Pentecost Reminds Me To Breathe God In

Pentecost Reminds Me To Breathe God In

By Beth Demme

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We all know there are four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and autumn. I live in the northern part of Florida, just on the border with Georgia. Unlike our friends further south in Florida, we are lucky enough to get at least a taste of each of the four seasons. Some of them are fleeting, but we enjoy them while we can! As spring melts into summer (and it’s so hot really does feel like everything is literally melting), we find ourselves in the midst of another kind of season, graduation season.

It just so happens that Pentecost, an important church celebration, typically coincides with graduation season. Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter. It bounces around on the calendar and generally falls between May 11 and June 13.

In terms of the Liturgical (i.e., church) Calendar, Pentecost is the conclusion of the Easter season. After Pentecost, we mark the Sundays of the year by their relationship to Pentecost. In fact, we sometimes call this “Ordinary Time” because the Sundays are counted with ordinal numbers—“the Second (Third) (Fourth) (Fifth) Sunday After Pentecost.”

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I like the coincidental pairing of Pentecost and graduation.

Even though graduation marks the end of something, we typically call the graduation ceremony a “Commencement.” To commence means we are at the beginning of something, not the end, right?

Pentecost, like graduation, is simultaneously the end, and beginning, of something wonderful. When a person graduates, they finish their education but embark on their career (or the next phase of schooling).

In Pentecost, we mark the end of the Easter season, but we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God among us. When the incarnate God was no longer with us in carnate form, he remained with us in Spirit.

The first Pentecost for Christians was nearly two millennia ago, but the Spirit has never left us. The word for Spirit itself tells you how close the Spirit—the presence of God—is to you. In the Hebrew (Old) Testament, the word for spirit is ruach. In the Greek (New) Testament, the word is pneuma.

These words can also mean both wind and breath.

On the first Pentecost after the Ascension of Jesus, the Spirit came from heaven “like the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:1). The Spirit can come in like a storm, but the Spirit isn’t solely strength and bluster, the Spirit is also as gentle as your breath.

I can be reminded of the closeness of God by simply taking a deep breath. Knowing that God is as close to me as the breath I breathe reminds me there is nothing closer than God.

As we move into the heat of summer, I’ll be reminded of God in another way. The gentle breezes that bring relief from stifling heat are like a love note from God. No wonder, since his presence is ruach and pneuma!

When that happens to me, I tend to smile and turn my face towards the breeze, the body language equivalent of “gimme more.” And then, of course, I take more. I take a deep breath, breathing in even more of the God who loves me.

What about you? Have you ever thought of Pentecost as a graduation-style Commencement? Do you find God in the breezes and breaths of the day?  Tell me about it in the comments, an e-mail, or on Facebook.


More Like This From Beth:

Ascension Is The Rest of The Story And So Am I

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By Beth Demme

Do you remember Paul Harvey? He was on the radio back in the day, always sharing “the rest of the story.” Well, in Christianity, Ascension is the rest of the story. As much as my faith is based on incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, it is also about ascension. I declare this every time I say the Apostles’ Creed—Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father. . . . ”

But, why? Why doesn’t Christianity stop with the resurrection?

There are probably a lot of reasons, but two feel especially important to me right now. First, our hope has always been based on God who existed beyond our own perceptible existence. Sometimes we call this heaven, sometimes God is “out there,” and sometimes God just is and we are less concerned about where is is.

In fact, there are special moments when it feels like our reality and God’s eternity connect somehow. These moments are often described as a thinning of the veil.

Sometimes we peek behind the veil and we understand that God is at work beyond the circumstances we can perceive. For example, we read about this in the story of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. He was part of the first generation to move back to Israel after at least three-generations of Babylonian exile. Jerusalem was in ruins, but Zechariah learned—through a vision—that God was still at work (Zechariah 1:7-17). The circumstances suggested God was absent, but God came to Zechariah to make it clear he was still at work behind the scenes (or beyond the seen).

