Grace and peace to you.
Today’s Johannine Pentecost is a familiar text, if only because we heard it on the Second Sunday of Easter in a longer passage that included the story of Jesus and Thomas. The Acts passage with its imagery of fiery tongues appearing and everyone hearing God speak in their own languages is always part of our readings on the Day of Pentecost but the gospel varies, sharing different parts of the Farewell Discourse and the earlier promises that Jesus makes to send a paraclete to the disciples and to give them his peace.
On Pentecost we particularly remember that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples and commissions all of us to continue his work of making God known in the world. Particularly this year, when we are being careful to not breathe on one another or be breathed on, we can appreciate the intimacy of that moment, receiving the very breath of God from Jesus.
And then, in verse 23, Jesus tells us what that work looks like, saying
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
In John’s gospel sin is isn’t about morality; it isn’t about being a good or bad person or knowing right from wrong. Sin is not recognizing and embracing the revelation of God in Jesus.
Luther teaches in his Small Catechism that the Holy Spirit “abundantly forgives all sins – mine, [yours] and those of all believers.”[i] It is this same Holy Spirit that sanctifies us – or makes us holy – that we may bear witness to God’s love and mercy.
And it is through the Holy Spirit, that we, as Matt Skinner writes, “can set people free from their inability to see or refusal to recognize God in the world.”[ii]
Of course, the other side of this charge is that when we fail to point to Jesus,
when we fail to bear witness to God’s love and mercy,
we fail our neighbors and community. The world retains its sin of not recognizing God in its midst, or “grasping the knowledge of God.”
Pentecost reminds us that Jesus did not breathe the Holy Spirit on the disciples for their own sake, but for the sake of the world. As God’s people animated by God’s breath and clothed with God’s power, our freedom as Christians is always for the sake of the world.
The Resurrected Christ commissions us and sends us into the world to tend to those who do not believe, not to condemn them but that they may be saved. (Jn. 3:17)
Wherever you are gathered today as the Church, celebrating Pentecost means moving out into the world so that our neighbors will know the God who loves them. While the ways we can physically be present in each other’s lives and in the community remain limited because of COVID-19, we have not stopped being an extension of Christ’s presence in Shelby and Cleveland County.
Sometimes, we use words; we’ve installed a new banner outside the church on Lafayette Street that proclaims to anyone who passes by, “Jesus is always with you.” Other times, we share out of the abundance we’ve been given; this past week outreach volunteers voted to send $500 to the Cleveland County Potato Project which continues its mission to feed hungry neighbors here; CCPP had an opportunity to buy a surplus harvest of potatoes in Washington State and let us know that they needed partners to help fund the project.
Maybe pointing to Jesus, living the life of Jesus today, looks like sewing masks for those who need them, providing transportation for a friend or delivering groceries for a neighbor who is at risk. Maybe it sounds like a phone call to someone you haven’t seen in a long while or inviting someone to evening prayer online. I’m confident it looks like wearing a mask, standing six feet away from other people and washing our hands.
And this week after the death of George Floyd, I believe that living the life of Jesus also means naming the places where I am complicit with the ways that being white means I can run through my neighborhood, drive my car, wear a mask or a hoodie, and never fear for my life because of the color of my skin.
I confess when 17-year old Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida in 2012, I didn’t understand what it had to do with me. That happened in Florida and I was here in North Carolina. What I forgot, or could not yet see, was that we are all God’s beloved children and it doesn’t matter if the deaths happen in Florida or Georgia or Minneapolis. What wounds and kills one of us is lethal to us all. The sin of systemic racism doesn’t only shorten the lives of our black and brown siblings. It diminishes your life and mine, too.
My prayer this Pentecost is that just as we listen for the rush of wind of the Holy Spirit we will listen to black and brown voices. Not debate, not argue, not analyze, but listen. Tonight at 8 o’clock on Facebook Live, local black pastors Donnie Thurman, Jerret Fite, Chris Gash, Billy Houze, Lamont Littlejohn, Ricky Mcluney and James Smith will be speaking and I invite you to listen with me.
Let us pray…
Come, loving and merciful God, into our lives.
Come, Jesus Christ, breathe on us and send us into the world as your witnesses.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
[i] Martin Luther. Luther’s Small Catechism. Augsburg Fortress. 31.
[ii] Commentary on John 20:19-23.Workingpreacher.org, accessed 5/29/2020.