Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
The Story of the Day of Pentecost is, as many have pointed out, a story about breath. The word we translate as Spirit is pneuma in Greek and ruah in Hebrew. Both words mean wind or breath. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God at work in us and wind of God at work in the world. There are obvious connections between this breath of God and the “I can’t breathe” cry from George Floyd as he slowly suffocated to death, handcuffed and unnecessarily subdued under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer who was sworn to serve and protect. There are obvious connections between the breath of God and the pepper bullets, meant to make breathing painful that were intentionally shot at Louisville reporter Kaitlin Rust and her cameraman as they covered protests over the death of Breonna Taylor and “no knock warrants” on Friday night. There are obvious connections between the wind of the Spirit at work in the world and the wanton endangerment of a man refusing to change lanes and hitting a woman with his truck during a Black Lives Matter protest right here in our own city.
While the image of the Holy Spirit as the breath of God runs throughout the Bible, as a white man, my privilege means that I have very little trouble breathing. In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is the African-American, Latin-American, and Native-American populations who have been most profoundly impacted by COVID-19s ability to take your breath away. In the midst of increasingly visible and brazen acts of bigotry and racism, it is black and brown bodies that are most likely to have their right to breathe forcibly removed. By any measure, I have no right to ask for deeper breath. Instead, this week, I have found myself drawn to the image of thirst. I can breathe easy, but I am thirsty for justice, thirsty for righteousness, thirsty for hope.
When I first realized that I’d be preaching from John 7 this week I found it strange. The primary Gospel lesson appointed for Pentecost comes from John 20. On that first Easter night, Jesus breathed on his disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit so that they might be sent out into the world to continue the work he had started. I couldn’t help but wonder, why would we instead hear this lesson from early-on in Jesus’ ministry, when, the narrator reminds us, the Holy Spirit wasn’t even generally available? But as the week went on, I found myself growing increasingly thankful for the image of living water that has been promised to those who follow Jesus.
As Jesus hung on the cross, unjustly condemned to suffocate to death for crimes he didn’t commit, each of the Gospel writers highlights a different part of the traumatic story. In John’s Gospel, in his final moments, we hear Jesus say, “I am thirsty.” After receiving a drink of sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” as he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, pneuma, breath. In those final moments, as the full weight of sin in this world sat upon his chest, Jesus’ thirst wasn’t simply physical, but spiritual as well. He was thirsty for hope, thirsty for justice, thirsty for righteousness. As the darkness crept in, Jesus was thirsty for the living water that had sustained him through three years of ministry. As the loneliness grew, Jesus was thirsty for his companions to be about the work of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration.
I can’t help but imagine that there were a few women left in the crowd around the cross that day who heard Jesus say, “I am thirsty” and remembered his promise that anyone who is thirsty can drink deeply of the living water of the Holy Spirit. Standing there, watching the unjust murder of their friend and rabbi, I wonder what they thought? I wonder how thirsty they were for hope, for justice, and for reconciliation. I wonder how desperate they were for the comfort of the Spirit to be in their midst?
It is in a different Gospel account that Jesus climbs up the side of a mountain to teach his disciples their first lesson. In Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus tells the small group, and thousands of others who were eavesdropping on the conversation, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” He then spent the next three years showing them what it looks like to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Speaking up for the voiceless. Offering hope to the hopeless. Setting aside privilege to enter into the difficulties of the marginalized. Feeding the hungry. Healing the sick. Touching the untouchable. Loving your enemies. Caring for the needy. Jesus taught his disciples to thirst for righteousness, not just for themselves, but for the whole world, until, ultimately, that thirst brought him, and them, to the place where they were willing to risk even death to make this world more like the Kingdom of God.
Today, I find myself thirsty. For too long, I’ve sat quietly, just hoping that people would come to their senses. My privilege meant that the basic injustices of a nation that was built on an ideology of white supremacy would never really impact me. For too long, I’ve been afraid that speaking up would cost me too much. And now, having declined the Holy Spirit’s repeated invitations to drink deeply, I find myself nearly dehydrated. I’m thirsty for a day of justice. I’m thirsty for righteousness. I’m thirsty for peace. I’m thirsty for hope. I’m thirsty for a day when the stories of our African-American neighbors don’t fall on deaf ears, until it’s once again too late and another black man is murdered out of fear, bigotry, and anger. And, from what I’m hearing, many of you are thirsty too.
I don’t have many answers today. I don’t know what concrete steps we need to take in order to work toward a more just society. I don’t know what relationships need to be deepened in order to effectively work toward righteousness. But I do know that if we try to do it all on our own, we will quickly run out of water and find ourselves thirsty again. So, on this day of Pentecost, more than breathing in the breath of God, today my prayer is that we might drink deeply of the Spirit, so deeply that the living water of God might tap into our hearts and gush forth rivers of hope, peace, justice, and righteousness so that all our neighbors might one day have the ability to breathe freely.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.