The Ascension reminds us that this behind-the-scenes/beyond-the-seen work continues to this day.

Jesus “ascended” because his earthly ministry was only part of the story. The rest of the story is that Jesus works from another realm.

Keeping Up With God

I'm Always A Step Behind

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Keeping Up With God, Who Is Always A Step Ahead

By Beth Demme

In the New Testament, right after the four Gospels, we have a book called “Acts.” Sometimes it’s called “Acts of the Apostles” because it’s the story of how the apostles began to teach, preach, and heal after Jesus ascended to heaven. Sometimes it’s called “Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it’s filled with stories of the Holy Spirit leading the apostles in unexpected directions and expanding the good news to a whole host of people who were thought to be outside the covenant.

One of the things about Acts that inspires me is how God remains a step (or two or 10,000) ahead of the folks running the early church.

I find that inspiring and reassuring because in my own life I often realize what God is doing only in hindsight. Also, I often feel that the church, despite our best efforts, lags behind. Sometimes it’s as if our humanity has a drag effect on the church, preventing it from keeping pace with the Holy Spirit.

On the one hand, that makes perfect sense. There will never be a time when God has to catch up with us, right? That would make the church somehow more advanced than God. On the other hand, we tend to think we are keeping pace with God. Sadly, we have learned time and again that we only thought we were keeping up when, really, we were jogging while God was sprinting.

Historically speaking, the church has realized its errors from time to time. For example, the church realized it was wrong in the Crusades when its soldiers killed people in the name of Jesus. The church realized it was wrong when it used Jesus as an excuse to colonize and destroy. The church realized it was wrong when it used the Bible to justify the enslavement of people.

Today we see the church struggling with a host of issues related to personhood and the imago dei.  As incredible (and unbelievable) as it is to me, the church is still struggling with whether women are made in the divine image of God (read this and this if you think this discussion is not still happening).

The church is still playing catch-up. The Holy Spirit is light years ahead of us, but our humanity can’t stop God.

You and the Ethiopian Eunuch

You Have More In Common Than You Realize

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Yes, You Are Like The Eunuch

By Beth Demme

Sometimes we read about an incredibly beautiful moment in the Bible, like the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and we think “good for him!” without understanding it’s really about us, too. And while it can be potentially dangerous to make everything in the Bible about y-o-u, maybe that’s a risk worth taking if it draws us closer to God.

In Acts chapter 8, the Apostle Philip meets “an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of The Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians.” Philip overhears the eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah and strikes up a conversation with him. That leads to Philip telling him all about Jesus. Apparently, Philip brings up baptism too, because as soon as the eunuch sees some water he asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Within moments the eunuch was baptized and “went on his way rejoicing” while God carried Philip off to another job.

This is a beautiful story of the inclusiveness of God’s Kingdom, isn’t it? The eunuch was seen as less than. In fact, Deuteronomy 23:1 called for him to be excluded from the Temple. “No one who has been emasculated … may enter the assembly of the Lord” is the most polite translation I could find. Most are more graphic about the “emasculation.”

It may seem strange to read about eunuchs in the Bible and to hear about them in church, but maybe this is a lesson in what it truly means to be whole.

The Surprising Connection Between Dependence and Abundance

The Surprising Connection Between Dependence and Abundance

By Beth Demme

I don’t know anything about actual shepherding, like, with sheep. Literally, nothing. My visions of being a shepherd come from church Christmas pageants when I was a kid. The 10-year old boys were the shepherds and that meant they carried a cool stick and wore their dads’ bathrobes.

That’s probably all there is to it, right?

A few years ago, I was assigned to be a shepherd-in-the-field at my church’s drive-thru nativity. The other shepherds and I stood with our backs to the cars, looking up at the angel on the hill. The angel declared the birth of the Messiah with a beatific smile that radiated peacefulness and joy.

