By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today I would like us to consider that Christianity is as simple as breathing. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Several of the most important moments in the biblical story have something to do with breathing.
Consider creation. Genesis tells us that God made humanity from two ingredients. One is dust, mud, dirt, the stuff we now find under our feet. God shapes us from this earthy clay like a kid making a mud pie. The Creator does not stop there. God breathes into this dummy made from mud God’s own breath, and the human becomes alive, a creature of matter and spirit. It’s God’s own breath that makes us live.
But something goes horribly wrong. Humanity breaks the first covenant that God establishes, is driven forth from the garden, and ends up living and laboring under a curse. Death reigns over humanity. And so, for every one in the long parade of people, there arrives the moment when the breath goes forth and does not return. The breath of life, God’s great gift, seems to dissipate and dissolve. The body falls into the dust from which it came.
This happens even with Jesus. There arrives that moment on the cross when he breathes his last, he expires, as he commends his spirit to the Father. The weight of this world’s sins has crushed him, caused his lungs to collapse, his breathing to stop. And so the body of Jesus, made of dust like our own, hangs lifeless from the cross.
Later something happens, strange and unexpected. The miracle of human creation takes a new and surprising turn. The dust of Jesus is raised to life by the Spirit of God, the breath of God. The life to which he is lifted is not life transient and temporary, marked by shame and sorrow. It is instead life eternal and glorious, a life of abundance and victory. This is God’s second great gift of breath, a breath that will not be denied.
Nor does God rest content with the resurrection of Jesus. God intends to take all of dead humanity and breathe into us the gift of life. Thus we reach this great festival, the Day of Pentecost, for which the earthly life of Jesus was the preparation.
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Today the Lord sends a mighty wind not only down one Jerusalem street, but throughout creation in order to fill a dead world with fresh breath and call back to life the corpse of humanity.
Pentecost means that Easter is not a private affair for Jesus and a few friends. Jesus rose, not for himself alone, but as the front man for an entire new creation. The Holy Spirit comes as a breath of fresh air for all who want to breathe.
A second creation happens: dust and dirt and mud are infused and invigorated with the sublime Spirit of God, and creation gets rolling in a new and better way.
Pentecost is an explosion! The disciples have been hiding out in an upper room, devoting their time to prayer; the place is silent as a church on a Monday morning. Jesus told them to wait, so they’re waiting. Then the Spirit falls from heaven like an exploded skyrocket. With it comes a shattering of the silence. The cosmopolitan crowd in the streets outside all understand what the shouts of the disciples are about. It’s the Tower of Babel undone; this time, nobody misses the message.
But please, let’s not get so caught up into the Spirit’s fireball descent or the pyrotechnics of multiple languages that we miss the great point. Crowds in the street, people from every corner of the earth, amazed and astonished, are quick to recognize what these Spirit-drunk Christians are so excited about. Here’s how the crowds put it: “We hear them speaking in our languages the mighty works of God!”
The Spirit enables those early Christians not only to talk in a variety of languages, but to live and breathe a message about God’s action in the world. They have something important to say, and are not afraid to let it rip.
Not only does the Spirit breathe them back to life, but the Spirit turns them into talkers about how God wants the entire world to inhale and exhale once again. God has resurrected Jesus, and having gotten into practice wants to resurrect the entire world now stone-cold dead. That’s something to sing about! That’s something to shout about! Patiently and powerfully God moves these first Christians from muteness to praise. They are not merely to live fresh lives, but offer thanks that God’s fresh life is here to fill creation.
Such is Pentecost, when the Church was launched as the universal fellowship of praise and thanksgiving. This is what I will call the BIG PENTECOST, but certainly it’s not the only one. Just as the Father is still for us, and Jesus is still with us, so the Spirit is still in us and among us, doing what the Spirit did on the big Pentecost. And what did the Spirit do? Fill Christians with breath to praise God’s deeds of power.
Every day can be a small Pentecost as we recognize the Spirit in us and among us. Every day we can praise God’s deeds of power.
Rather than do much of what we usually do, we can do something different and refreshing. We can look around, consider what’s happening, and answer some questions.
• How is God at work in this situation?
• How is God at work among these people?
• How is God at work in the circumstances of my pfe?
• How is God at work in this home, this school, this place of employment, this church, this community, this world?
Often we give our attention only to what is wrong, what is regrettable, what is dull. We miss ways in which, even now, God is breathing divine breath into the ordinary mud of ourselves and each other. We miss ways in which God is practicing the divine art of resurrection. We miss ways in which our Lord the Spirit is trying to lead us gently by the hand.
We can see something closer to the full picture–not just the sorrow, but the splendor, not just human folly, but divine grace. And when we see these things, then we will have ample reason to talk about them. As on the big Pentecost, so on our daily small Pentecosts, we can speak about God’s deeds of power.
Thus breath reaches its purpose. Bestowed on our creation, dissipated by human sin, restored in redemption, it achieves its purpose as we live and speak our praise.
Christianity is as simple as breathing. It is indeed a form of breathing–when we dare to see the great things of God around us and breathe forth his praises day by day.
To the holy and indivisible Trinity, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, be honor and praise for this Day of Pentecost, and for all the small Pentecosts so graciously bestowed upon us.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright for this sermon 2009, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals,” (Cowley Publications).