Tag Archives: Breathe

Breathing the Spirit

A Sermon for 28 April 2019 – Second Sunday of Easter

Here we are the second Sunday during the 50-day season of Easter. And the gospel reading for today takes us to the night on which the tomb first was found empty. Listen for God’s word to us in this reading of John 20:19-31.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God! Thanks be to God!

 

The Septuagint is the oldest translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. It’s believed to have been completed by 70 Jewish scholars about 300 or so years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is of note, according to biblical exegete Gregory A. Robbins, that the Greek word emphysao occurs just two times in the Septuagint (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, p. 399). We can find emphysao, the verb to breathe in Genesis 2. That beautiful second account of the creation story, which tells that when God made the earth – but before the rain had fallen to cause plants to spring up from the ground. The LORD God formed from the mud of the earth the body of the first human. One destined to work the soil, till the ground for the earth to produce all we would need for life. God shaped the head. Crafted the torso. Was wise enough to form fingers and feet and every miraculous part of our complicated systems. But before this creature could do anything – be anything: the LORD God exhaled right into the nostrils of that body barely separated yet from the ground. According to Genesis 2:7, God emphysao – God breathed the spirit of life, the breath that animates us, and, at last, the creature was alive! A living being able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design (Genesis 2:3-9).

Remember the great vision of the prophet Ezekiel? The people are exiled from their land. Cut off from the great Temple. Convinced all hope is lost. That the LORD God had abandoned them due to their wayward ways. As brittle as fallen fall leaves months after winter begins, like bones lying waste for decades under the brutal desert sun; the hearts of God’s people had shriveled up completely. Those that are left feel as good as dead – as if they’ll never be fully alive at home in the land of Israel ever again. In the vision to the prophet, God says speak Ezekiel. Tell them: I am the LORD God. And I will re-create! I will cause bones to re-connect. Tendons to grow again. Flesh will re-generate. And, at last, I will emphysao. I will breathe into you again, Ezekiel 37 reads. And you shall live. You shall know that the great I AM is LORD! Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of all! I will act! God declares to the prophet. With the Breath, I will bring you back to Life! (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Then, on the first evening of Easter – the stone rolled from the tomb something like twelve hours earlier – a new collection of God’s people huddle. Hunkered down in a hid away room, they are locked together in fear. Just a few hours ago they enjoyed the sights and sounds of Easter: he is not here, he has risen! Look! The tomb is empty! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! How quickly the high of the good news fades and this new little ban of God’s people are frozen in their tracks. Afraid. For their own lives? For what a Risen Christ might command? The gospel isn’t entirely clear. We can only imagine what our own reactions to the first news of Easter might be. A silly tale. Some sort of trick – someone must have come to move away the life-less shell of Jesus’ body, we might think. Or maybe we’re more like Thomas, the Twin: ones who need the burden of our own proof. Sights, sounds, summons directly from the Risen Christ – not just stories someone else tells us to believe.

As many of us feel at the death of our loved ones – that mix of anguish for our loss – never to hold their hand in our own again. Yet so relieved their pain has come to an end – the difficulty of their last days turning to everlasting peace. Feeling just like that, maybe we too would have been locked away behind closed doors. Hearts wanting to hope, yet still wrung dry from the past three days of intense sorrow. When, at last, the Presence of the Risen Christ comes among us. The One we believe to be God-in-flesh. The First and Last. The Word exhaled like breath from the great Creator at the beginning of time – breathed into us again and again and again to bring us back to Life. The wounded, yet Risen One breaks right into the prisons in which we have locked ourselves away and speaks Peace! Peace be with you! He shows his wounds. As if to say that on our journey to become whole again, we’ve no need to hide our own either. For it is our wounds that are used most powerfully for God to work. Then, as our broken hearts begin to mend, emphysao! The Risen Christ breathes upon the devoted ones filling us up with the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Life, the Breath that animates us. To become Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design!

This week I’ve been meditating upon the beautiful blessings of the amazingly creative Rev. Jan Richardson in the book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Her blessings for Holy Saturday and Easter morn’ remind how important is the Breath. How significant the truth that God breathes in us. Listen to this “Blessing for a Broken Vessel, for Holy Saturday.” And hear it two ways at once: as words for the wounded, waiting body of our Crucified Lord; and as words for the wounded places in us. The blessing goes: “Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole. It lives deep in your bones. It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times. It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again” – shew! Right there! In our lungs: the pattern of Christ’s Way. The fullness of living God’s purpose for us. The emptying that comes as we serve – as we exhale to give ourselves away like Christ. And the fullness that comes again – the rising that God causes after we empty ourselves like Christ! Richardson goes on to write: “I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you, but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined, that you have never dared to dream.” (pp. 144-5).