Despite the excellent work of the angel, I would say that experience proves I’m not cut out to be an actual shepherd.

The shepherd next to me (we’ll call him Benji), nearly made me blow the plot when, out of the blue, he said, “you know what I’ve always wondered?”

“No, Benji. What have you always wondered?” I asked, innocently.

“I’ve always wondered if angels wear underwear.”

“Huh?” I said, pivoting to turn to him with a confused look on my face.

“I mean real angels, not the fake ones we have out here. Do you think they wear underwear under their robes?”

Oh Benji. You are precious to the Lord. Bless your heart.

I guess the one thing I know about being a shepherd is that it works best when there is a good relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd cares deeply for each individual sheep and the sheep are dependent on the shepherd.

I tend to think of dependency as a bad thing and independence as a good thing.

The United States has a Declaration of Independence. As my son nears his junior year in high school, I have a heightened awareness of my responsibility to train him to live independently. The building boom around me is all centered on “Independent Living for Senior Adults.”

The Power of a Shared Meal

Or, Why I Need Communion

The Power of a Shared Meal

By Beth Demme

I love sitting down at a table with people and sharing a meal. Whether it’s a holiday meal with the family that has loved me my entire life, or an evening out with new friends, I always enjoy “breaking bread” with people.

“Breaking bread” has a special meaning in Christianity. If you are (or ever have been) a church person, it probably draws your mind to images of Communion (or Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper, depending on your tradition).

Churches handle Communion in diverse ways.

Some churches offer it weekly, or monthly, or quarterly. Some churches, like mine, offer an open table—anyone who wants to receive Communion can. Other churches ask that you check with the pastor or priest beforehand.

Sometimes Communion is the focal point of the service and there is a lot of formality and fanfare, while other times it’s an almost private moment at the end of the service. Personally, I’ve been drawn to different methods in different seasons of my life. Currently, I favor the more personal and intimate approach.

We don’t always think of Communion as a meal, maybe because it’s just a piece of bread or wafer and a splash of juice or wine, but it is a meal—the kind that nourishes us spiritually and physically.

Sharing a meal was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, it is one way he revealed himself to people, and it is one way he continues to do so today.

Church folks know the story of the night Jesus was betrayed. We know that on that night he shared a meal with his disciples. He held some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus did the same thing with the cup, saying it was his blood poured out for us and we should drink from it as a way to remember the new covenant between God and humanity. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Church folks know this part of scripture because it’s usually recited in some form as part of the Communion ceremony. What we may not always remember is that the shared meal was important to Jesus after resurrection as well.

Why I Love Doubting Thomas

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Why I Love Doubting Thomas

By Beth Demme

When you hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” do you think of him as a failure or do you feel an affinity for him? If you don’t know the details of his story, pause for a minute and read how he got his nickname at John 20:19-31.

On the one hand, I feel compelled to argue for a new nickname for Thomas. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18) but we don’t call him “Denying Peter.” Peter also sank after trying to walk on water with Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33), but we don’t call him “Sinking Peter.” Maybe instead of calling him Doubting Thomas, we would do better to call him Believing Thomas or Faithful Thomas or Fruitful Thomas or Just-Like-Me Thomas.

On the other hand, I think we should embrace the nickname “Doubting Thomas” and celebrate it! We should celebrate that Thomas had doubts, and celebrate how Jesus responded.

Why do we make it seem like it’s a bad thing that Thomas doubted? Have you ever had a friend recommend a TV show, a movie, or a book? No matter how detailed and accurate their recommendation is, it’s no substitute for seeing it or reading it for yourself, right?

That’s what really happens to the one we always call “Doubting Thomas.”

Three days after the crucifixion, the resurrected Jesus appears to Thomas’s friends. When Thomas comes back to the house, they can’t wait to tell him about this incredible thing that has happened. Thomas says, “I’ve got to see that for myself!”

