|If we listen carefully to the scripture
lessons today, we notice that there are two very different descriptions
of the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, the feast of Pentecost that we
In the first lesson, we hear Saint Lukeís description.
He has the story of the resurrection, the ascension, and Pentecost, spread
out over fifty days. And it was only on the fiftieth day, which is
the feast of Pentecost for the Jewish people, that God poured forth the
Spirit upon the first disciples.
But in Johnís gospel, you notice that itís
all compressed into one day. Jesus rises from the dead on Easter
morning and then, on Easter night, Jesus appears with those disciples in
the upper room, breaths on them, gives them the Holy Spirit, and says to
them, ďAs God sent me, I send you, filled with the Spirit.Ē
Iíve mentioned this before about how we canít
read the scriptures literally. There was no way that the people who
wrote down these accounts of the resurrection, the ascension, and the feast
of Pentecost, could ever put into words what really happened.
The resurrection was something that just stunned
everybody. They had no clue that it was going to happen. And
suddenly, they realized Jesus is alive, heís with them. Heís so different,
but also the same. They can recognize him and see his body, even
the wounds, but he also comes and goes. Theyíre in the upper room
with the doors closed and suddenly heís there -- a mystery, of course,
but a reality.
And thatís what the disciples and those who
wrote the scriptures wanted us to understand. First of all, that
Jesus is alive, but then how Jesus sends forth the Holy Spirit.
Again, itís an experience that those first
disciples found very difficult to put into words. They knew they were alive
with the spirit of Jesus, that he was in their hearts, and that he was
in their midst and guiding them and leading them and giving them strength
and courage. They knew that. But how do you describe all of
this that happened?
And so, especially, in Lukeís account, he uses
symbols to try to help us understand. First of all, he puts the feast
of Pentecost fifty days after the Passover. That was the feast when
the Jewish people celebrated the event of Sinai when they had been covenanted
with God and had become Godís people.
Luke wanted us to understand that this feast
of Pentecost makes us Godís people. Just as the chosen people became
one with God and entered into covenant with God at Sinai, so we now become
Godís people and enter into a covenant with God.
Luke wanted us to understand the power of it,
so he described the wind that shook the whole house. He wanted us
to understand how it was like a raging fire that could change the whole
earth, so he describes these tongues of fire that come down upon the disciples.
All of these symbols help us to understand
the truth behind this feast -- behind the whole event of Jesus being executed,
dying, rising from the dead, returning to God, and sending forth the Spirit.
The resurrection, the pouring forth of the
Spirit, and the mission -- these are the three things that we must reflect
upon as we celebrate this feast today.
First, the reality that Jesus is alive.
Thatís so important for us to grasp, just as those first disciples did.
Jesus is alive and here in our midst. Jesus is in my heart and I
can turn to Jesus at any moment. He is alive in the pouring forth
of the Spirit.
In the gospel lesson, John has Jesus breathe
on the disciples there. And that, of course, reminds anyone who is
aware of the scriptures of the only other time that God is described as
breathing. Itís when God created Adam and Eve, when God created all
of us. God breathed upon that lifeless form and it became alive.
So John wants us to realize that Jesus, by
breathing upon us, makes us alive in a new way and then says: ďAs
God has sent me, I send you.Ē
And that means each one of us.
And we really should listen to those words that Jesus said, breathing upon
his disciples, ďAs God sent me, I send you.Ē
If we really take that seriously, what will
it mean? It will mean that we will try to do what Jesus did.
He was a light to the world. He broke away from and helped people
to break away from the darkness of ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and evil.
He became a light. Jesus was a healer. He always reached out
in love. As God sent Jesus, God sends us to heal.
And also as he did right there on that first
Easter Sunday night, he forgives.
The first gift he brings to his disciples is
forgiveness. If we are being sent in the same way as Jesus, we too
must be people who forgive. People who care about other.
Remember how Jesus described himself, like
a mother hen gathering her little chicks together around her to protect
them, to love them, and to help to nurture them. We have to be that
kind of people, nurturing and loving and caring, forgiving, and compassionate.
