John 20: 19-23
Object: a balloon
Key verse(s): When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20: 2)
I hold in my hands, an empty balloon. In a way, you could say it is a “dead balloon.” A "dead balloon" -- has no life; it continues to lie wherever you put it. The balloon doesn't move; it has no power.
Take a "dead balloon" and do what Jesus did -- blow on/in it. What happens? It's full of air; but it is going nowhere until that power is released. [As an illustration, the "powered balloon" can be released.]
Under the "spirit's/breath's/wind's" power, the balloon can move. It goes out. However, when the wind power within the balloon is released, you don't know where the balloon is going to go; but you know it's going somewhere.
Full of air, releasing the power, this is no longer a “dead balloon.”
Speaking of “dead balloons,” in the gospel reading for today, Jesus enters a locked room and encounters 11 “dead balloons.”
This was the evening of the resurrection day, the first Easter Sunday. In the wee hours of the morning, some of the women had gone to the grave of Jesus, only to discover the empty tomb. The news spread quickly to the disciples, the inner circle; the body of Jesus was missing.
If they hadn’t done so to that point, the disciples of Jesus surely went into hiding. The disciples of Jesus had been hiding behind locked doors for fear that the Jewish leaders might hunt them down. This Jesus movement had all of a sudden, fallen apart and with the crucifixion of Jesus, they could have only imagined what other terrible things were to come their way.
The disciples of Jesus were deflated; they were “dead balloons.”
Jesus steps into this room of “dead balloons.” To those “dead balloons” Jesus first says, “Peace be with you.” He speaks what might be the most comforting words that they were ever likely to hear; they are words of calm and words of FORGIVENESS. What a joy and relief it must have been, to hear those words, ESPECIALLY at a time like that.
In the gospel, Jesus breathes upon his disciples to remind them that he is with them. God’s Holy Spirit is among them and because of that, the presence of Jesus is with them. His words, his teachings, his actions, are right there in front of them at all times. They are never alone, because the grace and forgiveness that came from God, that sent Jesus, that accompanied Jesus throughout his life, ministry, death and resurrection, THAT is with them also.
On the one hand, this is a wonderful experience and on the other, it presents a troubling future. The disciples who were fearful have had a great rush of joy as they encounter the risen Christ, but there is an instant DOWNER. SAFE AND SECURE, hidden away from a hostile world, they are now sent out to encounter that hostile world, a world that runs contrary to their beliefs.
Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you,” but immediately after that, he says, “As the Father has SENT ME, so I send YOU."
Now there will be no lounging around with Jesus, no keeping Jesus to themselves, no luxury of lingering with Jesus, no staying behind closed doors; no safety and security of staying within their closed circle of disciples, no hiding from the world. The world that they fear is the world into which Jesus sends them.
What happens to the balloon after it has "spent" its power? It seems dead again. All out of power. It's flat. There's no more "spirit/breath" within it.
On one hand we are not like that balloon. Jesus promises that the Spirit will be with us forever. We will never run out of the Spirit's power. The Spirit given to you in baptism remains forever.
On the other hand, over and over again in Acts, we read that certain disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their filling didn't just happen once, but over and over again. So we also need to be refilled. Weekly we return to church as a refilling station.
We receive Jesus again in the hearing of the word and in the sharing of sacrament and through the fellowship of the saints.
And full of the Spirit, Jesus propels us back out into that world.
Do you feel propelled?
If not, you are in luck; today is a PROPELING Sunday. Today is the Sunday of Pentecost, the day which has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of the church, the birthday of the church.
Today is also an important day in our church, because traditionally we celebrate Confirmation, as these young people affirm their baptisms.
After two years of Confirmation classes with me, all of you may feel like “dead balloons.” You may feel like you have graduated from church that all the air inside of you has been spent and your “balloon” is done.
But that couldn’t be further from the case, on Confirmation Sunday.
Today is a propelling Sunday in which Jesus breathes upon you and into you and gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit. He breathes into you and then sends you out into the world to be his witnesses.
As you are propelled out into that world, you don’t know where it will send you, but God through Jesus will indeed send you.
But Jesus doesn’t just propel you Confirmands, he propels the rest of us too. God through Jesus continually breathes into you, the Holy Spirit and releases you. And when you are spent, God breathes the spirit into you again. And again.
We are reminded of this in our Confirmation ritual. At the end, we welcome you as our Confirmands and we invite you to join in the mission of the church, to speak and act out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As you are filled with the spirit, as WE are filled with the spirit, we are released to do the work of God in this world. So we are going to CELEBRATE your Confirmation at that point, by joining you and filling up our balloons and releasing them.
Together, we are propelled out into this world. Jesus reminds us: “As the Father has SENT ME, so I send YOU."
Thanks be to God.