April 11, 2021 “Breathe to Live, Live to Breathe”

“Breathe to Live, Live to Breathe”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Acts 4:32-35

John 20:19-31

“Our belief in God is not a blind faith. Belief is having a firm conviction something is true, not hoping it’s true.” ~ Max Lucado

“When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him; but in heaven’s name to what?” ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

A rabbi, a priest, and a minister were all asked the same question: “What would you like people to say about you after you die?” The priest said: “I hope that people say that I helped them to understand the absolute love that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit offers to them through the Church.” The minister said: “When I die, I hope that people will say that I saved many souls by bringing them to Christ.” Finally, the rabbi was asked, “Rabbi, what do you hope people will say about you after you have died?” Without pausing, the rabbi answered: “Look, he’s breathing!”

Welcome to the first Sunday after Easter. Of all the days in the Christian year, this day, along with the Sunday after Christmas, has to be the most awkward. The decorations are starting to come down, all the Easter eggs have been gathered up, and we find ourselves looking at each other, asking the question, “What now?” In fact, did you know that this particular Sunday is often referred to as “Low Sunday?” A little unfair, I would say, but after the high point of Easter, we can’t help but sense a lag; a break in the action, you might say. This year was different; I’ll grant you that. No one found themselves saying, “Wow, this was the best Easter ever!” But here’s the thing: Christ is still risen from the dead. By his death and resurrection, the world has been changed forever and we who choose to do so remain in that resurrection story. We are an Easter people, no matter what.

And that is why the next few weeks are important. From now until Pentecost Sunday on May 23rd, we are in a period known as “Eastertide.” During this time, we will focus primarily on the ministry of Jesus on this earth after his death and resurrection. It’s important because it was during this time that Christ met with his disciples to set them on the right path to continue his ministry. I was during this time that Jesus lifted any doubts they might have. It was during this time that they came to understand the future that lay before them. And it was at this time that the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Our message today from the gospel of John should be familiar to us all. It’s been a rough few days. Jesus of Nazareth had told his disciples over and over that he would be arrested in Jerusalem; that he would be killed, and on the 3rd day, rise from the dead. They heard the words from his mouth, but it was unthinkable – it was unbelievable. Then when the women came rushing in to announce that the tomb where he was buried was empty, it made things even worse. “No way! That’s ridiculous! That’s not even funny!” They were more confused than before. Add to that the fact that they were afraid for their lives. The angry mob wasn’t satisfied. They had taken the life from this false Messiah; now they wanted anyone who had been associated with him. So there they were, huddled in a tiny house behind locked doors when (vs 19) Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

The disciples had slightly different reactions, depending on which gospel you read, but one thing is for certain: they were shocked and needed proof that this really was the Christ risen from the dead, and Jesus gladly obliged them. The 2nd part of John’s gospel involves Thomas who wasn’t in the house the first time Jesus showed up. A week later, he got all huffy when they told him the news and, well….you know the rest of that story. What intrigues me in this day and age when churches are closing left and right and I keep hearing that we need a spiritual revolution in this country – what intrigues me is vs 21 where John writes, Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In a few weeks, we will celebrate the Pentecost as the Spirit came down upon hundreds of people “like tongues of fire” so it’s said. But this is different. “He breathed on them.” He breathed on them and I’m taken back to Ezekiel standing in the valley of dry bones as God commanded him prophesy to the Spirit, the Ruach, to breathe life into those dry bones. And I’m thinking of the creation story where the breath of God brought Adam to life from a lump of clay. And I’m thinking of the countless times that Jesus, with just a breath, brought healing and joy and new life. Where God breathes, there is life. For those of us who have life, a life in Christ, a life that has meaning and substance because of Christ, we have been blessed by the breath of God.

It’s a weird thing, and I don’t mean to get all New Age on you today. But I think back on a youth group that I was leading years ago. The topic of conversation was prayer, and I was happy that most of these kids were being honest with me and honest with each other. Anyhow, one of the kids brought up the fact that she had a hard time praying because of all the other voices in her head. She was afraid that her prayers were so noisy and mixed up that God wouldn’t bother to listen. I assured her that the “monkey voices” were perfectly normal and that we just have to ignore them. After all, God does; God does it all the time. But then I told them about the Breath Prayer. “Keep it simple,” I explained. “As you breathe in, pray a petition to God; an asking, a request. Then as you breathe out, offer a prayer of praise or confession or whatever works in the moment.” My favorite is to breathe in the words, “O Lord, have mercy on me.” Then as I breathe out, I pray the words, “a sinner.” “Trust me,” I told them, “After five minutes of breath prayer, the monkey voices aren’t going to matter one bit.”

Every hour of every day, we breathe the breath that keeps us living. We breathe to live. And it’s something we take for granted, of course – until we can’t. I’ve been told that suffering an asthma attack is like breathing through a drinking straw, and to me that sounds terrifying. We breathe to live and, therefore, we live to breathe. When Jesus breathed the power of the Spirit on the disciples long ago, it wasn’t meant to stop there. No, that was just the beginning. The spirit of forgiveness has been breathed into our church communities. It has been breathed into our hearts and our lives. So breathe it in, folks. We breathe to live – everybody knows that. But if we live to breathe in the presence of God, things will change for the better. For that is new life – new life in Jesus Christ.

Amen & Shalom

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