Sent in, then out

We normally talk about the work of the Holy Spirit as a ‘sending out’. When the Holy Spirit works, it’s like a centrifugal force pushing us ever outward. When he first appears to his disciples following his resurrection, Jesus tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you …”[1]

We have devised images to help us imagine this outward-destined power: The missional energy is likened to a rocket ship blasting from the earth into the limitless universe. We are quick to remind ourselves that our very identity based on the original Greek word for church – ecclesia– means “a people called out.” You have heard me and others preach about going beyond the walls of the church in the programs we offer and the services we provide.

Nonetheless, in all our missional enthusiasm around this truth the Holy Spirit is first given to us. Before we go out, we must go in. We must first traverse and discover the Spirit in the regions of our hearts. In order for the Holy Spirit to send us out into the world anew, the Holy Spirit must first come into us, as Jesus came to his disciples cowering behind locked doors.

The Gospel text assigned for this Pentecost Sunday focuses our attention on the image of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”[2]Before the disciples were sent out into the world, speaking in their native tongues, doing even greater deeds, and empowered by the Spirit of God, Jesus came to them. They had to receive and claim this gift within the containers of their own gifts, talents, abilities and personalities.

And Jesus enters into the locked rooms of our hearts. Locked by fear of the unknown future. Locked by anger for all our losses and hurts. Into the spaces of our most intimate lives. Into the homes and rooms of our daily work, play and rest. Where we are sheltered-in-place, where we are quarantined and secluded and physically distant. Into our inner beings – this is where the Spirit of the living God enters us – before anything else can happen.

It’s difficult to accept and receive the Holy Spirit, the peace and forgiveness of God at the best of times let alone when we are anxious, afraid and angry. While spending more time at home, more time by ourselves. It’s almost as if we will react against the possibility, the notion, that Jesus can come into the messiness and disorderliness of our inner sanctums, homes, rooms and hearts. We knee-jerk in reaction, saying that the sooner we can get back to ‘normal’, the sooner we can get ‘out there’ and be allowed together again, the better. 

Do we refuse to consider that the work of the Spirit can happen ‘in isolation’ or in minimalist ways – when we are by ourselves, or locked-down, or physically distant from each other?  Do we shackle God in constraints of our own imagination and belief?

One of the main upshots of Martin Luther’s Christian education was the primacy of the home. His popular ‘table talks’ were formed around the intention of making the home the primary place for spiritual formation. In fact the Small Catechismwas originally devised to be read and discussed among members of the household – not in the classroom, not in the church building, not in some large group gathering or Christian Education forum. But in the home. 

Perhaps this time of quarantine is inviting us to reconsider and reacquaint ourselves with what Martin Luther had really intended from the start. Here is an opportunity to rediscover and practice our faith – in good Lutheran tradition!

In a recent video conference call with other clergy, we talked about a scenario that someone had heard of. Whether it actually happened, or was being considered I am not sure. But a baby was born to first-time parents during the pandemic lockdown. And the parents wanted to have their newborn baptized. What to do when no one knows when the church can gather together physically again? It could be months.

So, they talked about it with their pastor. And they came up with this plan. The parents would hold their newborn in the foyer entrance inside their house, bowl of water at hand. The pastor would stand outside on the front step of the closed door. They could see each other and hear each other speak through the glass of the door. And while the pastor introduced a brief liturgy for baptism, the parents would then pour water over the tiny head of their newborn child, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In their own home. Where two or three were gathered in God’s name and presence.

Life is not put on hold because of this pandemic. During this time of self-isolation, quarantine, sheltering-in-place, seclusion – whatever you want to call it – couples are still getting married, babies are still being born. Life is still happening.

The Spirit of God still blows in us and through us to be the imperfect yet beloved vessels, carriers, of God’s love, forgiveness in our homes. And, therefore, for the world. There is joy in that.

[1]John 19:21


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