Sunday, May 31, 2009

(Pentecost) The Big Pentecost Conspiracy

Acts 2:1-21

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I want us to do a little warm-up exercise,
to get ready for this sermon.
When I raise my hands, everyone inhale,
when I lower my hands, everyone exhale.
All together, now . . . inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Knowingly or unknowingly,
you just joined a vast congregational conspiracy.
I mean that literally. You were conspiring.

It may not have occurred to you before,
but it’s actually pretty straight-forward.
The literal meaning of the word conspire
is to “breathe with” or “breathe together.”
You break down the word into its two parts,
and you have “con,” a simple preposition meaning with, or together,
and “spire” . . . from a root word meaning breath.
That root shows up in lots of words—
respiration, inspire, expire, aspire,
the word “spirit” itself can easily be translated “breath.”
So . . . “con-spire” . . . “breath with.”

A conspiracy is a group of people—
could be two, could be thousands—
but a group of people with a common goal,
who are working together so closely,
that they’re sharing the same motivations,
the same intentions.
Conspirators are persons who are breathing the same air,
fully synchronized with each other.

From that standpoint,
it’s plain to see that the day of Pentecost, as told in Acts 2,
was one big conspiracy.
It was a breathing together
that changed everything from that point on.

Some preachers before me have pointed out this connection
between Pentecost and conspiracy.
I guess it’s too obvious a connection,
that most of us miss it.
See, everyone was together in one room, Acts 2 tells us,
and then the Spirit-breath blows into and through the room,
with a sound of a mighty wind.
Everyone together, experiences this powerful spirit-breath.
The disciples and the Holy Spirit were con-spiring.

Barbara Brown Taylor,
in her published sermon “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”
said that when the Holy Spirit blew into that upper room in Acts 2,
what God was doing was, and I quote,
Performing artificial resuscitation
on a room full of well-intentioned bumblers,
turning them into a force that changed the history of the world.
Shy people became bold,
scared people became gutsy,
and lost people found a sure direction.
Disciples who did not believe themselves capable
of tying their own sandals without Jesus
discovered abilities within themselves they never knew they had.
When they opened their mouths to speak, they sounded like Jesus.
That’s what conspiring with the Holy Spirit does.
It fills our spiritual lungs with the very breath of God,
and we are changed.

It’s just like our physical breathing.
The oxygen we inhale, and the carbon dioxide we exhale,
is a marvelous, even miraculous, combination
that gives us what we need for life.
Our body processes the oxygen,
and turns it into a vehicle to carry away excess carbon,
too much of which would kill us.

In the same way,
God’s Spirit-breath gives us what we need for life with God.
It flows into our spiritual beings,
transforming and replacing what we need to get rid of.

It is marvelous, even miraculous,
what happens when the breath of the Spirit of Jesus moves in.
And even more so when we are together with other
co-conspirators, other God-breathers.

Here’s how Barbara Brown Taylor put it. Again, I quote.
What happens between us when we come together to worship God
is that the Holy Spirit swoops in and out among us,
knitting us together through the songs we sing,
the prayers we pray,
the breaths we breathe.
[How do you know when it’s the Holy Spirit?]
Whenever two plus two does not equal four but five—
whenever you find yourself . . .
offering forgiveness you had not meant to offer . . .
taking risks you thought you did not have the courage to take
or reaching out to someone you had intended to walk away from
. . . you can be pretty sure that you are learning
about the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
And more than that, you are taking part in it,
breathing in and breathing out,
taking God into you and giving God back to the world again.
She weaves some wonderful words, doesn’t she?
Powerful. Poetic.
So what does it really mean, in terms of practical everyday life,
to take up the practice of breathing in God,
and breathing God back to the world.
Sounds pretty esoteric.
How we implement such a practice,
and how do we know it’s God we’re breathing?
How do we distinguish between Holy Spirit-breath,
and just a bunch of spiritual hot-air?

That’s not a question that is easily answered.
But let me suggest this.

The breath of the Holy Spirit today
is the same air that God breathed into Creation;
it is of the same stuff as the Spirit that filled the biblical prophets
and moved them to speak and act as God’s agents,
calling God’s people back to justice and holiness;
it is a continuation of the same breath
Jesus breathed on his disciples,
saying “Peace be with you, receive the Holy Spirit.”

