Holy Breath of Pentecost

Brooke Lacock-Nisly

May 31, 2020

Good Morning 8th Day!   I’m so thankful for this opportunity to share with you this morning on such a special day.  Today we celebrate Recommitment Sunday, Pentecost, and my first teaching at 8th Day!   I’m thankful for Sito’s invitation to speak today, as it both gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into understanding of Pentecost (which I honestly didn’t know much about) and gives me a chance to share more of me with all of you!

Recommitment Sunday marks a new beginning for our church-- a new year, new hopes, new life.  And in the vein of “new life,” I was so encouraged by our time together at the Leadership meeting on Tuesday.  I was inspired to see the other passionate young adults who have taken on leadership roles and also excited by those who said “yes” to leadership roles with hopes of being there to mentor and provide guidance to those of us younger folks.  Who knows what would have happened without the encouragement of those who nudged people to apply for these roles and who followed-up time and time again to hear people’s thoughts, concerns, and hopes.

Many people expressed this same joy with having many new young leaders at the leadership team meeting on Tuesday.  However, as a young person, I need to add just how inspired and thankful I am at your ability, 8th Day’s ability, to trust younger people to hold these roles.

Just a few days before Tuesday, I was having a difficult discussion with a family member who told me “I don’t know why people with less life experience than me think that they know more than I do.” This person wasn’t open to seeing what “people” (I) had to offer, as I was younger and less experienced in life than them.  Whenever I offered my opinion, I was shut down as being ungrateful and for not taking their advice.  In contrast to this conversation, on Tuesday I found myself leaning into the excitement of an older generation who took joy in raising up, trusting and nurturing young people.  What a healing hopeful time for me.

So out of that I want to say something clearly as a young person to the older generation at 8th Day.

Thank you for trusting those with less life experience than you. 
Thank you for humbly giving up positions of power, despite likely being more qualified.
Thank you for stepping back with the ripe timing of still being there to help the ones who have stepped up. 
Thank you for sowing seeds and tending to them. 

Thank you for seeing beyond age and trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to move.

I think all of this falls into the Spirit of Pentecost quite well!   To me the essence of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is open to everyone.  Everyone — old, young and somewhere in between, as it says at the end of the Acts 2 scripture: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young people shall see visions, and your old people shall dream dreams.“ Let’s dive in deeper to the Pentecost story.

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

Why were they all there in one place?  Well what I’ve come to learn about that Pentecost celebration is that there were many reasons they were there to celebrate:

  • Today Christians celebrate Pentecost as the birth of the Christian Church, the great revelation of the Holy Spirit, 8th Day’s recommitment Sunday.  They probably weren’t celebrating these things at their gathering...
  • During their time they were celebrating, the Jewish festival Shavu’ot, (Sha-vote — 50 days after Passover — also called the Festival of Weeks.  Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai
  • Agriculturally, they were commemorating the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known the Festival of the First Fruits.  So I brought some fresh strawberries from our garden to celebrate that piece!
  • In verse 5 we learn that the “they” there “were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.”
  • So Jews from every nation were all together celebrating in one place and
  • Who were the “they”? Who was there celebrating?

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. 

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

  • As we said before, there was already a crowd of Jews but then others who were in Jerusalem started to join in too, probably trying to see, what’s going on!?
  • In Verse 9 it says people from all of these places and more:  Parthians, Judea, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene AND visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 

Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  2:8 And how is it that we hear about God's deeds of power, each of us, in our own native language?  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"

2:13 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

  • This comment has been reminding me of Mo Higgs all week, not saying he’s one to be in disbelief, but he’s quick to say people acting crazy were “Drunk or High”
  • Why else was it so absurd that people were speaking languages they could actually understand?
    • First way of thinking of it is that it’s a miracle!   They are hard to believe sometimes!
    • Part of why the crowd may have been in disbelief is because people typically considered Galileans as uneducated — how were they speaking in all of these languages with this authority? (Source)
    • Zerhusen proposed another theory that also makes sense to me.  At the time,

“All the scriptures and teachings at the time were likely given in Hebrew-- what was considered a high language.  It was the language of God, the language of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and thus the appropriate language for worship.  Consequently, those who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost expected to participate in a liturgy conducted entirely in Hebrew, even if they didn't understand very much Hebrew.”

The common, daily language they spoke was a low language, likely Greek or Aramaic. 

  • In a language situation “crossing boundaries by using Low language in a situation reserved for High is often frowned upon.  Why are people carrying on in Low language on a serious holy occasion that calls for High language?  To make a mistake like this is so absurd that the person must have been drunk to make it.

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "People 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.

2:16 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 people shall see visions, and your old people shall dream dreams.

Even upon my servants, 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.'

Wow.  There’s a lot here that we could unpack and question!   There’s so much that I don’t quite understand about Pentecost!   So I tread lightly with suggestions and ideas to consider.  Honestly, I don’t get what all that “moon turning to blood, fire, smoky mist stuff was at the end.” 

And where was the Holy Spirit before Pentecost?  Was the Holy Spirit before Pentecost like dial-up internet (had to have a direct hook-up with God) and then Post-Pentecost like 4G data- available anywhere/anytime? 

