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Celebrating the birthday of God’s new presence

May 22, 2015
Deacon Faiva Po’oi

In today’s Gospel reading, we are presented with a picture of a city deeply divided by hatred and fear. On one side are the friends and followers of Jesus. They had witnessed the brutal death of their Lord. And fearing that the same fate might befall them, they had gone into hiding. On the other side are the religious leaders of Israel. They, too, were afraid – afraid for their nation, afraid for their traditions, afraid for their own positions of power and affluence. Fearing that Jesus and his teaching might destroy their long-cherished way of life, they had brought about his death.

Into this scene of separation and isolation, walks the risen Christ. Jesus Christ did not rebuke his disciples for being there. Instead, he went to work on their faith. Fear had locked those doors, and Christ knew that nothing but faith could reopen them. Each of us needs to know that we are not in this struggle alone. Christ is in it with us. He entered that scene in Jerusalem and treated those locked doors as if they did not even exist. With freedom and confidence, he moved quietly from the outside to the inside, and back again. To him, there are neither outsiders nor insiders. He cares for those on both sides of every barrier. His goal is not that one side should overwhelm the other, but that both sides should come together.

In the book of Joel, we hear of God’s promise that the spirit of God will not make any distinction on the basis of social or economic class. Joel speaks of a day when servants receive the same distribution of the Spirit as the wealthy. In what other dimension or experience can the poor claim equal distribution? But with God, his love, grace and gifts are lavishly outpoured on all of us, regardless of our social standing. There are no prestigious ZIP codes, no gated communities, no closed or elite memberships in the spiritual community.

This Sunday we celebrate our “Christian Spirit” – the birthday of our church. This Spirit wells up in us, and we cannot contain the goodness and the joy we receive from him. The Spirit knits us together into a single community that proclaims and witnesses to the life we have received.

Pentecost marks the moment when God began to dwell among us in a totally new way – not in the physical person of Jesus, but in the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. And so, through our new unity with Jesus, we now form one body with him. The Holy Spirit forms us into what St. Paul calls “the body of Christ.” He focuses on the Holy Spirit and describes the effects – the fruits – of the Holy Spirit within us, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When these are evidenced in our lives, we know that the Holy Spirit is operative in our lives and our hearts.

Thus Pentecost is not only the birthday of God’s new presence among us individually, but also the birthday of God’s presence among us collectively. It is the birthday of Christ’s body, the church. And it is the birthday of God’s new family. Just as Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples long ago, he continues to breathe the Holy Spirit into us today, commissioning us to proclaim and witness the good news of Christ to the world.

Deacon Po’oi serves at St. Timothy Parish, San Mateo.

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