Year A-Day of Pentecost: Num 11:24-30; Ps 104:25-35, 37; Acts 2:1-21; Jn 20:19-23
May these words of mine please him; I will rejoice in all his works.
In one of my favorite movies, Joe vs. the Volcano, there is a scene where Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks, who has been diagnosed with a brain cloud, an incurable disease, is approached by a wealthy man asking him to jump into a volcano on the island of Wapponi Whu as a sacrifice to the volcano god so that the island will not sink. Joe, who has nothing better to do with his last days, agrees. He is given credit cards and told to get whatever he needs for his journey, so he hires a limo and driver to buy the things that he will need.
When the driver arrives, he asks Joe where he wants to go and Joe simply says, Shopping for clothes. He gives no other details about the kinds of clothes he wants or the journey that lay ahead. The rest of the conversation goes something like this:
Marshall: They just pay me to drive the limo, sir. I’m not here to tell you who you are.
Joe Banks: I didn’t ask you to tell me who I am.
Marshall: You were hinting around about clothes. That happens to be a very important topic to me, sir. Clothes,
Marshall: Banks. Clothes make the man. I believe that. You say to me you want to go shopping, you want to buy clothes, but you don’t know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I’m going to fill in the blank, that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don’t know who you are, I don’t want to know. It’s taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I’m tired now, you hear what I’m saying?
Its taken me my whole life to find out who I am.
Isn’t that what we are all doing? I thought I knew who I was when I graduated from high school. I had dreams of becoming a lawyer of standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves. When I graduated college, those dreams had become a little jaded”there were too many victims, and too many lawyers who didn’t care.
So I thought I would become a social worker and advocate for those who could not advocate for themselves. It was good work, frustrating at times, disappointing at times, but most of the time rewarding and encouraging. But something kept nagging at me, not allowing me to know peace in my life. Oh, I was happy, don’t get me wrong”good job, good friends, great husband, but there was this little space of emptiness deep in the pit of my stomach. I thought I knew who I was, but I didn’t.
I thought my career path, my hobbies, my friends was my identity. But, deep down I knew it was not. I kept trying to figure out who I was. I went to work for the church, becoming a youth and children’s minister.
I thought, Ok God, if you want me to work for the church I will, now you can leave me alone, now I can know the peace that passes all understanding. And it was good. I loved my work with youth and children. I loved going to the church everyday. But I still did not know that peace”I still felt some grumblings of discontent. I knew I felt called to the priesthood, had known it for years”but I didn’t know why. Its still difficult to explain, but it had to do with identity.
For so much of my life I had tried to figure out who I was. I wanted to be special, do great things, be someone who mattered.
And then I realized, its not about me at all. My identity has nothing to do with me. My identity is about God. That is what the Day of Pentecost is really all about”establishing identity. The Holy Spirit claims us and gives us identity, not simply individually, but communally as the Church, the body of Christ.
In Genesis we are introduced to the Spirit when a wind from God swept over the face of the waters that same wind or breath is then breathed into the nostrils of man after he has been formed from the dust, the breath of life, and man became a living being.
Our very life is given us by the Spirit and our identity is wrapped up in the Spirit in deep and intricate ways. We can spend our whole life trying to figure out who we are, but we will only discover that we are frustrated and never satisfied with that identity when it is simply about us. It will only make us tired.
When we discover that our identity is wrapped up in something greater, something bigger, that it is not about us at all, then we find purpose and fulfillment”we will no longer be plagued by incurable brain clouds, the crooked path will become straight, we will not be tired but renewed, invigorated, energized because that is who the Holy Spirit is.
When our identity is wrapped up in the Spirit we cannot help but to prophesy wherever we are just as Eldad and Medad in the camp. When our identity is wrapped up n the Holy Spirit we will lament as Moses did, Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them! We will not be jealous of the powers and wonders that others do, but desire that even more would do so.
When our identity is wrapped up in the Holy Spirit, we won’t need to worry about where to go for clothes, we will be clothed in tongues of fire. We won’t need to worry about what we will say, God is more concerned about what others will hear”that is what it means to proclaim the Good News. We won’t have to worry about being someone who matters, being someone special, we will amaze, astonish, even perplex others not by our own words or actions, but by those of the spirit.
When our identity is wrapped up in the Holy Spirit we are charged with the power to forgive. We are reminded that forgiveness rests in our ability to forgive or retain he sins of others. That is a great responsibility and it says something, not only about God, but about who God’s people are”how we make a difference in the world.
When we hold on to another’s faults we allow those faults to continue in the world. But when we release them, when we forgive, when we recognize that who we are and what we do are less about ourselves and more about our struggles with our own sense of power, our own sense of purpose, our own understanding of being marked as Christ’s own forever, our own identity”when we understand that about ourselves and realize that we are all struggling with what that means, with humility and pride”then we can begin to understand that about others and enter into an identity that is not our own, but an identity that we are all bond together in by the Holy Spirit.
When our identity is wrapped up in the Holy Spirit, we are given the gift of forgiveness, the gift of evangelism, the gift of mission.
We receive the Holy Spirit not for the church alone, not simply because it gives us an identity bound up as it may be with God, but because in receiving the Holy Spirit we participate in the recreation of humanity, the great community of God, the drawing of all people together, making us one. Because when our identity is wrapped up in the Holy Spirit”the Inspirer, the Sustainer, the Advocate”we recognize that it really is not about us at all. Its about something much greater, much bigger than we can know or imagine.
In the midst of his journey to the volcano, Joe has met Patricia, played by Meg Ryan. Patricia is to sail Joe to the island of Wapponi Whu, but their boat sinks. Fortunately, the luggage Joe purchased for his journey pops up out of the water and they are able to lash the pieces together to make a raft. They are exhausted and dehydrated.
Lying on the raft slipping between a state of consciousness and delirium, Joe sees the moon rise”it is so large, it fills the screen. The water is calm and there is no land for miles around so that it looks like that place where the earth ends and the sky begins, where if you were to fall over the edge, the rays of the moon would catch you, a place where you can’t tell where this world ends and the next begins, where Heaven and earth begin to merge, a thin place.
A place that Wendell Berry describes as one of the thresholds”between Earth and Heaven,–from which even I may step”forth from my self and be free. It is in this moment, in this threshold, that Joe pulls himself unsteadily to his feet, small before the hugeness of the rising moon, and shakily raising his arms above his head, prays. Dear God, whose name I do not know”thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG¦thank you. Thank you for my life.
Our life, our identity is not about us. Its about something bigger. And we are drawn into that identity through the Spirit and by the power of the Spirit, clothed in flames of red, made active participants in God’s reconciling work in the world. Our identity is about prophesy and proclamation of the Good News, about forgiveness, about a peace which passes all understanding, about renewal. We only know our identity when we are filled with the Holy Spirit and realize we know not where we end and God begins.