How To Go From Despair to Delight

Mary Magdalene's Easter Experience

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How To Go From Despair to Delight

By Beth Demme

On Easter we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrated an empty tomb that was full of hope! We celebrated that our relationship with God is restored! Now, as we move into the Easter season (Easter Sunday thru Pentecost), I find myself considering Mary Magdalene. I keep thinking about her transformation in the verses of John 20. Her transformation from despair to delight.

Maybe you, or someone you know, really needs that kind of transformation right now. For Mary, it happens when Jesus calls her by name. It happens when she understands God really knows her, and cares for her.

In John 20, we find Mary in the wake of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. It is pre-dawn, with its literal and metaphorical darkness. Mary wants to feel close to Jesus in the wake of his death and to pay respect to her fallen friend, teacher, and leader. Just like we might do in the days following a close friend’s funeral, Mary visits his grave.

As she approaches, she realizes, with horror, that something is amiss. She runs back to the other disciples and says, “they’ve taken Jesus out of the tomb!”

Two disciples immediately run to the tomb and have a look around. They agree that Jesus isn’t there and then head back home. But Mary? Mary lingers.

She stands there weeping.

I imagine her with tears rolling down her face and onto her dress. In my mind’s eye, she’s crying so much that her nose is running and even her headdress is marked by her overflowing tears.

Still crying, she bends over to look at where Jesus’ body should have been. She never intended to look inside the tomb that day, but finding it open, what choice did she have?

Jesus is Missing from the Easter Story

Actually, that's the point. The tomb is empty.

Copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo

Jesus is Missing from the Easter Story

By Beth Demme

One of the reasons I come to you via email, Facebook, or blog each week is to fulfill my personal mission to help people see the Bible as manageable and meaningful. That means there are times when I have the joy (and challenge?) of sharing something with you that you might not hear in church.

There are Bible study lessons that don’t fit in well with preaching. When a pastor has precious few minutes with you each week, they generally feel they can’t afford to spend those minutes on background and nuance that are better suited to a Bible study. But then in Bible study, the goal is often to cram in as much information and application as possible so, again, nuance is seen as a nuisance.

So, this Easter, you might not hear the Easter story as told in the Gospel of Mark.

It’s an optional reading for those churches following the Revised Common Lectionary, but even still many (including me) will opt for the Easter story as told in the Gospel of John.

Wait a minute? There’s more than one Easter story?

Well … sort of. There is only one Easter story (He IS risen!), but there are four perspectives on this all-important event. Mark’s perspective is the most challenging because it ends on a cliff-hanger. If you open your Bible to Mark chapter 16, you’ll probably see a note after verse 8 explaining that “some of the most ancient [i.e. oldest] authorities” end the book here; others include verse 9, some go all the way through verse 20.

Resurrection Begins Now (And It’s Not Even Easter Yet)

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Resurrection Begins Now (And It’s Not Even Easter Yet)

By Beth Demme

There comes a time towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry when he raises a man from the dead, his dear friend Lazarus. The telling of this story always breaks me a little because of the words of Martha, the sister of Lazarus.

Martha is a do-er, a worker, a get-her-hands-dirty-and-serve-others kind of lady. We read about her in Luke 10 when Jesus stops by her house. Martha’s sister, Mary, doesn’t help with the work of hospitality. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things … Mary has chosen the better part.”

After Lazarus dies Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Martha, the do-er, tells Jesus he should have done something.

In response, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He doesn’t say only, “I will bring resurrection and life,” but “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Jesus says to Martha, to you, and to me, “I am YOUR resurrection and YOUR life.”

God brings life to those moments that need resurrection.

When Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here –if only you had been here!—my brother would not have died,” this is every suffering person ever, isn’t it?

God if you had been here this terrible thing would not have happened. A mass shooting in a school, bombs exploding on front porches, planes into towers, an unexpected diagnosis – WHERE are you GOD?

God says, “I AM here. I AM with you.”