We sometimes say, “There’s a new wind of the Spirit blowing.”
But that’s only partly true.
There may indeed be a wind blowing today
that is bringing about new works of God in our midst,
and which calls for new responses from us.
But it’s not new air.
If it’s really God breathing,
it will be consistent with the breath of life
that God breathed at creation,
it will be true to the breath of God that inspired the prophets,
it will, above all, resonate fully with the Jesus of the Gospels.
Because the Spirit we’ve been given is the Spirit of Jesus.
So if, indeed, we are con-spiring with the Spirit of Jesus,
when we talk, we will “sound like Jesus”
to use Barbara Brown Taylor’s phrase.

So what I suggest,
if we want to join this Big Conspiracy
that began on the day of Pentecost,
we do like the disciples did.
We make it a practice to actually spend time
being together with,
waiting expectantly with,
living in hope with,
other God-breathers . . .
so when the Spirit moves in and among us,
we are in a good position to con-spire,
to breathe in synch with the Spirit of God.

And then test the results of that wind,
to see if it produces the kind of results
we’ve come to expect God’s Spirit to produce.

If it’s God’s breath blowing,
God has a long track record to compare it to.

Is new life being created, that is good, and beautiful, and fruitful?
Is righteousness and justice and peace being brought forth?
Is salvation being found?
Is shalom being birthed?

It’s hard for me to read the Bible and not conclude
that God’s primary agenda
is to save and restore and redeem and reconcile,
and to do that through the people God has called and sent.

So if we are truly con-spiring with the Spirit of God in Christ,
we will see communities of God’s people brought together.
And as a result of the life of these communities in the world,
we will see enemies being reconciled,
we will see offenders and victims being brought together,
we will see people repenting and renouncing lives of sin,
we will see justice being demanded,
we will see violence being forsaken,
we will see the hungry fed and the naked clothed,
we will see forgiveness being offered,
we will see the broken being made whole,
we will see the lost coming home,
we will see the alienated brought back into community.

When the wind blows . . . trees bend.
We can’t see the wind.
We can’t capture it and package it,
but we know it is there by the evidence.
If leaves are not rustling,
it’s safe to say the wind isn’t there.

We often think of Pentecost as the birthday of the church,
and it is.
But let’s not be fooled.
The proof that God’s spirit-wind is blowing
is not that more churches are being established,
that more people are becoming church members,
that creative Sunday School lessons are being taught,
and powerful sermons are being preached,
and beautiful hymns are being sung.
Yes, the drawing together of believers into community
is a foundational activity of the Spirit.
There cannot be a Pentecost con-spiracy
without a people coming together,
and breathing together, in synch.

So by all means,
let us continue to gather, to worship, to sing, to pray,
to minister to each other,
in large groups and in small.
But that’s not the ultimate direction the wind is blowing.
Life in community is not the end but the means.
This Spirit that brings us together to worship,
is the same Spirit that sends us into the world,
to take risks for the kingdom of God.
It both draws and sends.
It breathes in and out.
It’s one continuous movement.

If we are going to con-spire with the Spirit of God,
we better put our seat belts on,
because we’ll be going places.
We will be drawn together by the Spirit-Wind,
to open ourselves to each other more deeply,
more honestly,
more completely.
Community will be formed—
in all its multilayered, complicated, exhilarating,
and sometimes painful beauty.
And then, just as surely, we will be driven by that Spirit-Wind,
out into a deeper and riskier and more richly satisfying
way of living in this world.

The Spirit of Pentecost comes to us in the rooms where we gather,
but in the same gust,
it sends us into a violent, broken, and sin-filled world,
to be bearers of God’s Good News.

Just as I began this sermon with a simple little exercise in con-spiracy,
so I end it calling for another exercise in conspiracy.
But it’s neither simple . . . nor little.
It is a call for us to open ourselves more fully to this Spirit
that longs to con-spire with us.
It is a call to gather together with other co-conspirators,
and pray fervently,
saying “Come, Holy Spirit,” in whatever language you speak . . .
and wait patiently,
opening yourselves completely to the Spirit-Wind that will blow.
Test it against the Wind that blows through scripture,
from Creation to Revelation,
but then, if you find it to be true,
give yourself to that wind.
Give yourself.
Spread your wings and see where it takes you.

I cannot tell you where it will take you,
I can only assure you, it will be a life-transforming ride.

Come, Holy Spirit.
And may God have mercy on us all.

—Phil Kniss, May 31, 2009

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