I love this image of the Holy Spirit as a great sweeping wind and air.  It aligns with my growing understanding and appreciation of the Holy Spirit as Breath.  In the Hidden Gospel, Neil Douglas Klotz shares that

in both Hebrew and Aramaic, ruha (Aramaic) and ruach (Hebrew) stand for several English words: Spirit, wind, air and breath” and that we must consider all possibilities simultaneously.  So ‘holy spirit’ must also be ‘holy breath.’”

This is a more expansive way of thinking about the Holy Spirit compared to how the Holy Spirit was discussed as I was growing up in a non-denominational evangelical church.  In high school and college, when I attended these types of churches on and off, the Holy Spirit was more of a presence that came and went — almost like a ghost.  Now I see the Holy Spirit as more of an ongoing internal source and external source that always exists, and that I can become more aware of and in tune with, through the right perspective, posture, and breathing.  I’ve come to see the Holy Spirit as more than psychological but also physiological — embodied in us and our universe.  I encourage you to listen to the rest of this teaching with the understanding of the Holy Spirit being breath, air, wind and spirit simultaneously, even if it’s not something you’re used to.  I will use Holy Breath and Holy Spirit interchangeably. 

As I/we adjust to experiencing the Holy Spirit as “Breath,” and what that means, I wonder — how do we interpret this story of Pentecost “the Birth/start of the Holy Spirit” as some say?  If the Holy Spirit is breath, it should have always been around even before Pentecost right?  People have to breathe!   I’m no expert, but here’s the best way I’ve come to make sense of it.  Similar to how I’ve grown in my awareness that the Holy Spirit has always been around me, this wind and flurry of languages at Pentecost revealed to the people present that the Holy Spirit is there accessible and present in them as well — regardless of age, status, nationality, etc.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this after the sermon in the breakout group

Regardless of all my questions and the ways we can interpret this story, the main takeaway for me is that Holy Spirit, Breath of life, is for EVERYONE.  God even says “I will pour out my spirit upon ALL flesh.” God shows us that the Holy Spirit speaks to all of us through speaking to every person in the Pentecost crowd, from all over the world, in a language they can understand.  The Holy Breath allowing the disciples to speak multiple languages shows us that God values diversity, God is multicultural, and accessible.  God uses the low daily language to meet us where we’re at.  God doesn’t discriminate.

While preparing to teach this week, news broke of George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.  The officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck as Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe” — cutting off Floyd's breath until he took his last.  In response are nation-wide protests and statements speaking out against racism and police brutality.  As someone who’s working toward becoming more “Anti-Racist” — actively opposing and calling out racism — it seems irresponsible not to note this today.  The same Holy Spirit wind at Pentecost is the breath of life George Floyd said repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. 

It seems possible to me that one reason George Floyd’s death is causing more disturbance and dissonance than the alarming number of other racially violent acts by white police officers is that it’s related to breath and breathing.  While re-traumatizing for people who have been exposed to similar kinds of violence, the video and images of George Floyd’s death evoke the gut-wrenching panic and helplessness of not being able to breathe.  Breathing is something we all have in common and need to live.  Maybe fear of not being able to breathe is even more in the forefront of people’s consciousness as we avoid a virus that leads to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.  I’m not saying that as humans that we should be emotionally or physiologically immune to other types of violence, but at this time I think someone yelling “I can’t breathe” takes on an even greater weight.

Maybe this is why I’m seeing people on my social media who are conservative or non-political, and who more likely to say “all lives matter” or “police lives matter,” making statements of their opposition to what happened to George Floyd and speaking for justice.  George Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” is something I hope we all can understand.

Of course we’re called to go beyond breathing out declarations of anti-racism, and I pray that with our Holy Breath we are led to take actions to support people of color and to create more racially just systems.  When we see the Holy Spirit as Breath, air, wind, the way we encounter each other and scripture can take on a whole new life.  Let’s try this with a creative adaptation of 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13:

No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Breath.  Now there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities, but the same Breath who activates all of them in everyone.

To each is given the manifestation of the Breath for the common good.  To one is given through the breath the utterance of wisdom, to another knowledge according to the same breath, to another faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are activated by one and the same Wind, who allots to each one individually just as the Wind chooses.  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to breath of one Wind.

As I wrap up, I’d like to share a symbol about what’s ripe and ready for me to contribute with the body of Christ in this new year of commitment at 8th Day.  Now you might want to pay attention and listen carefully since this is something you’re going to be asked to do next week during the New Creation Contemplative service.  So here’s an object that represents something that I’d like to share with the community in the coming year.

[Show BlueTooth Speaker]

This speaker also represents the tech side of things — as I hope to use my tech skills to help host the services, manage the website and Google listserv. 

But on a deeper note, in my last three years at 8th Day, I’ve taken more of the back seat.  Listening, observing, growing, and learning.  I still hope to continue those practices.  However, it’s time for me to speak up more!   (hence, the speaker) I want to voice more prayer concerns, do a teaching (check), do another teaching, help create more times for young adult gatherings, speak up for justice, etc.  Often I feared there wasn’t enough time for another voice to be heard, that other voices would be louder or more in tune with what was going on, and honestly those are still fears.  Maybe in my naming this, others will discern if there are times that they should wait to see if others want to talk first who may need more space to do so.  Regardless, this is what I bring and commit to trying to share in this new season.

As we carry on to our celebration and time of recommitment, I encourage us, the body, to breath in unison for a moment, as Luisely had us do a few weeks ago… as we do this, we’ll ease into our time of silent reflection.