Today is Pentecost Day, when Christians recall a day when God blesses people with the Holy Spirit, and reminded themselves that the Spirit of God is poured out “upon all flesh”.
This day is recognised in churches as the birthday of Church.
The very first message on this day, by the Apostle Peter was exactly this, the Spirit of God is poured out on flesh, God blesses all people, and when Peter said this he was speaking to people of different nations.
The image of the Spirit of God is the breath of God.
The breath of God is the source of all life.
Breath and clean air epitomise our times of coronavirus.
It is sad that coronavirus attacks the capacity to breathe.
We remember all those on ventilators now, and all those who care for them, from cleaners to consultant surgeons.
It is sad also that the words at the centre of news this week are “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by Police in Minnesota, USA.
I am also saddened by the violence that has erupted following his death. Anger and protest have to be expressed non-violently.
Another sad image of our times is that of war and violence destroying people’s lives and homes, driving many to seek sanctuary elsewhere.
Every day myriads of people set out to cross whatever barrier is in the way to find safety and a better life. When people are deprived of their homes, their families, and familiar surroundings, they will be grateful for welcome, hospitality and safety.
I live in Sheffield.
Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s words adorn the side of a Sheffield Hallam University building. The good sighted can read the words of the poem as they walk to the city from the railway station:
“O traveller from somewhere to here…to wander through the labyrinth of air,
Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff become a priming place which
lifts you to speculate…
I like that triple “what if”.
What if we could all work together to bring our diverse population into shared conversations, even if difficult conversations, on how we can work together to build better understandings, deeper relationships of mutual respect and trust, and come to genuinely accept each other as human beings?
What three things can we do?
My three challenges in response to these what ifs are centred on the belief that God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh. We are all human beings made in the image of God. So here are my three challenges:
Be human, and always call others back to their humanity.
Be hospitable, and always call others to express hospitality.
Always challenge hatred. This is done by challenging inhumanity and
The way ahead for us all now is to widen and deepen relationships across different cultures, creeds, colours and identities, to end hatred, and together to build cultures where all are welcome, and valued. We can be united in building hospitality. We have fantastic opportunities in our multi-ethnic and plural societies to meet and eat with each other, to share our stories and discover our interconnectedness, and link the local with the global.
How we all relate to each other, and in particular to people seeking sanctuary and safety will be central to humanity. How we all treat those who are in greatest need for safety will be the measure by which we shall judge personal, national and international morality and spirituality.
Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.
You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.
Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.
Holy is your name.
Holy are your ways.
We bless you for the honour you give us
By making us all in your image,
By calling us all to share in your work,
And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.
We thank you for Jesus Christ,
In Him You have given the world
New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,
And the promise of the fullness of life.
We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,
The breath of life;
The strength to live by each day.
We hold before you
All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.
Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;
Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.
Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your strength and peace,
And bring us all where you want us to be.
In the Name of Christ.
Inderjit Bhogal, 31 June 2020