Emphysao! The Holy Spirit of God breathed into us, as into those first frightened disciples. To re-create us into a new pattern we never have dared to dream! How amazing that in God’s infinite wisdom, our very own lungs remind of the Presence of the One wanting to work through us! The Spirit – the Wind, Jesus one time called it. The Advocate, he’s recorded as saying as well. The Breath of God that connects us all. That commands us all to Live! Truly Live. Speaking peace, like our Savior and Lord. Forgiving sins, like a merciful father. Going out into the world to be about the very same work as Jesus: healing hurts, restoring hope, setting free for abundant new life! We cannot do it on our own. The gifts we have. The talents. Our own sheer force of will. None of it ever will be enough to be about the work of the Risen Christ. Unless God breathes in us. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes through us, we cannot do anything. Cannot be anything. Without emphysao, we will not be Living Beings able to fulfill our purpose in God’s grand design. Remember that the very next time you inhale. Then exhale. Then inhale again. It is God breathing in us that empowers us to live Christ’s Way each day!

Glory be to the amazing life-giving Father, life-redeeming Son, and life-sustaining Spirit! Alleluia and Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Alternatives

A Sermon for 15 October 2017

A reading from Exodus 32:1-14.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear one more Sunday about the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt.  Listen.

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.  He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”  They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.  The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once!  Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”  The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.  10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”  11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’  Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.  13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”  14 And the Lord changed the LORD’s mind about the disaster that the LORD planned to bring on the people.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Have you ever seen one of those stage plays where the audience is involved in picking the ending?  Usually something like a murder mystery, the actors have rehearsed all sorts of ways to finish the plot.  Was it Ms. Scarlett in the Library with the wrench?  Or Mr. Green in the Kitchen with the lead pipe?  Once the audience chooses which way it will go, the actors spring back into action, as if never missing a beat, to show how the story unfolds.  It never goes quite the same way twice.  Alternate endings are possible depending on the will of the people.

We forgot we have the power, in pretty much every situation, to influence how things will unfold.  So often we feel as if only one way is possible in the story of our lives; but it is not so.  Fear often holds us back.  Literally moving us out of the higher realms of our brain’s ability to imagine alternate endings.  Fear leaves us operating out of what’s often referred to as our “Lizard brain” – the oldest part of our brains that develops first in the womb.  It’s an important part of who we are so we can instinctually act when our lives really are in danger.  But allowing ourselves to daily live out of our lowest, lizard brains is the last thing needed from human beings by this planet.  God gifted us with frontal lobes, the most complex part of the human brain where impulse control, consideration of actions’ effect on others, even reasoning about consequences can take place.  The goal is to use the amazing heads we’ve been given so that we can envision possibility number one.  Or possibility number two.  And even possibility number three, four, five, six, and seven.  Endless alternative options in any given situation.

I wish the Israelites at Sinai would have taken some collective deep breaths.  To move from operating out of their lizard brains into the higher realms of conscious ability.  If we’ve ever given up something we really love for Lent, then we might understand how long 40 days can feel.  Moses, the one who has guided them miraculously into freedom, and God, the One who has been present to them all the way, convene forty days on the mountain.  And the people below panic.  They’ve just been given the commands of God for how they can live connected rightly to God and each other.  In awe they saw the thick cloud envelop the mountain.  They heard the thunder roll and witnessed the lightening flash.  They heard command number one:  have NO OTHER GOD’s before me.  And command number two:  MAKE NO IDOLS!  The either have really short memories, or refused to listen in the first place.  Maybe it even shows that the commands of God foreshadowed what anyone studying human behavior could guess would happen.

Afraid Moses had been torn to pieces by some wild animal on that mountain, or maybe convinced the ole’ fool at last was smothered by the thick cloud of God; the people demand brother Aaron do something concrete in their midst.  They want something tangible to show them the way.  Impatient with the wait.  Anger certainly on the rise.  And afraid they’ve been abandoned.  They beg for a god to be made that can lead them out of that harsh desert.  The salt in the wound is that even as Aaron collects all their gold for the calf, God had been describing to Moses a sanctuary where a LORD who seems to be passionately in love with the people could dwell among them forever.  According to Exodus 25, step one was to begin with “an offering; for all whose hearts prompt them to give.”  Specifically, it would be an offering to God of “gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns.  Fine linen, goat’s hair, tanned rams’ skins, (and) fine leather; acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).  God wants the finest of all they have for a sanctuary in which the people would be able to lift up their hearts in gratitude to God.  Meanwhile . . . the people circle Aaron to demand some new deity immediately!

Tragic.  So tragic when our fear demands our one and only imaginable way.

