In my sermon for Pentecost Sunday I recounted a story about taking an introductory course in the Hebrew language in my first year of seminary.
We spent a good deal of time reflecting on the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in the Book of Exodus. You remember that this was the moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what God’s true name is. God was gracious enough to answer, and the name God gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as the four letters, Y-H-W-H, which most scholars agree originate from verb form meaning, “I am that I am.” The name appears over 6000 times in the Bible.
Over time we’ve arbitrarily added two vowels, an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH because we are a people who like to use vowels. But rabbinical scholars often note that the letters Y-H-W-H represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants, suggesting that ultimately God’s name may be simply unpronounceable in the terms we might like it to be. In Hebrew the four consonants Y-H-W-H are pronounced this way: “Yohd, Hah, Vey, Hah.”
The author and innovative communicator Rob Bell suggests that the aspirated consonants of the Hebrew name for God raise provocative questions for our imaginations:
“What if the name of God is the sound of our breathing, and what if another way of thinking about the gift of the Holy Spirit is as God breathing life, beauty, and purpose into our ordinary lives so that we might be given courage and inspiration to share in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in the world?
That question offered a helpful way for me to enter the season of Pentecost this year and it seemed to resonate with a lot of folks gathered last Sunday as well.
The audio of my sermon can be found here.