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May 24, 2004
Today's eMo is a meditation on texts that will be read next Sunday. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit...
John 20:23

On the feast of Pentecost -- a feast of so many things one doesn't quite know where to start -- many churches present the gospel reading in several different languages. Someone is in charge of finding people in the congregation who can speak something other than English, and when the time comes they all line up and take turns reading the brief passage from the gospel of John that describes the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. This isn't the one with the tongues of fire appearing over everyone's head and all the disciples suddenly speaking in other tongues -- that's in Acts. No, the spirit in John comes with fewer special effects: Jesus just breathes on the disciples, and there it is. Gentle as a breath. And John doesn't say much about what the Holy Spirit will produce -- one thing, really: forgiveness.

This is what the reconciliation of earth to heaven looks like, in the end: gentle as a breath, natural and free. Not burdened by the sins of the past, but set free. You need never be burdened by them again. You can set them down right now, and that can be the end of it. There doesn't need to be anything in between us and God's love for us any more, not ever again. We have the power to connect with God's goodness any time we want to.

Maybe the problem is that we don't really want to. Maybe we've come to depend on our separation. Maybe we've gotten used to our estrangement from God and one another, and maybe we really don't want to be any closer than we are. Maybe we just want to be left alone.

The ancient tale of the Tower of Babel depicts the beginning of our aloneness. We used know one another and listen to one another. Why is it now so hard to understand other people? Why are we so different, and why do our differences make life so hard? What devil has entered our differences and turned them into reasons for torture and even murder? The world cannot complete the tower that will reach to heaven: we are bound here, confused because we do not understand one another.

But there is an undoing of Babel available to us. We may feel bound, but we are not bound. We may feel all alone -- may prefer it -- but we are not. The fellowship of the human race is an ecology: we are all related, whether we wish it or not. I am not separate from anyone on earth. Everyone feels the ripple of the smallest of my actions, from my buying habits to the car I drive to what I eat for dinner. We affect each other, and we affect the earth itself: its trees, its water levels, its air. Where my actions are injurious, that fact is ever before me. But the remedy for the injury is also before me, every time.

By the power of the Spirit, I don't have to be part of the injury. I can say no. I can act in such a way as to transcend my aloneness. My part of the world can begin a small circle of goodness, the ripples of that circle will also extend to the ends of the earth. Evil and confusion are not the only things that ripple; good can ripple, too.

The gentle breath that Jesus breathed on his disciples still ripples through the air. No wind, good or ill, ever comes to an end: it travels through history, touching everything in its path. Receive the Holy Spirit and then breathe it out again into the world, and let reconciliation begin.


And here is the sermon meditation on the Church's work among the poor and those who suffer, through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. Visit the ERD website, for a wealth of information on tis good work, at

Tongues of Fire

And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. Acts 2:3

Fire was the most potent force the ancient world could harness. But fire was elemental, menacing. Fire slips easily out of human control. Playing with fire is a foolish thing to do.

In scripture, fire signifies the presence of God. Moses beholds a fire that burns but does not consume, and he knows that it is God. And today the leaderless disciples of Jesus, huddling together in fear for their lives, see tongues of fire over one another's heads: fire that lends its power, but does not kill. Fire that anoints them with power and with authority to prevail over evil. Fire that gives life and makes it even better than before, healing the divisions into which humankind has fallen.

The people of Southern California know first-hand about the destructive power of fire. Last fall, 1,500 houses were destroyed and 10,000 people forced to flee their homes in the wildfires that blackened 500,000 acres of land. Sixteen people died. The fire was no respecter of persons: rich and poor became homeless in a matter of minutes, as their homes went up in smoke. Episcopal Relief and Development shines in such situations: quick, mobile, and able to respond immediately, ERD did what it always does: it released funds to the Diocese of Los Angeles and San Diego for temporary shelters and food, for medical assistance.

ERD is permanently ready to hit the ground running, responding to tragedy anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. Donating to its emergency response fund ensures that our Church will be among the first responders with humanitarian aid when disaster strikes.

The Dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego are among the most diverse in our Church; many cultures and languages live and work together there. But the Church can bridge the differences, representing a force for unequivocal good at times such as these, when communities must pull together or perish.
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