter to tend his flock, feed his sheep. This can’t be done from the security of the upper room. It has to be done out in the world – a place where they were in danger by association.
Perhaps they doubted their abilities and Jesus wasn’t there to lead them, to tell them when they didn’t get it, or praise them when they did.
How powerful then, how extraordinary, that they each begin to speak of God’s deeds and powers by proclaiming them in the tongues of the people in the crowd? I think the wind and fire that descended in that room, these symbols of God’s presence, also gave them the courage to leave that room and begin a ministry that would become the Church as you and I know it. Fires were lit in their hearts and minds and full of confidence, energy, they went out into the streets of Jerusalem where they were accused of being drunk at nine in the morning.
Jesus said this would happen, it would have to happen and it wouldn’t be easy. It would have been easy to continue meeting in the upper room, to have people come to them, but what would they do when the room couldn’t hold any more people? The body of Christ wasn’t for safe quarters behind locked doors – it was meant for people and places beyond Jerusalem. It had life breathed into it with fire and wind. The church was for everyone. Unfortunately, throughout our common history, that spirit was mistaken by some as something for only those who prayed a certain way, believed a certain doctrine, to be held close in upper rooms, a personal messiah. Private spirituality has its place and practice, and I embrace it, but it is out there in the streets, and in the world, that the Church belongs. Because of this relationship, there are bumps in the road that we have to negotiate as best we can – differences of opinion and doctrine that can divide, or even better, bring us together. And we have the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, to guide us. How does the Holy Spirit inspire us to proclaim and live out the Gospel in this post-modern, busy, secular world?
She is the spark that makes us sit up and listen, pay attention, when we hear the Word, discovering in it a commonality with our daily lives, something that makes us say, “Yes, that’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like! It’s like my office when we jump in and help someone else with a project, when we make a collection for someone in trouble or sick; it’s like my church when we feed the hungry; it’s when we show kindness and love to one another just because we want to, not for ulterior motives or to receive something in kind. She is the tongue of fire resting above our heads, encouraging and guiding us to follow the great commandment.
The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to all who look for him, and brings us into a right relationship with God that in turn, opens us to relationships with each other that are loving and nurturing. It is this same Spirit that is alive in the water of baptism, the bread and wine of our common meal, the oil of healing and chrism. The Spirit resides within each of us while at prayer and leads us out of this our very own Upper Room, this nave, to do Christ’s work in the world, to push us beyond what we expect of ourselves, beyond our abilities, and comfort zones.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to step out of that upper room and take it into the streets.