The Story of Humanity
One year ago we awoke Pentecost morning from a night with a curfew and closed freeways, to the smoldering remains of shops along Lake Street, and a palpable tension in the air along with the helicopters, smoke and ash, as the nation was reeling from watching the breath forced from George Floyd’s body in front of our eyes. One year ago this week our city, the nation, the world, ignited with pain.
The end of our passage today calls the people who heard the word of God and joined in the work of God those who are “being saved.” Being saved looks like letting love’s fire cleanse us and burn away what is killing us, and fan to life what wants to live in us. It looks like repentance of sins and honest acknowledgement of the ways we hurt each other, degrade each other’s humanity, or ignore the needs of our neighbors or their cries for help or justice. Being saved looks like forgiveness of ourselves and each other, the green shoots of new life budding between us. Being saved looks like courage (which is always vulnerability), and willingness to be changed. And it looks like showing up for each other with abundant generosity and our true selves, in whatever ways we can amidst life’s losses and upheavals. This being saved from fear and division for love and connection is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The words for Holy Spirit in Hebrew and in Greek are: breath, wind, life force. The Spirit is the outflowing of the dynamic connection between Father and Son - the verb of the Trinity’s relationship, love in action, the energy of life that binds us to God and each other. Where there is love, connection, comfort, healing, hope, there is the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God hovered over the great void of emptiness at creation, stirring up life out of nothing, bringing connection from chaos. So the Spirit doesn’t need some pre-existing material to work with. Nothingness and loss is where God begins. This is the same Spirit that filled the lungs of the adam, the first creature of the earth (adamah), and initiated the first tiny human community with one man and one woman, now made in God’s own image. This is the Spirit who inspired of the Psalms of David, quickened the womb of Mary, and descended like a dove to claim Jesus as Beloved in the river of John’s baptism.
And this is the same Spirit who hovers over us now, in the strangeness of this life – the time that we are slowly leaving of upheaval and staying still, undergirding fear and excruciating languishing, and the Spirit is hovering over the season of transition and baby steps toward ‘normal’ we are just stepping into. Into our exhaustion and worry, the unknown we are facing, the pain we are carrying and joy we are tasting, the Spirit of God speaks to our hearts the persistent invitation to life alongside each other.
In our Apostles’ Creed book, (the part about the Holy Spirit we haven’t gotten to yet) Ben Myers talks how in the bible – between the first tiny human family in Genesis and the final vast harmony of all tongues and tribes in the presence of God that awaits us in Revelation, sin breaks into the human story and disorders human relationships, making “each human being a fragment torn loose from the whole.” This culminates in the story of the Tower of Babel, where the in the distortion of their connection the people cooperated to undermine and mock God. So God divided their language and suddenly they were no longer able to work together, to shape a shared life or mutual society. Splintered apart, they drifted off in separate groups to different places, and the whole is broken.
But on Pentecost, when the Spirit comes on the fearful and languishing disciples grieving their loss and just stepping into own their season of transition, they suddenly speak all these different languages, and the human family that has been scattered and divided comes back together. Myers says, “That is what happens when the Spirit is present. The Spirit fulfills the Creator’s original plan by bringing forth a universal community whose boundaries are as wide as the world. The Spirit broods over the chaos of human nature, lovingly piecing the fragments back together so that together we form an image of the Creator.”
We are in the middle of that story. We are made for belonging and being shaped for this human family, and we are distorted by sin and fragmented by division. But in every moment thee Holy Spirit is drawing us back into our belonging to God and each other, and is shaping us for a future of everlasting belonging and joy. The power of the Holy Spirit, the energy of God’s love, comes into our places of death and detachment, bringing new life and healing.
One year ago, in the middle of a global pandemic that kept us separated, in the middle of a national outpouring of anguish and anger, the Holy Spirit was moving. People who hadn’t been listening before started hearing the message of God’s love and connection in their own language, speaking to their own hearts, calling forth repentance and awareness. And in new ways, through different voices, our shared humanity was lifted up before our eyes.
Communities came together to care for one another, artists and activists teamed up with grandparents and children, strangers gathered food, had conversations, shared tears, and made music, and art and good trouble. A garden sprang up on George Floyd square, and rallies and marches sprang up all across our nation and the world, and people who had been isolated and divided began hearing and seeing each other. People who had been settled became unsettled. People who had been ignored and marginalized, threatened and harmed were empowered to tell their stories, to speak truth to the world. Make no mistake, this is the Holy Spirit in action.
In the past year we’ve been alongside each other in all sorts of ways, with laughter and tears and computers and masks and food delivered and prayers shared, and losses weathered and joys celebrated. And in our empty building hope is alive as walls have gone up, framing out a space of welcome for a community of children and teachers to share life with us. And the Holy Spirit continues to move.
We are one human family. The children separated from parents at our border and the children hovering in fear of falling bombs are our children. The isolated and lonely who weathered the pandemic behind locked doors, seeing loved ones through closed windows, are our grandparents. We all belong to God. We all belong to each other.
God is forging a new community that reflects God’s own being. We are being saved into that love, for that love, to find our being in that love and live out that love in the world God loves.
But a reminder again: the work the Spirit does not come from us, and is not up to us. We don’t join in from our own competence or confidence; we join in from the connection that God has already made. The Spirit doesn’t need terrific pre-existing material to work with, nothingness and loss is where God begins. Remember, God’s Sprit hovers over emptiness, creates life out of a void and connection from chaos, and isn’t put off by a challenge. We are being saved. The Spirit will give what we need when we need it.
All around us are stories of conflict, stories of human beings fragmented – torn apart in ways that seem impossible to mend. But the true story of humanity is the story of Pentecost, scared people joining in and letting their voices be used by God. Divided people from divergent backgrounds, experiences and places each hearing the voice of God in their own language, embraced in the fullness of their own person, and joined back into the unbroken whole human family by the Holy Spirit with the call to spread that hope to the world. Now we know in part, we get little tastes and small glimpses, but one day, in the very presence of God, we will experience fully and completely our belonging to God and each other without end.