Let's Breathe Together
Many of you listening may not agree with me. That’s okay. Because in love, especially in the love of Christ that we here strive to live up to honor, there is room for ALL people. In the name of love, the systemic injustice that has infected our country must be dealt with. It’s a cancer that has to be cut out.
A wise person once said, “We cannot think ourselves into a new way of living, we must live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” Change must start right now with us, the Church. We are the very body of the living Christ.
If you dare to call yourself a Christian, then remember these words from first John that state, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:20-21)
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In my life, I’ve experienced hurricanes, tropical storms, tornados, and the strong Santa Ana winds that have been known to sew chaos across California. I can say that I have a pretty good idea of the kind of power a strong wind can generate. But yet it’s hard for me to wrap my head around this strange rush of violent wind that hit ancient Jerusalem on Pentecost.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it by saying, “Before any of them could defend themselves, that mighty wind had blown through the entire house, striking sparks that burst into flames above their heads, and every one of them was filled to the gills with God’s breath.” It was in that one single, divine breath that the church was born. It has been inhaled deeply into our lungs, pumping blood through our hearts ever since.
It’s not too unusual to speak about the Holy Spirit as the breath of God. The Greek word for "breath" is pneuma, the same word the New Testament writers used for "Spirit." In Hebrew the word is “ruach,” which also has many meanings; including “wind, breath, and spirit.”
Let’s start with breath. It doesn’t take hearing the words “I can’t breath” to know that breathing is essential to life. As my friend Jason posted this in our group chat yesterday, “I find it profoundly evil to tear gas folks protesting the suffocation of a man by police during a pandemic driven by a respiratory disease.” It’s a bit ironic that the only time we think about our breathing is when we can no longer do it on our own.
Wind is another story. It slaps you, screams and howls at you. It can bite you, break you, and even blast you away. Wind is hard to ignore.
At a very young age, my dad had taught me how to sail. Part of this training was learning how to read the wind and use it efficiently. By the time I was ten, I was navigating the Gulf of Mexico all on my own – sailing a used Hobie Cat the way most kids rode their bikes; …daily, excitedly, and recklessly.
I remember one quiet morning setting sail on my own. The air was already warm and still. As I skimmed the placid water, I trimmed the sails and manipulated the rudders to capture what little wind there was. With a gentle glide my mind began drifting further and further away from shore. I was quickly brought back to reality when a sudden gust of wind filled my sails with such intensity that it caused me to capsize. Since I didn’t weigh enough to right the boat, I sat and floated, wondering where that wind had come from and where it was going.
Pentecost is a reminder of how God’s Spirit can catch us off guard and turn our world sideways. It might leave us feeling adrift or even abandoned, but if the holy scripture is true, then we know we’re not alone. In Christ, God has already planted the Spirit inside and all around us.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “It’s as close to us as our own breath.” And yet, it’s a mystery. I can feel the wind kiss my cheeks. I can smell hints of coffee or mint on someone’s breath. But how do I know the Spirit is here?
I think about it like this: In the same way we see the leaves rustling on trees or our breath in the cold morning air, God’s Spirit is made known whenever we see and do acts of love and kindness in the world. This is what Jesus taught. And what it means to follow him.
To be the body of Christ inhaling and exhaling the love of God upon one another. When Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross, God took it, and strengthened it into “a holy hurricane,” as Taylor described it. “It was as if God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath.”
What then does this say about George Floyd’s final breath? And what will it inspire us to do?
How will we use what God has given to us, to make justice a reality for all? How will we use our breaths to breathe life into new kinds of communities, where everyone has a chance to thrive?
Remember what I mentioned above. "God loves things by becoming united to them, not excluding them." Therefore, every breath we inhale is a reminder of the love God has entrusted to us; love that promotes justice and shows acts of mercy and gives grace and inspires forgiveness...to all of creation. Thus every breath we release must proclaim this gospel truth.
With the Holy Spirit, “God is working through us; doing the loving in and through us, back to God, towards our neighbors and our enemies, and even towards the sad and broken parts of ourselves.” (Rohr, 2016) There is no place the Spirit cannot penetrate. No depth the Spirit cannot reach.Wherever their is air, there is the Spirit of God ready to fill us with God’s goodness.
Every day this Holy Breath is being sucked into the lungs of ordinary people like you and me … empowering us to do extraordinary things. It stands with us as we stand in peaceful protest with our brothers and sisters who have had the knees of inequality on their necks for hundreds of years. It inspires us be the wind and breath of change that unites us all together to God, as God’s own children.
The Holy Spirit is a subtle power. But one we are given to harness and fill our sails with the opportunity to move beyond where we’ve been. According to Keri Day, “It’s the secret force behind all beauty, truth, and goodness; every act of kindness and compassion; every wise insight and every noble decision.”
But not everyone sees it this way. Some think they have exclusive privileges to the Spirit of God. As George Floyd gasped for air, there were others whose breathing was steady and calm as they watched him die. That is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit. It goes against everything Jesus taught. No person who believes there was an iota of justice being served while that man died, cannot claim the name of Christ. Period.
Let me just say this, when we live faithfully in God’s Spirit, “every need can be cared for and every painful circumstance can be met.” This is why Jesus gave us his spirit when he gave up his last breath. God’s Spirit does not allow room for violence - whether you’re the one doing it or allowing it to happen.
Just as the Spirit burst into flames above the disciple’s heads... so too must we ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit igniting in us?
How will our gentle breath turn into a mighty wind, one that can move with such forcefulness that it catches the world by surprise, and tips it over towards the righteousness of God?
May we never forget Christ gave us his Spirit to guide, sustain, and empower us to be a living, breathing, thriving vessels of all that is good in the world.
In closing I want to say one last thing.While I do not promote violence or the destruction of property, Jesus showed us that sometimes the tables in the Temple need to be overturned to get a point across.
Thus, Pentecost is not just a one-time event or an annual church celebration. Like breath itself, it’s the very gift of life that needs to be honored and celebrated daily.
Therefore, let us breath freely and frequently, inhaling and exhaling the love of Christ upon one another – as one people, one body filled with one Spirit, for the sole purpose of speaking the universal language of one divine love.
Part of this sermon that was first given on May 20, 2018.
Bartllett, David L., and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009. pp 3-7.
Day, Keri. We Need A Pentecost. May 3, 2018. www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/we-need-pentecost (accessed May 29, 2020).
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Day Book of Wisdom and Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
Rohr, Richard. Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2016, p. 97.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. New York: Convergent, 2019. p 16.
Taylor, Barbar Brown. Home by Another Way. New York: Cowley, 1999.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”