When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
— Acts 2:1-21
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning…I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 15:26-27; John 16:4-15
Have you ever just listened to the sound of breathing? Whether the breaths are deep or shallow, quick or even, the sound of breathing constantly fills our ears. Without breath, we would not be here. To breathe is to live, to continue in this existence. It is one way that we measure life: from life’s first cry to final breath. Most people average ten to twenty breaths a minute, but you could get by with breathing deeply four to six times, breathing from your gut and not your chest. It is a mysterious process — not in terms of scientifically understanding it, because we can now. Scientists and doctors, at least, know all about alveolar tissue, how our blood gets oxygenated by the air we breathe in, and how that enables all our cells to live and function. But in terms of the experience, it is mysterious. We take in this invisible stuff, something that is other than us, we who are visible, tangible, unitary, and we make it, that which is invisible, intangible and multiple, part of us. If we didn’t do this even for just a few minutes, we would die.
Throughout the Scriptures, we hear about breathing, about breath. We might not recognise it, because in both Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Old and New Testaments, respectively, the same word for breath is used for Spirit. In Hebrew, the word is ruach. It is the ruach of God that hovers over the waters of creation, that breathes into the dust and creates humanity. It is the ruach of God that rests on people and inspires prophets, anoints Kings and consecrates priests. In Greek, the word is pneuma. We get our word for pneumonia, an infection of the lungs from it, but also pneumatology, the study of the Spirit of God. And in John 16, the word is used again, when the pneuma of truth comes, that is, the Spirit or the breath of truth, we will be guided into all truth. In John 3…actually, let’s read it: “Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'” Here pneuma is used when Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again, one must be born of the Spirit, that which is born of the flesh is flesh-ly, and that which is born of the pneuma is pneumatos, that is Spirit-ly. Jesus goes on and says, the pneuma, the Spirit, the wind, blows where it wants, and who can says where it has come from and where it is going? So it is with everyone born of the pneuma. What is the point? And what is going on in the second chapter of Acts? And what does that have to do with us? Simply put, everything.
In the second chapter of Acts, it has been ten days since the Ascension of Jesus, since he was taken from the sight of the disciples and he had commissioned them to go, but first to wait, to wait for the power of the Spirit. The disciples had been gathered together in prayer, fellowship, fasting, eating for these days, and on the tenth, something unexpected happened: the Spirit of God came in power. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” This is Pentecost. Did you catch the words used there: like and seemed? Another reality was breaking into our world and the experience of it was so real, so true, so beyond any of our human categories, that all they could do was think in analogies. This is the Spirit of God at work, the Holy Spirit. As the disciples and the early Christians would come to understand, this Spirit was not another “god,” but another mode or person of God: the Spirit was entirely God and brought them all into the immanence of the divine life. The Spirit that was and is poured out in these last days is the very Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation, that breathed into us, who are but dust with divine breath. It was this same Spirit that rested on Jesus, the Son of God, and through whom he worked all his miracles and in whom he had all his power. It is the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the same Spirit that will raise us at the last day, in whom we share the benefits of the resurrection. This is the Spirit, the breath, of the divine life. And we share it! The Spirit has been given to us.
In John 15 and 16, the Spirit is called the Counsellor, which also means advocate, helper. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth, our helper, advocate and counsellor. These are all analogies, all glimpses of the power and work of Spirit. They are all our approaches to understand the life-animating force of creation and of God. And we have been given access to this Spirit! It is this Spirit that guides us into all truth, that speaks for us before kings and emperors, that empowers us to forgive sins and heal diseases, cast out demons and raise the dead. Jesus promises us in John 14:12, that we will do greater things than he did — because he is going to the Father, because he will send the Spirit. We still have access to this Spirit; we are still called and empowered by this Spirit. We still breathe by this very breath of God.
Where in your life do you need the Spirit of God? Where do you need to take a breath, or breathe fresh air again? The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all God’s people, and we who follow Jesus Christ have been promised the Spirit. Are we breathing in? The wind blows where it wants. The Spirit goes where it pleases. It touches every aspect of our life, like a violent wind and tongues of fire. It takes fear and turns it into courage, which we see with the disciples, especially Peter in Acts 2. The Spirit takes hatred and turns it into love. The Spirit takes uncertainty, doubt, and loss of meaning and turns it into truth. The Spirit enables us and strengthens us to bring the Kingdom of God. This whole series that we have been doing is about being resurrection people, people raised to life in God by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We can be people of radical hope, radical love, radical gratitude, radical sex, radical justice and mercy because we are people radically filled by the Spirit, enabled by the Spirit, living into the very heart of the divine life of God. We are sustained and we live by the Spirit as sure as we are sustained and live by our own breathing. We can either be aware of it, and breathe deeply of the love of God, or we can live an unacknowledged and unexamined life. Pentecost, which we remember and celebrate today, is an invitation. It is an invitation to the fullness of resurrected life, to a new and unexpected kind of life, a life filled with the Spirit of God, who shakes us, remakes us, fills the whole house and our entire lives.
May we learn to breathe deeply. May we learn to hear in our own breathing the very movement of the Spirit of God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. May we live into the promise of the Spirit, who leads and guides us into all truth, all righteousness, all hope, and all love. May we be born of the Spirit, taken in the wind of God, bringing the Kingdom wherever we go. May the Kingdom come and God’s will be done, here as it is in heaven, and may we do it in the power of the Spirit. Amen.