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Pentecost – 5/31/2020 – St. Paul’s

In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus has died. The disciples have scattered. Hope has been dashed, promises left unfulfilled. Rumors of an empty tomb only serve to underscore their empty hearts. It seems as if the disciples of Jesus are destined to live out their lives in that dry listless desert stillness known as the in-between time, the land of just existing.

The in-between time is a wearying and tantalizing kind of life, forever swinging as it does between hope and despair. When it goes on for a long time, a person eventually ceases to live but just marks time.

We all know the in-between time…..waiting for word about your son caught in one of those senseless suicide attacks mass shootings: is he wounded, alive, or dead? The in-between time of waiting for a biopsy report. Out of work now, for what? Since the pandemic began to wreak havoc to businesses?…trying to live without despair in that seemingly endless time between unemployment and employment. An unhealed family rift that has gone on for so long ; Isn’t that what we continue to face whenever racism raises its ugly head without fostering understanding, justice and getting healed? A depression that never takes a vacation; a sickness that turns out to be  a life companion; a hurt so deep that still festers after all these years; a deceased spouse or child and you wonder if the tears will ever stop;; an adult child who seems to be locked forever in addiction, perpetual adolescence without center or purpose; a dry spiritual life that God, it seems, hasn’t watered in decades. The in-between life goes on and on.

In one way or another, we sometimes feel like we’re the disciples. We’re behind firmly locked doors. We can’t get out. No help, no release can get in. We are emotionally and spiritually stretched out on the rack of the in-between time. And it’s gone on so long. 

The disciples locked the doors to the room because they were afraid. They sat staring at one another because no one knew what to say. No one knew what to do next. 

How do you follow when your leader is gone? And how do you step out in faith when your leader has just been crucified?

So they sat in the room and held their breath. More perspiration than inspiration.

Then suddenly Jesus was among them, and he breathed on them. He breathed the same breath God breathed on the waters in creation to bring forth life. Only what he gave them was shalom. Shalom  is deep peace. It might be better translated, Wholeness or harmony because shalom connects with all creation. All beings come into right relation with one another Shalom  is where the lion and the lamb lie down together. By giving the disciples shalom, Jesus doesn’t just take away their fears , Jesus brings them into holy communion. From that place, the disciples can forgive the sins of any, or retain the sins of any because they can see others as Jesus sees others.

The gift of shalom is the ultimate gift of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and dwells among us—right now. Jesus breathes on the disciples and gives us new and abundant life, eternal life–right now.

As Gerald Manley Hopkins says, their world is suddenly charged with the grandeur of God. Even in a small upper room on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ is. present. Even when his followers lock the doors because they see the people in the streets as enemies, Jesus Christ is present.

His presence changes who we are. His presence changes the way we see each other. His presence makes us responsible for another: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven….If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.In essence, Jesus is saying to them: From now on I am working through you. From now on, if you want to touch me, touch one another because you are all connected.

We have all been distraught with what has happened to George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Their killings and the aftermath is a testament to how far we are from receiving shalom.Receiving shalom,  is one thing….Living it and sharing is another. Making shalom is hard work. In part that’s because peace results from justice.

And let’s be very honest with ourselves. Everybody wants justice for themselves. The rub comes when pursuing justice for others changes the world that we’ve grown accustomed to. When attaining peace for someone else disturbs the peace that we take for granted.

When George, Breona and Ahmaud were killed, for many, these killings exemplified a centuries-old pattern. Color-skinned people navigate a world of dangers invisible to their light-skinned neighbors.

During the protests over the killings of these three African-Americans, Some are carrying a familiar sign. No justice. No peace. Others are carrying signs which add, Know justice. Know peace” More specifically, other signs read, Justice for George Floyd….Justice for Breona Taylor….Justice for Ahmaud Arbery.

If we limit the demand for justice in their cases to ensuring accountability—securing a just punishment—for those responsible, we may achieve a temporary cessation of egregious violence. But we won’t know shalom. That’s because shalom comes only with a deeper form of justice. It comes with a transformation of our world’s deep logic.

This deeper logic says that Justice—a justice that restores God’s creation—respects the dignity of every human being. Something we are called to do as we renew our baptismal vows in a few moments. There are no insiders and outsiders. No one seeks privilege at the expense of anyone else. We are all in this together. You love your neighbor as yourself because you know in your bones that your well-being is inseparable from theirs.

This is the justice that brings shalom. And that kind of justice can feel like an unachievable aspiration. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Jesus came to bring to this world. And what Jesus sends us into the world to pursue.

In John’s Gospel, the risen Jesus wasn’t saying, Keep calm and carry on. While following Jesus can bring with it an inner tranquility in even the most harrowing circumstances, he was commissioning his friends to something more. He sent them into the world as peacemakers. Or more accurately, he sent them to participate in the peace that he is bringing. Again, here is how he put it:

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. (John 20:22-23)

Jesus sends his friends—he sends you and me—into the world to bring peace by working for justice. The work of restorative justice—the justice that heals the world—begins with forgiveness. And forgiveness starts with listening, listening especially to voices that feel the pain of being dismissed and disregarded for generations.

Martin Luther King, Jr., once said,A riot is the language of the unheard. And when we begin to listen to unacknowledged pain instead of reacting with violence, we are taking a first step in the direction that Jesus points us.

Hearing voices like those of Martin Luther King, William Barber, Louise Erdrich, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and John Lewis—hard as it may sometimes be—draws you and me into a divine healing process. Into the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of justice. The hard work of shalom.

Jesuit, Daniel Harrington, talking about the Holy Spirit…the Advocate said this: The Advocate’s task will be to teach the followers of Jesus everything they need to know and to remind them of the words of Jesus. The Advocate is to the the stand-in or representative of the earthly Jesus. What would allow the disciples to carry on from the earthly Jesus and bring his word to others was the gift of the Holy Spirit. But to be instructed by the Advocate it is necessary first of all to be open to the Holy Spirit. That involves recognizing that God may have surprises in store for us as individuals and as a community of faith.

We celebrate the Day of Pentecost today. Pentecost is about gift, promise, presence, and surprise. And events unfold in the days ahead, God’s call just might surprise you as you hear what you are to be and do.

As we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic during this in-between time, as we continue to face the difficulties ahead of us as people of faith, we will be tempted to grow complacent, or to despair, or to turn in on ourselves and forget that we are part of a much larger whole.  We live in a world where words have become toxic, where the languages of so many cherished “isms” threaten to divide and destroy us.  The troubles of our day are global, civilizational, catastrophic.  If we don’t learn the art of speaking across the borders that currently separate us, we will burn ourselves down to ash.

It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues to break down barriers on the day of Pentecost.  In the face of difference, God compelled his people to engage.  In the face of fear, Jesus breathed forth peace.  Out of the heart of deep difference, God brought forth the Church.  So receive the Holy Spirit.

so much of the road ahead is uncertain,

the path constantly changing,

we know some things that are as solid and sure

as the ground beneath our feet,

and the sky above our heads.

We know God is love.

We know Christ’s light endures.

We know the Holy Spirit this there,

found in the space between all things,

closer to us than our next breath,

binding us to each other,

Go in peace.