In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Temple authorities. Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Having said this, Jesus showed them the marks of crucifixion. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus, who said to them again, “Peace be with you. As Abba God sent me, so I am sending you.”
After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
Sunday Morning Reflection for 31 May 2004
Dennis R. Clark
Three salesmen were walking along a beach after a busy conference day in Miami when they came upon a lamp half-buried in the sand. They dug it out, picked it up, rubbed the sand off it, and out popped the proverbial genie. Now this genie had been around for quite a long time, so she got right to the point. “I’ll grant each of you one wish, “ she stated, “but only one wish per person.”
The first salesman wrinkled his forehead and thought for a moment about what might help him improve his sales. Then he blurted out, “I wish I were twice as smart as I am.” The genie tapped him on the forehead and then announced, “You are now twice as smart as you were before!” The second salesman was thinking along the same lines but wanted to outbid his companion so he declared. “I too want to be smarter, but I wish I were five times as smart as I am.” The genie tapped him on the forehead and solemnly said, “You are now five times smarter than you were before.”
The third salesman was quietly learning how to play this game with the genie. In his effort to become the best of the three salesmen, he declared his one wish with great gusto, “I wish I were ten times as smart as I am!” The genie smiled and announced in a loud voice, “You are now…a woman.”
For all the time between the First Easter morning and the first Pentecost, the apostles had all been wishing they were a lot smarter. Especially after the crucifixion of Jesus, their own inadequacies had become painfully clear to each and all. They had deserted Jesus in his time of greatest need. Some had literally fallen asleep on the job. Peter had denied. Thomas had doubted. Even the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances didn’t erase the memories of their shortcomings.
During all this time, the apostles were pretty easy to locate. If anyone wanted to find them, they knew where to look – in the upper room in a Jerusalem building, where, because of fear, the door was always locked and the windows shut and the conversation an endless stream of self-incriminations for failing to act courageously and decisively, for failing to put into practice the lessons Jesus taught them.
Then suddenly, it was Pentecost, and everything changed! That ragtag band of frightened disciples became men and women of heroic stature, fearless liberators who – at great personal peril – would carry the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth. What made the difference? The traditional answer is that the Holy Spirit, the true and ultimate Genie in our story, descended upon them. But that response is only half right. Yes, it was the Holy Spirit that made the difference; but the Spirit did not descend or arrive on Pentecost as if by some pre-arranged schedule. God’s Spirit, the One promised by Jesus, had always been present there inside each of them from the moment they drew their very first breath.
So what did happen this first Pentecost Sunday? What changed? The change was in the disciples. At long last they stopped holding back, stopped measuring out their commitment to Jesus in small steps. They stopped counting the cost, stopped calculating the time, and gave God their everything. They lowered their guard and let God’s Spirit touch them in the depth of their souls, in the most secret places of their hearts. In the depth of this surrender to the Spirit, they were transformed and the church was born!
To some degree we are in the same situation as these disciples. God’s Spirit abides within us, and has been within us since we drew our first breath. Yet in so many ways we haven’t allowed the Spirit to touch us. We are bogged down with personal goals, career drives, church policies, petty jealousies, failed relationships. We’ve only entrusted mere fragments of our hearts to the Spirit within. Consequently, many of the great works and great loves to which God calls us have not happened, have gone unanswered.
Today’s feast is God’s invitation to rouse ourselves to the promptings of that Spirit within us, to catch fire, as it were, to become fire enlightening the minds and warming the hearts of the people in our lives. There is no magical lamp half-buried in the sand of a Miami beach. There is no proverbial genie to tap us on the forehead and make our wish come true. But there is a Lively and powerful Spirit within us, a Spirit that can break through the bonds of our fearfulness and prompt us to be joy-filled, courageous, thankful and compassionate as we each and all work together to give birth to a new church – one inspired not by the directives of bishops who have lost whatever credibility they once had, but by the promptings of the Pentecost Spirit alive in each and all of us! Happy Birthday, new church! Happy birthday, everyone!