God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh, all people. That is our challenge to embrace and to end where this truth is denied. It is also the only hope for our world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Day of Pentecost, year A
Texts: Numbers 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
God spoke through the prophet Joel, saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
That’s what’s happening here, Peter proclaimed at Pentecost. The psalmist sings today, “the eyes of all look to you, O God, . . . you send forth your Spirit, and they are created, and so you renew the face of the earth.”
Meanwhile, when God desires to help Moses bear the burden of leadership, sending the Spirit upon seventy elders, something goes wrong. 68 do as they’re told, and gather at the Tabernacle. Two remain in the camp. God’s Spirit pours out on all 70, and the two in the camp prophesy there, instead of at the Tabernacle with the others. Joshua urges Moses to shut them down. Moses speaks well before Joel, before the Psalmist, before Simon Peter, and longs for what they all claim: “Would that all God’s people were prophets,” Moses says, “and that God would put the Spirit on all of them!”
Moses longs for it; Joel declares it; the Psalmist celebrates it; Peter witnesses to it: the Holy Spirit of the one, true God is poured out on all people, all flesh, all God’s children. Without exception. Every single person breathes in and out with the Spirit of God.
So the horror we have seen this week asks this: how can one who breathes the Holy Spirit choke the breath out of another who breathes the Holy Spirit?
How did Derek not see a brother in George? How did he not recognize the God-given breath they both shared, and how could he, minute after terrifying minute, squeeze it from his brother? Cain stopped seeing Abel as his brother, and so was able to kill him.
When I wrote to you Wednesday about George’s murder, the email came in the form we use when one of our community has died. I called George our brother, without qualification or explanation. Some of you were confused by this, because you’ve reached out to me, asking “was he a member of Mount Olive?”
But that’s our problem. If I call him our brother, but say, “he wasn’t a member,” I separate him from me, from you. I don’t know what his faith was. But the identity that matters to Moses, to Joel, to the Psalmist, to Peter, and to the loving and Triune God, is that George and I are are filled with God’s Holy Spirit. God breathed life into George’s body and into mine. Into yours. He is our brother in the only way that matters.
But the society we’ve built, the structures we’ve created, systematically exclude many of God’s Spirit-filled children from breathing freely and justly.
Our society kills people of color with impunity and all are not equal. Our city is burning outside these very windows as proof of this, led by agitators, including white supremacy groups, many from outside our state, who seek to stop any reform or change that will allow all to live and breathe with justice in our city. Every group protesting George’s murder has decried the violence and destruction (which has harmed our most marginalized neighbors more than any) and pled for peaceful, non-violent protests to bring about change. But the resistance to true justice is deep and hateful. Denying Spirit-filled children of God the right to live and breathe freely with justice is embedded in our structures and systems.
Pentecost’s grace and the Scripture’s witness give us only one option: to see God’s Spirit in everyone.
This is not saying, “God doesn’t see color,” or “all lives matter,” hoping to make this not about the racism that it is. This is all about color, and all lives don’t matter in our society.
God sees color. God loves color – look at the rich diversity of skin tones among God’s human creatures! Then look at the rest of the resplendent, kaleidoscopic creation. Diversity isn’t God’s problem, it is God’s joy.
Diversity is our problem. We live in a culture and a society that systematically work to kill God’s delightful diversity. George’s murder was no accident, nor was it isolated. For four hundred years people of color in our country have been tortured, maimed, lynched, often with the participation and support of law enforcement.
And this is only the beginning of the list. We have so many Spirit-filled siblings who also are systematically denied the ability to breathe freely as God’s children: women – all our sisters, and those whose gender isn’t either male or female, those who have immigrated here for a better life and look and speak differently from white people, those who are poor and work their lives to the bone and can’t earn enough to feed their family or keep a roof over their heads, and so many more. The identity that matters in all of these to God and to all God’s witnesses today is that the Spirit of God is in all of our siblings.
Will you see this? Not reluctantly, like Joshua, but longingly, like Moses? And seek to live as you see?
Joshua was concerned about controlling who was authorized to be Spirit-filled. Moses listened. He heard Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp. He recognized God’s Spirit in them, and sighed deeply his hope that all would receive this gift.
Those of us who are white cannot imagine we know what our siblings of color experience or need changed. We need to ask, listen, and then act as they invite, not believe we have answers.
And if in our siblings we encounter anger, impatience with delay, frustration, grief, we must find the empathy of Christ to love our Spirit-filled siblings in their pain.
God said: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
This is the great hope of Pentecost for the world, that the Spirit breathes in every single child of God on this earth. Because if God’s Spirit is indeed in all of God’s children, then the Spirit is with us in our dialogue, and we also know what our prayer needs to be:
“Holy Spirit, stir in us, in all of your children, every person on this planet, and change what needs to be changed so all your children breathe freely and justly. Be in our dialogue. Give us ears to listen and humble hearts to receive. Give birth in each of us to the longing and courage to be a part of God’s life and justice and hope for all.”