Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Pentecost – Eleventh Sunday in ZOOM Church

May 31, 2020

1 Corinthians 12.4-13

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

John 20.19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked in fear, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

Pentecost usually makes a big racket.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit is chaotic and noisy.  The wind blows and the doors slam and the windows rattle, and all of a sudden people are talking in languages they don’t even know, with bits of flame dancing on their heads.  In church we have celebrated with balloons and spinnakers, the children have waved bright red streamers, and shot paper airplanes and blown bubbles.  We’ve often had scripture readings and prayers and songs in multiple languages.  It’s a bit difficult to get the full festive effect in ZOOM, although our cacophony hour after the service probably comes close to the real thing.  The idea, as the story is told in the book of Acts, is that the Holy Spirit enters with great clamour, and shakes the people up.

But as with so many of the stories in the Bible, this one is told more than once, and in different ways.  Today we read in the Gospel of John that the Holy Spirit appears in a very different way, almost secretly. Not in a blast of wind but in the gentle breathing of the risen Lord.  It happens on the very day that they have discovered the empty tomb, before they have even begun to fathom the mystery that will create a new faith.  In this telling they are not in public, preaching and sharing the good news.  On the contrary, they are huddling traumatized in the upper room, too afraid to move, when Jesus appears and wishes them peace.  Receive the Holy Spirit, he says, a quiet spirit.  Peace be with you.

When we affirm in our Creed that God works in us and others by the Spirit, we are saying that this Spirit comes in all kinds of ways.  We are making the claim that, despite overwhelming evidence we may have to the contrary, the power of goodness and care are at work in the world.  That the impulse toward justice is sustained by the same energy that created the cosmos.  That there is nothing and no one on earth that is beyond the reach of the Spirit’s healing vitality.  But it doesn’t always arrive with a blast of wind and flame.

This week we have been dismayed and disheartened by news reports of the murder of a black man by police officers, and nights of demonstrations and violence in response.  At the same time, we see a confrontation with a birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park, and a controversy over a 911 call and a fatal fall from a balcony here in Toronto.  In the midst of the anxiety, and fatigue, and irritability of the COVID 19 pandemic we are reminded that we have been living in another relentless pandemic, the pandemic of systemic racism.  It’s a pandemic that you can become accustomed to, some people can almost forget about it, until it flares.  It affects everyone but is lethal for some. Its transmission can be as obvious as a sneeze or as subtle and hidden as an imperceptible speck in an empty room.  You can have it for quite a while before the symptoms show.  It is terribly, invisibly contagious. And it is not clear how to get rid of it.

The reminders this week of the recalcitrant reality of racism call out for redress and put a special obligation on white people to self-educate and act.  Even so, all Christians are invited at Pentecost to receive the one spirit that brings together Jew and Greek, slave and free.  And as the apostle Paul points out in the passage that Mary read, that spirit will manifest in many ways – through teaching and discernment, compassion and prophecy.  The work will be different for those who are white, or black or something else, young or old, or rich or poor, or any other categories that humans devise.  Some will be learners while others teach.  Each one of us will have our own journey, and our own part in the work to overcome this pandemic of racism.  But we will not be alone.

What Jesus breathes into the air of his church is peace.  Receive the Holy Spirit – the spirit that tells the truth, spirit that kindles the heart, the spirit that calls for justice.  Peace be with you, he says, and for this we give God thanks.  Amen.

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