Sunday, May 20, 2018

Phil Kniss: Opening up, breathing in

Pentacost Sunday: “Where resurrection leads us: Toward life in the Spirit”
Acts 2:1-21

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Happy Pentecost, Church!
Happy Retirement, Barbara!
Those two greetings belong together, as you’ll soon discover.

You’ve probably heard it said before—
you’ve probably heard me say it—
that Pentecost is the start of something brand new
that it is the birthday of the church
that God’s Spirit came down
and broke into our earthly reality in a whole new way,
and that the world changed from that moment,
or at least, that the way God related to the world changed,
because of the new arrival of the Holy Spirit.

That’s been the basic narrative of Pentecost.
And it’s a narrative I want to challenge today.
Or maybe, give it a different slant.

Yes, it’s accurate to celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church,
inasmuch as before Pentecost,
the leaders of the first church
were hiding behind locked doors in fear,
and were not about to step out into anything new and risky.
And after the Spirit was poured out on them,
they started acting, speaking, living
in a new kind of power and boldness.
The early church would not have emerged as it did,
without Pentecost,
so happy birthday to us!

But if we take Acts chapter 2 to mean
that God decided to do something entirely new
that God had never done before,
then we misunderstand the whole Biblical story.

The Holy Spirit has been at work, always.
According to scripture, the Spirit began her work
even before human beings showed up.

In fact, the Spirit shows up, and at work,
in the second verse of the Bible,
when the earth was still formless and void.
When there was nothing, except darkness,
and a roiling and chaotic cosmic watery deep.
Right there, above the waters, Genesis 1, v. 2 says
that the Spirit of God—in Hebrew, ruach—
was fluttering, blowing, moving, hovering over.

From before the beginning of history,
wherever God was present and at work,
it is described as the Spirit of God doing that work.

So the Spirit descending like a dove or flame or rushing wind,
in that meeting of Jesus’ disciples in the upper room—
was nothing new or different.
It’s what God had been doing all along.

So what makes Pentecost so revolutionary for the church?
A group of disciples decided to open themselves in a new way,
they decided to lay bare their guarded lives,
to put down their fears and anxieties,
and open themselves to the Spirit coming.

They decided to throw caution to the wind.
I mean that in a literal sense.
They took their caution, their fearfulness, their protectionism,
and they released it into the wind, into the Spirit.
Don’t forget, the very root meaning of the word Spirit is wind.
It is moving air. It is breathing.
In Hebrew, ruach. In Greek, pneuma. In English, Spirit.
From the word “pneuma,” we get pneumatic tires,
tires filled with air.
From the word “Spirit,” we get respiration,
inspiration, conspiracy—
words that meaning breathing out,
breathing in, breathing together.

Receiving God’s gift of the Holy Spirit,
means opening up, and breathing in.
Filling our lungs, so to speak.
It means allowing God to do the work
that God already wants to do,
and is ready to do, in and through us,
for the good of God’s purposes.

Receiving the Holy Spirit is nothing magical.
It is not reserved for those who know the right prayer or incantation,
or who meet all the right conditions of belief and practice.
It is available to all who open up, and breathe in,
and say to God . . . “here I am, for you.”

There is an invitation before all of us today.
There is an invitation to you, Barbara,
as you enter a new chapter of life in retirement.
There is an invitation to us, church staff and congregation,
as we walk into and through another season
of pastoral transition.
There is an invitation to us, Park View Mennonite
and the community of people who use our building,
as we begin a summer of being sojourners and nomads.

That invitation, to all of us, is the same.
Open up. Breathe in.
Expect the Spirit-Wind to blow.
Expect it!

We all—Pastor Barbara, the congregation, the community—
we all have an opportunity to be recreated by God.

Pentecost is a retold and reframed Creation story.
Acts chapter 2 parallels the first chapters of Genesis.
And the parallel is not just a coincidence.

In Acts 2, God’s breath, the Spirit,
blew into a lifeless lump of humanity,
men and women hiding from the world out of fear,
behind locked doors,
and blew life into them,
so that they became a living, spirit-breathing community,
that would bless the whole world,
that would partner with God
to carry out God’s purposes for creation.

Sound like Genesis?
Where God took a lump of lifeless clay,
and breathed into it?
Created men and women who would bear the divine image,
who would reflect God to the world,
who would carry out God’s purposes?

See, the coming of the Spirit to bring life and purpose is nothing new.
It happened in the act of Creation itself.
It happened again at Pentecost.
It happens today,
whenever we open ourselves, and breathe in the Spirit.
We too can be recreated to a full and purposeful life.
We can be enlivened and empowered to live
like God intended women and men to live in the world,
to reflect God’s good purposes—
God’s shalom,
God’s justice,
God’s beauty.

