Easter 2 Receive the Holy Spirit

RCL Year B The Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20-19-31
Receive the Holy Spirit

“…he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This is John’s story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. When we read John we have to put aside any expectation that he tells the story exactly like it happened. John wrote his gospel when he was an old man, maybe near;y 100 years old. He’d been the leader of a community of believers on the Isle of Patmos for years and years. He’d had not only the time but the practice to tell the stories of the Gospel over and over and over and over. We all have family stories, don’t we? Stories that we hear and repeat many, many times, year after year, whenever the family gathers. The stories become known by two, maybe three generations. Sometimes the person telling the story never knew the people in the story. But the tale is so funny, or so profound, that it goes on and on. We laugh, we cry, we share the stories, and we come to know the people in them. And as each person tells it, as even the same person tells it over and over, subtle changes come about in a story. Elaborations, stretching details, shifting scenes and orders. The storyteller is on stage; he can become a ham. She’s a teacher; she stresses and repeats to make her point. The thing is, all the stories are edited, either consciously or unconsciously. Each storyteller makes the story her own. It’s the same with any story that’s passed on orally. And it was no different with the gospel stories. As John practiced and aged, he honed his theology. What began as a succession of details, perhaps as a wonder with little understanding, evolved into theology. John lived to be very old. He had long years to overlay his stories with theology. And by the time he wrote them down he might have believed his calling to be to pass on his theology, not only to tell the story. Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem, not to go out teaching and preaching and healing, until they had received the Holy Spirit. We know it was the Spirit that propelled them into the mission fields. The Holy Spirit was the one responsible for the birth of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel. So her coming is of momentous occasion. According to the gospels, stated or implicit, spreading the Gospel depended on the coming and receiving of the Holy Spirit. So her coming is a critical turning point in the story of God’s revelation. You’d think there would be one time, one place, one way the Spirit came upon Jesus’ followers. An account beyond disputing. An event so tremendous there’d be no question of the details. But there are two stories. John tells the story the way we read it today. Jesus surprised his scared, trembling disciples, hiding from the people responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. He appears to them in a locked room and gives them the greeting of peace. Peace be with you. And to send them out, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And gave them the power they needed to go out. It’s a quiet story. The disciples rejoiced to see Jesus, but I don’t get the sense that the room was full of toasts and partying. It’s quiet. Breath. The breath of God. We’re reminded of the story of God breathing life into Adam in the time of Creation. The breath of God. Life. New life. It’s a quiet story, but it’s a story filled with power. In the evening of that first Day of Resurrection. But there is another version, and it couldn’t be more different from this one. Luke tells us the Spirit came much later, fifty days after the Passover. We celebrate that version on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Day. You know the story. The Spirit came into the upper room where the disciples were gathered, waiting. That much is the same as John’s version, except that it seems to have been daytime, not evening. In Luke’s story she was not a quiet lady but a noisy invader. A sound like the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues, as of fire. Each person speaking in a foreign tongue, as the Spirit gave them ability. Not the quiet, peaceful evening of John’s story. So which is the real one? I’m not sure it matters so much. The Spirit comes in many ways. Both stories hold us spellbound, as the invasion of the Holy Spirit should. The point is that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come, and she did. She came, and she gave power that turned a cowardly, denying, scared, confused group of people into the tiny band who would disperse and tell without fear the story of salvation Imagine. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit these people, we sense, huddled together for safety. They hid, they laid low, they kept quiet, they didn’t venture far from home, and then under cover of darkness or hidden in a crowd. And either by a breath or by wind and fire they turned into fearless missionaries, on fire with the good news that all people are loved and treasured by God. That there is healing in God’s love. Healing of the wounds of divisions and fears. Luke records that 3000 – 5000 – people came to believe at any one time. These are the people who would turn away from lifelong teachings that women are inferior and to be mastered, that people outside the faith of Israel were impure, that God’s love depended on their following rules. These are the ones who would give positions of import in the church to women; the ones who would come to understand that food and practices do not make a person impure; the ones who would eventually take the Gospel to people outside Judaism because they came to understand that God’s saving love is available to everyone. These were in their time earth shattering decisions. And they came at the hand of the Holy Spirit. Last week a tragic story was told. Another in a string of stories of white policemen killing black men. Stories of such sadness we can hardly think about them for long. It must be clear that something is dreadfully wrong in our beautiful country. How did we come to this place? Well, we don’t need to retrace every tragic detail of slavery and freedom that brought only a different kind of chains. A legacy of prejudice and inequality that makes our stomachs turn over. A legacy of racism that turns some good men into knee jerk killers and other good men into murder victims. And those who live either by prejudice or by fear of prejudice walk in a living state of sorrow or hatred. And we are at a loss as to how to change things. But I just don’t believe God made a world where there are no solutions, no answers. The critical thing is that we ask the questions: How did we come to this? How can we seek to change? How are we complicit in the sin of racism that pervades our society? Where is it? Where have we not seen and named it? If the Holy Spirit can guide the disciples as she did in just the few years left to them before all but John died martyrs, the Holy Spirit can lead us into change. We have only to ask the questions. To give up our fears. To put ourselves in the hands of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to each of us as we will best receive her. Quietly. Sometimes so quietly it’s only looking back that we see her and recognize her whisper. Or in a sudden rush of revelation so distinct, so earth shattering it can’t be mistaken. Sometimes that’s what it takes. But however she comes, the Spirit will bring power that’s beyond our imagining. I bet the disciples never imagined they would move out of that room of fear. They probably couldn’t even anticipate the coming day, so great was their terror. And a mere whisper – or maybe a fearsome wind with fire – swept them up and took them on a journey that would change the world. That Spirit is no less powerful today. We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to open ourselves to receive her. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”