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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Breathed Into By Jesus - 06/04/2017

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.” (John 14.16) We heard Jesus say to his disciples just last week in this faith community.

It is part of his final teaching and preaching to the disciples, which he ended with that prayer to God of radical love on behalf of his disciples and all of us who would also become disciples through them.

This other Advocate is the Spirit of truth, Jesus said. Many in the world could not receive this Holy Spirit because they had not yet seen God. … Many in the world could not perceive and receive Holy Spirit because they had not come to know God through Jesus' teaching and his love for all whom he encountered.

However, you disciples, “you know” the Spirit, Jesus says to us. “You know” because you have seen God's love through what Jesus taught in his ministry. You can feel the Spirit in your hearts, working God's presence and activity in your lives like a great Divine verb. That is, perhaps, a very helpful way to understand God's presence in the world through Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like God in verb form. It is action-oriented. It is the response to prayer. It moves us to act. It works inside of us to heal us and through us to heal others. Sometimes it really challenges us. It calls out the gifts God has created in us for the benefit of that world where there are still so many others who have not heard the story of Jesus, who have not become aware of Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

It is clear we recognize God's great verb … Holy Spirit … among us. Just look around you. Everything here points to Holy Spirit somehow. All our paraments have been changed to red. We bring in other colors like orange and yellow to represent the bold and brilliant colors of fire, which is often a symbol of Holy Spirit. We'll hear it throughout our words and song together.

We also use the symbol of the dove coming to us from the heavens, a symbolic vehicle of God's Grace come down to us freely, abundantly and not for anything we have or have not done, but only because that is what God desires for us. This descending dove is reminiscent of the story of Jesus' baptism, when Holy Spirit came like a dove resting above Jesus' head as he came up out of the waters of the Jordan.

Our recognition of the Spirit is in our choice to use this festival of Pentecost to accompany Alexis and Noah in their affirmation of baptism, their confirmation of the vows made when their families and community brought them to baptism to first feel Holy Spirit abiding in them.

All of this brings us to good question to consider: What exactly does this mean for us today? What does it mean for Noah and Alexis and all of us who come together to make up this community of faith prompted into action by God's great verb, the Spirit?

I mean it's one thing to read and even feel quite moved by John's story of Jesus' resurrection … of the evening when the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, offering them peace, showing them the wounds in his hands and side, bringing them Holy Spirit and reminding them of their power to forgive or retain the sin of those they encounter.

It's a pretty powerful scene, there's no question about that. But what does it mean to us today?

Well, I think that is answered in one way by a clue in our text. The clue begins with a correction, because the NRSV translation we use primarily for our readings in our worship together, gets it wrong. It's verse 22 in question here. What it should say is: “When he had said this, he breathed into them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”

This matters, I would suggest, for a couple of reasons.

First, on the very surface of it all, it does make a difference that Jesus breathes Holy Spirit “into” us rather than simply “on” us.

Breathing on us seems more topical. It's still good. I would probably move mountains to have the opportunity to embrace Jesus and feel the warmth and movement of his breath on my cheek. But to have him breathe into me … there's more there, I think. By being breathed into, this Spirit becomes part of every cell of our bodies, it goes with us everywhere we go and is part of everything we do.

A second reason this matters so much is because when translated more accurately, this verse 22 begins to echo other stories from the Old Testament – the scriptures at the very heart of Jesus' and his disciples' ministries.

And that connection is all about creation.

It is the same language used in Genesis for instance. “...then the Lord God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7)

We hear it again in Ezekiel. “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” (Eze. 37:9)

These are very powerful and instructive connections for us. What does it mean that Jesus breathes creative Holy Spirit into each of us? What does it mean that this is the activity of the Spirit we call upon when we bring each other to baptism. What does this mean when Noah and Alexis come forward today so that the activity of the Spirit is invoked in them as they begin their time as full disciples of Jesus in this faith community? What does that mean for any of us?

If you think I can answer that question very specifically, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed, because I cannot.

That's not to say any of us cannot see evidence of that dwelling of the Spirit in us and in many others we meet in day to day life. We see it in the vocations of others, for instance. The nurse or caretaker who works long and sometimes frustrating hours on his feet for the benefit of those who are ill and vulnerable. The cop who often puts her life at risk to preserve and protect community. The teachers among us who year after year co-parent our kids … it does take a village.

But truly the ways in which this creation-focused, indwelling of God's Holy Spirit takes shape in us is as unique as our fingerprints.

It's up to us, with the help and guidance of others, to more specifically discern how the Spirit is at work in us – how God desires to work through us with that Godly verbiness. That is the point in life that Alexis and Noah come to now. As disciples of Jesus they now begin to discern this for themselves, to take over the care of their relationships with God more fully, to listen for how Holy Spirit stirs them and calls upon their God-given gifts and abilities for the benefit of God's creation.

This discernment happens through prayer, through coming together as a community where we unburden ourselves of our sin, study the Scriptures and gather around our sacraments. And we do all this knowing that the Spirit is a moving, living force in us that recreates its self in us as we change … changes as God works through us to answer prayer and care for creation.

And, even though I might not be able to stand up here and tell you exactly what God is up to in you or to what end, I think this clue of one little word – a preposition no less – that Jesus breathes Holy Spirit “into,” rather than “on” his disciples does tell us quite a lot.

It tells us … God does dwell within us deeply.

It tells us … like the disciples needed so desperately to hear, that although Jesus' earthly ministry ended – that although we neer lay eys on the human being called Jesus of Nazareth – we are not alone because the other Advocate is with us for ever.

And it tells us …  that the essence of God's great verbiness in us is this persistent and clever act of creation and re-creation in us and through us.

So let's end this Pentecost reflection with a prayer.

Let us pray.

God of Indwelling, God of fire and doves, God of verbiness and prepositions, you have created us as perfect vehicles for carrying out your life-giving and love-filled activity in the world – even those of us who have yet to know you and recognize Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Today we call upon your Holy Spirit to make itself known in our brother and sister, Noah and Alexis. Stir them up, Gracious God, so that others see you at work in them and are blessed in knowing them. Let their commitments to their baptismal covenant with you remind us to get out of the way and allow you to stir us up too.

Use us all, God, to bear witness to your love for us, which we have seen so plainly in your Son, our Risen Lord, Jesus, our salvation. Amen

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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