Or as Jesus also said when he preached his
first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth -- the Spirit of God is upon
me and God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to help everyone
who is poor materially or spiritually and to know God loves me -- good
news. To heal the broken hearted, to set the downtrodden free, to
proclaim Godís year of favor. Jesus said, ďThis is why God sent me.Ē
This is why God sends all of us.
Take that seriously today.
That means we have to think of various ways
in which we go into the world, confirmed as disciples of Jesus, being sent
as he was sent, doing what we can to change the world and make it a better
You know, thereís so much in the press these
days about the terrible things that have happened in the church through
some of its ministers. I was especially heartened on Friday of this
week when I read in the little white book [used at Saint Leo Church] about
Josephine Bakhita. I donít know if you are reading your white book
everyday, but Josephine Bakhita was a young woman from Sudan who was sold
as a slave when she was nine years old and passed from one owner to another
until she was purchased by the family of the Italian consul in Sudan, Augusto
Michieli. When he and his family returned to Italy, she came with
them to serve as a maid and nursemaid to their child, Mimmina, whom she
had to take to a private school run by the Daughters of Charity.
It was there that she discovered the gospel. She discovered religious
women that were really being a light to the world. She discovered
who Jesus is and became Christian. But when the Michieli family was
to return to Sudan, she wanted to remain in Italy. The family tried
to coax her to come back with them, but she didnít want to go. They
tried to force her to go back and went to court to demand the return of
their property. But the cardinal archbishop of Venice and the
Sisters of Charity prevented that from happening and she was able to stay.
She was baptized January 9, 1890, and took
the name of Josephine. Six years later she took her religious vows
as a sister in the community that had helped her. The name ďBakhitaĒ
means the ďthe fortunate one.Ē
Looking back, hereís what she would say about
how that name fits her: ďIf I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted
me and those who tortured me, Iíd kneel down to kiss their hands.
If it had not have been for them, I would not have become a christian and
Itís like St. Paul said, ďOnce I knew Jesus,
everything else was like rubbish.Ē And thatís what happened to Josephine.
But it happened because she began to live among people who were a light
to her, who reached out in healing, in kindness and in compassion, and
changed her whole life.
You and I have to be like that. All the
peoples whose lives could be changed, if we really took seriously that
we are sent out into the world just as Jesus was -- to be a light, to be
a healer, to be compassionate, to be forgiving and so on. How different
our world could be. And so each of us has to remember, ďI am
sent, as God sent Jesus.Ē
Also, itís not just on an individual basis
that we have to keep on trying to change the world. There are larger
issues too. When Luke described Pentecost, he talked about how there
were all those different people from every part of the know world at that
time. They spoke all kinds of different languages. They were
separated and divided from one another by their language, their culture,
their history and so on. Through the coming of the Spirit, all those
barriers were removed. Luke was referring to what had happened in
the Old Testament, at the time of the Tower of Babel, when all the nations
were dispersed and division came into the world. Now, through the
coming of the Spirit, itís reversed. Peoples are to be drawn together into
one human family.
But just this past week, if you were watching
the headlines, you must have caught how Russia and the United States rejoiced
over a new arms agreement. But if you read what they rejoiced over,
you know itís wrong. Itís what will destroy our world, keep us separated
from one another. They are going to continue to have nuclear arsenals,
even add new weapons.
Now, in other nations in the world, of course,
they are trying to do the same thing. Our world will be divided and will
ultimately be destroyed unless we, who are the members of Godís family,
the covenanted people of God, take seriously that we were sent into the
world as Jesus was sent -- to breakdown barriers, to heal divisions, to
make the nations of the world one human family, to stop arming ourselves
in a way that will bring about destruction and death, and to work for the
coming of the time when all the nations can live in peace without these
weapons that can destroy all of us.
ďAs God sent me, I send you.Ē Thatís
what Jesus said to the first disciples and thatís what Jesus says to all
of us today. We pray that we will take that seriously, as God sent
Jesus, God sends each one of us.
I hope we will leave the church today committed
to being one with Jesus in trying to bring the gifts of Jesusí love and
forgiveness and healing out into our world. That as God sent Jesus,
we will understand that God sends me.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.