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.”John 20:21-22
Today we celebrate one of the great Festivals in our church year, the Day of Pentecost. While this is certainly not how I want to be celebrating it, still, here we are. Remembering this great miracle, when the pouring out of the Holy Spirit – on those first apostles – changed the course of the church, and the world, forever.
When we think of this Day of Pentecost, most of us probably think of the famous account of it in the Acts of the Apostles, which was our first reading today. But, this year, as we continue to shelter in home and refrain from in-person worship, there is another account of the giving of the Holy Spirit that seems more appropriate to reflect on. And it is the one that we heard in today’s gospel reading.
And it’s the story of a quieter Pentecost. But this story reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active in all of our lives, but probably not in a way that is as dramatic and as obvious as what happened on the Day of Pentecost. Chances are that you have not experienced the Holy Spirit coming to you with a sound like the rush of a violent wind. You probably haven’t experienced divided tongues, as of fire, dancing on your head. And you probably haven’t miraculously preached in other languages that you have never even studied. But that’s okay. Neither have I! The Holy Spirit comes to us in an incredible variety of ways, many of which are far less dramatic than that. So, again, let’s turn our attention to the story told in John’s Gospel. Where we see the Holy Spirit being given in a much quieter, but no less important way.
Today’s Gospel Reading
This story actually takes place fifty days before the Day of Pentecost, on that first Easter evening; and it takes place in the upper room. The same place where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, and celebrated the Passover meal. And on this Easter evening, the disciples find themselves back in that same room – with the door locked, trying to figure out what they should do now. They are sheltering in place, you might say. And they are no doubt lost, confused, scared, and definitely not looking for a grand, Pentecost miracle.
So what happens? Jesus came, and stood among them. He offered them peace. And, he breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And he sent them out of that room on a mission, saying: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It’s a Pentecost-moment, when the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples, but very different from the events that will take place fifty days later. It is a quiet Pentecost.
And I suspect that for many of us, this is closer to how we experience the Holy Spirit. God coming to us in an hour of need, when we are lost, scared, and confused. And the Holy Spirit, not coming like the rush of a violent wind, but in a still, small voice. Offering the gift of peace, in the quiet of an anxious moment. Jesus comes to us, through the Holy Spirit, often when we need him most. But not usually in a loud, obvious way. It is often in a quiet, subtle way. Maybe through a note from a friend. Or through a song on the radio. Or through a coincidence that can’t just be a coincidence. Or through a Scripture passage read that is just what you needed to read or hear. It is through any number of quiet, subtle occurrences in our day, that tell us that the Holy Spirit is active in our midst, that Jesus really is fulfilling his promise to be with us always, and that God’s presence in our lives is very real, even though it is often not very dramatic.
Yes, I believe that the Holy Spirit is very active in our lives, even in the midst of this pandemic. And that Pentecost moments still abound today. But they are often in these quiet moments, that can only be seen with the eyes of faith. Jesus tells us earlier in John’s gospel that the Holy Spirit is like the wind. We can’t see the wind; we can only see its effects. And that’s true for the Holy Spirit, too, most of the time, for most of us. We can’t see the Holy Spirit. But we can see its effects. And the Holy Spirit isn’t coming to us like rush of a violent wind, but more like a gentle, quiet breeze. Not with the flames of fire, but with the warmth of God’s love. Not through the miracle of speaking in all the world’s languages, but the quieter miracle of sharing a word in love. The Holy Spirit is that quiet, encouraging presence that fills us with faith and with hope and with love.
We hear a similar message from Paul in First Corinthians, right before his famous poem on faith, hope, and love. It is our second reading today, when Paul reminds us that each of us is given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good. There are varieties of activities, he writes, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. I like how the Message paraphrase of scripture puts it:
“Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!”
Each of us is given something that can help to make this world a better place. And it takes all kinds of people; in fact, it takes us all, to do the work to which God is calling us. But, again, what we do usually won’t be loud and dramatic.
Sometimes it will be a little bit dramatic, like the youth from our congregation who was in the news this week to celebrate her “Cans for COVID” project; a project that delivered over 2,000 pounds of food to the SCCM Food Pantry. That was amazing, and definitely something to celebrate. And seeing our youth doing wonderful things like that should give all of us a little more hope in our future. But the truth is that our efforts won’t always make the news. And they don’t have to. Because no act of love is ever wasted. And every time we try to make the world a little better in the name of Jesus, we can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is right there helping us.
The Christian novelist George MacDonald writes (In Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood) of a pastor overhearing a conversation between a boy and his aunt. “Auntie, I think I should like to be a painter.” “Why?” she asked. “Because,” he replied, “then I could help God paint the sky.” “What his aunt replied, I do not know,” the pastor thought, “but I went on answering him myself all the way home. Did God care to paint the sky of an evening, that a few of his children might see it? And should I think my day’s labor lost if it wrought no visible salvation in the earth? But was the child’s aspiration in vain? Could I tell him God did not want his help to paint the sky? True, he could mount no scaffold against the glowing west. But might he not, with his little palette and brush, make his brothers and sisters see what he had seen? Might he not help God to paint this glory of vapor and light inside the minds of His children?” “So, from my part,” the pastor concludes, “If I can put one touch of a rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman of my parish, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”
And the truth is that we all work with God when we put one touch of a rosy sunset into the life of another. And it is a pentecost moment whenever we do. A moment when another sees, even for just a moment, the glory of God. Whether it be through a Cans for COVID project, or through a simple message of hope shared with another, we all have been given the ability to help God paint the sky. We all have been given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the common good. That is what Pentecost is all about.
So, come back to the upper room for a moment. When Jesus breathed on the disciples in the upper room, and gave them the Holy Spirit, he also said to them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus gave them – and us – the Holy Spirit so that we could carry on his mission. We are given the Holy Spirit to go – in whatever way that we can right now – to be witnesses of God’s life and love. We are given the Holy Spirit to continue what Jesus did on this earth. We are given the Holy Spirit to be his apostles in the world. To offer encouragement, strength, and hope to others. To serve others. To love others. To pray and share our faith with others. To do what Jesus did.
And it is not easy to identify how to do that these days. But it is certainly no less important. And it certainly doesn’t have to be anything dramatic. It might barely be noticed. Like the breath or the wind, hardly even seen. But no less important. And the effect will be real. It may very well result in a Pentecost moment for someone else.
You and I can do that. Because the Holy Spirit has been given to us. So let’s celebrate today the glorious miracle of Pentecost. But let’s also celebrate all the quiet, little Pentecost moments that happen in our lives. And then let’s go and do what Jesus did, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen