Weekly Bible Devotional
“What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Pronouncing Blessings”
May 31, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: Acts 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Notes on the Text:
This text is the story of Pentecost. This is the Christian celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of the transformation of the disciples from followers to leaders. Instead of being isolated from others, when the Holy Spirit touched them, they were moved to bless others and to share the power of God’s love, especially with those who were different from them.
The feast of Pentecost originated in the Jewish festival of the Feast of Firstfruits (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), which was called “The Festival of Weeks” or “Pentecost” in Greek, which means “fifty” because it came fifty days after Passover! All were to gather at the Temple to make their offerings out of the abundance of their harvest and to thank God. After the offering was given at the Temple, the family was to gather for a celebratory meal and remember the giving of the law at Sinai to Moses and to the people of Israel. But this meal was not for them alone. They were to invite “your male and female slaves, the Levites resident in your towns, the strangers, the orphans and the widows” with whom you have a relationship in order to share God’s abundance with them. This was the way for them to live out the commandment they were given at Sinai, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt” Deuteronomy 16:12a. This was not just a religious holiday. It was a way to share in love and the blessings of the abundance of the earth in the community.
The disciples were huddled in a room because they were afraid, but when they felt the touch of the Holy Spirit, they were moved to go out and share it with others. I love the way the disciples blessed others. They crossed the barriers of language while honoring the uniqueness of each person. They did not speak one language, and everyone understood them. The Holy Spirit honored the uniqueness of each ethnic group. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to see their deep connection to all the people of the earth. It helped them to see how God was wanting them to reach out to all the people and not just their people. The Holy Spirit enabled them to see beyond the limits of their fear and disappointments. It was at that moment that they were mobilized for action to continue the mission of Jesus by sharing love and blessings with those who needed the good news of love and peace. In a world ruled by violence and domination, these disciples brought a message of embracing differences and of seeing the sacred in all. What a radical experience that must have been!
This week’s spiritual practice is that of pronouncing blessings. It is an invitation to bless all the people around us. It is about transforming our attitudes of indifference and fear to God’s way of seeing others. I am so heartbroken this week by the stories about racism in our country. The story of Pentecost is about embracing the deep connection that we have with each other while also embracing our uniqueness.
There are important lessons in our Bible story about how to practice blessing others.
- Recognizing the Sacred in the Others: Blessing others is not about bringing to them something they don’t already have. It is about awareness of the sacredness that is already there. The disciples used the language of the people they encountered. One of the key pieces to bridging differences with people of different cultures is being able to speak to each other. The Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak so that others may understand. It helped them bridge one of the basic human barriers by honoring what was already there in the other. In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there, embedded in the very givenness of the thing…Because God made these beings, they share in God’s own holiness, whether or not they meet your minimum requirements for a blessing…To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective.” That is what happened to the disciples. They saw everything and everyone in that moment from the divine perspective.
- Blessing Others Is about Compassion: Since our normal ways of communication and of viewing others tend to separate us by focusing on the things that we don’t hold in common or on the things that we judge (negatively or positively) about others, blessing others helps us to open up to the possibility of transformation and healing in all. In our Bible story, some people judged the disciples and even scoffed at them thinking that they were drunk. Yet, the disciples blessed all who were in their presence. Those who deserved it and those who didn’t. Taylor writes, “Blessing prayers…decide that given a choice between a blessing and a curse, a blessing will do more to improve air quality.”
- Everyone Can Bless: At Pentecost, there was no hierarchy of who could speak and share their blessing. All of the disciples were moved to share and each was given what they needed for that to happen. Taylor writes, “Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and to recognize… holiness.” It is tempting to think that only pastors or people of a “high” spiritual status are the ones to confer blessings on others. Yet, the truth is that we all have the same access to the power of the Holy Spirit because we are all created in the image of God.
The blessing of others blessed saved the disciples themselves. For the first time after the resurrection, they became aware of their own ministry and their own calling. In the same way, when we are touched by the Spirit of God, we are invited to bless others. We are to see everyone and everything as an opportunity to pronounce a blessing.
Blessing for Pentecost by Joyce Rupp:
May the enthusiasm of the Spirit leap incessantly within you and help you to live a vibrant life.
May the warmth of the Spirit’s fire be extended through your concerns and care for all those who need your love.
May the blaze of Spirit courage enable you to speak the truth and to stand up for respect, dignity and justice.
May the undying embers of the Spirit’s faithfulness support you when you feel spiritually dry and empty.
May you be mindful of the Eternal Flame within you.
May you rely on this Source of Love to be your constant ally and steady guide.