How else might the story unfold?  If the people hadn’t let their fear get the best of them, if they could have held on just a bit longer; what other options might had they imagined together?

Our other reading for today offers an alternative.  “Rejoice in the LORD always,” the Christians of Philippi are instructed.  “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The LORD is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4-6).  Wow!  If the people could have kept back their fear.  If they could have remained a bit more patient; then imagine the party they could have enjoyed!  They could have sang and danced at the mountain’s edge.  Remembering the LORD God always is near, they could have built a fire as a sign of the fiery column that had led them.  They could have sat down to rehearse with one another the first time God provided for their thirst.  They could have told tales of the remarkable double manna portion waiting them every sixth morning on the desert floor.  They could have taken out a few of the quail feathers and swopped stories of how good it tasted when first they arrived in a rush from Egypt.  And Egypt:  that flight they finally made?!  Aaron might have taken the opportunity to remind them to pour out their requests once again to God.  God heard and acted every time in the past.  What makes them think this time will be any different?  Maybe allow a little gratitude to mingle with their concern just to remember that the One to whom they pray their prayers is nearer than their very own breath.  It would have been a completely different unfolding of their story . . .  it can be a totally alternate way for our own as well.

It’s been a rough go these past few months.  Starting with Harvey, intensifying with Irma, and Maria too.  Finding out in the narthex after worship that a church across town was being shot up.  And just a week later, the most horrendous mass shooting our country has known.  Fires rage out of control in California again.  Now more than ever, an alternate way is needed.  . . .  A heart-felt reflection offered by one of our denomination’s current General Assembly Co-moderators, included these words this week:  “Are these tragedies changing the way we live now?  Are we giving up a Starbucks or two so that we’ll have some loose change to send to a disaster relief organization?  Are we talking in our churches about ways we can do more as congregations?  . . .  How does our faith in God manifest itself in these days?” (https://achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/what-a-difference-a-tragedy-makes/).

We can get caught up in the fear – there’s enough of it out there.  We can grow weary and impatient and even angry during such difficulties.  . . .  Or we can turn to God.  Rejoice in all the ways we see the will of God being lived out as neighbor helps neighbor and compassion is given more room to grow.  We can rehearse all the ways we see provisions are being made.  And instead of wringing our hands in worry, we can live in gratitude for the gift of each day – for another opportunity to embody God’s ways among this world.  We have the power to significantly influence the outcome of these days.  How it all unfolds can radically be impacted for good by us.  . . .  Breathe deep, brothers and sisters of Christ.  Through us, let the story unfold another way.

In the name of the life-giving father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Breathe

This has been my morning reminder:

Breathe

BREATHE deeply for best results!

Every time I see this, I’m reminded that the shower isn’t the only place where this is true.  In many ways, it is THE truth of life.  For best results, breathe deeply.  Often.  Daily.  Especially when you think you have no time for it.

I am spending eight days with 30 clergy persons of the PCUSA.  We are at a beautiful retreat center and are being treated way better than some of us are treated back home in our ministry contexts each day.  It is a unique time to breathe.  We who seek to teach others to do so for life in abundance seldom seem to take time to do so ourselves. We are at risk!

We have gathered mid-way into careers of ministry in order to reflect upon who we are, where we are, and what God is calling us to be in the world in the future.  It has been an amazing chance to breathe.  To be reminded by our faculty that we are more than pastors to those in endless need.  We are companions of partners on this journey.  We are fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and children to our own moms and dads too.  We are friends and lovers; creators and contemplators; dreamers and dancers throughout every aspect of life.  We are more than Reverends.  We are those seeking to be significant more than successful.  We have commitments that transcend that which we are to give to the church.  We are baptized disciples too who put God first as we tread upon this earth.

We must breathe deeply for best results!

Breathing clears a space.  Breathing re-connects us to self, and the Holy, and others.  Deep breathing allows me to hear.  To listen to my heart instead of the old, unhelpful tapes in my head.  To hear the calm, peace, and joy deep within.  To know all is, and shall be, well.

A few of us here are hearing GRAND DREAMS that will bring new life to this world.  A few of us are being reminded of our names.  A few of us are being healed from the wearying pace and precarious predicaments of professional ministry.  One even is gathering the strength to return home to her dying husband and demanding congregation.  . . .  Breathe.  Deeply.  Often.  For best results, open a space for the Breath of Life to get in.  It’s not just for clergy.  It’s for us all!
Praises Be!!!

RevJule

Some views as I breathe . . .

IMG_3951                    IMG_3965

IMG_3952          And even a reminder:       IMG_3964

© Copyright JMN — 2015  (All rights reserved.)