God’s intention has always been to partner with humanity,
to restore the goodness and beauty and harmonious diversity
of the world as God created it.
And it is all dependent on God’s breath,
God’s creative, life-giving, sustaining breath.

Are we open to it?
Are we breathing it in?

If we would more fully open up and breathe in,
I wonder if what happened to the early church on Pentecost Day,
might also happen to us . . .

That we might start living differently . . . together.
That our fear might be turned into holy boldness.
That our isolation from society
might be turned into compassionate activism.
That we might start going out daily into the world,
to heal and deliver in Jesus’ name.
That our self-interest might be turned into mutual self-sacrifice
and sharing and generosity and being family to each other.

What this means for you, for us, in practical terms,
is not something I can declare from this pulpit.
As to how, in localized and specific circumstances,
you and we are being called to open up and breathe in,
I cannot, nor can any one person, proclaim from on high.
It needs to be worked out in community,
in mutual, relational discernment,
in mutual, relational support,
in mutual, relational accountability.

Yes, there are tried and true practices that will help us get there.
Spending time together with other disciples,
building trust,
establishing mutuality,
praying with and for each other,
studying and meditating on scripture,
worshiping together.
All of these practices exercise our spiritual muscles,
they build up our lung capacity,
they can help be more open, breathe more deeply.

And in this regard, there is work for all of us to do—
spiritual work, that will bring challenge and hope to each of us.

To Barbara, as you leave a role and identity
that you have lived with and cherished for over 30 years,
there will be multiple layers of grief and loss to work through,
and, by the wind of the Spirit,
there will be hope of re-creation and new creation,
as you discover and embrace new identities.

To those of us navigating the transitions ahead,
there will be our own sense of loss, and the need to grieve,
and, by the wind of the Spirit,
there will be hope of unexpected vistas on the road ahead,
destinations we could not have imagined.

To all of us at Park View Mennonite facing a summer on the move,
there will be chaos and confusion and unsettledness along the way,
and, by the wind of the Spirit,
there will be hope of new connections
with each other and with the community,
relying more on the human connection than the physical space.

And to all us who inhabit a world still heaving and roiling,
there will be a continuing epidemic of violence and fear gripping us,
in the form of mass shootings by troubled individuals,
state-sponsored mass destruction,
and acts of terror . . .
we will continue to live in a society where
ideology and politics divide us and make us more cruel . . .
we will still belong to churches and various church institutions
hanging on by a thread,
threatened by in-fighting, or sheer disinterest . . .
however . . . by the wind of the Spirit,
there will be hope of new beginnings,
new ways of learning to live together in love and charity for all.

If we take the risk, take the leap of faith, by God’s help,
and open up and breathe in
the Holy Spirit of God in Christ.

So . . . Barbara . . . and continuing leaders . . .
and church . . . and community . . .

I guess what I’m saying is for all of us here today,
as we all stand on various thresholds—
“Be at peace.”
The Spirit of God is with us.
The wind of God is hovering and fluttering above the chaotic waters.
We are not alone, in any of this.
We can be filled with hope.

Let us all open up, and let us all breathe in.

For starters, we are going to breathe, and speak
a blessing on you, Barbara.
Gloria Diener, chair of the Elders,
has prepared a litany of blessing.
So now I invite onto the platform,
Barbara, Gloria, Pastor Moriah, and Ron Yoder, chair of council.

Gloria - The life of our faith community is forever fluid, an ebb and flow bringing new visions and new possibilities. Seventeen years ago, Park View Mennonite Church welcomed Barbara Moyer Lehman into our newly created position of Associate Pastor of Nurture and Pastoral Care. And her presence has encouraged us and changed us. 
All - Thank you for sharing the story of your life with us. Thank you for trusting us with the beauty of the butterfly. Thank you for blessing us with your presence and the presence of Christ as we have navigated the sacred stories of our lives, individually and as a congregation. Thank you for stepping into scripture, memorizing it, and breaking it open for us. 
Barbara - Thank you for all I have learned during the years I have had with you. Your faith journeys—from birth to baptisms and weddings and beyond—have inspired and stretched me, and your experiences now mingle with mine. I am blessed by what I carry from this place into the future. 
Moriah - Barbara, we pastors hold cherished memories of the many occasions we have shared in worship and work. We have prayed together, dreamed together, and laughed together. 
Phil - We have offered care to the congregation together. We have carried the pain of the congregation together. We have shared food and fellowship. Thank you for your creativity, your encouragement, your humor, and your hope. 
Ron - Today we say farewell to your ministry among us, a season full of blessings seen and unseen, and we bless you as we release you from your role as a pastor here at Park View Mennonite Church. 
All - May the road rise to meet you, Barbara. We entrust you to the loving care of the God of the journey, the Faithful Traveler and Companion on our way. May the future be a source of many enriching and transforming moments. May your heart and spirit be blessed as you continue to minister to others with the great love and compassion that have marked your service to us. Amen.

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