Learning to Breathe

Sermon – June 8, 2014
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church – Heidlersburg, PA
John 20:19-23


“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When Jesus had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Breathing. We can’t live without it. It’s something our body does involuntarily. We breathe without even realizing it. We don’t have to will ourselves to breath. It’s just happens. Our body knows what to do to take care of itself. And so with our breathing taking care of itself, we are left to do other things. We work and play without having to focus on our breathing. When we are tired we fall asleep and don’t have to worry about breathing. It happens on its own. Unless of course, we have some type of breathing problem. In that case, we may have to rely on the assistance of a machine to breath for us so we can fall asleep and be at peace. Sometimes we need help in order to breathe.

When a baby is first born he or she needs help to start breathing. The disciples in John’s account of the first Pentecost needed help breathing too. They had forgotten how to breathe. Oh yes, they were physically breathing in and out, but not very efficiently. They were stressed – locked up behind closed doors – for fear they would be arrested or killed for being followers of Jesus. Fifty days earlier Jesus had just been crucified. They did not want to be the next ones. So they were afraid. Really afraid for their lives. They went into hiding. And like anyone who has ever been under stress – and we all have been there at one time or another – they weren’t breathing right. Their breathing was probably shallow. They weren’t breathing in deeply. They weren’t getting all the oxygen they needed into their lungs. They were just surviving, but they weren’t living. The disciples were trapped. Trapped in their own fears and their own stories of what might possibly happen next.

They couldn’t go out and share the good news of the resurrection story because they were still buried inside a tomb of doubts and anxieties. They were literally like people buried alive and they couldn’t breathe.

Haven’t we all been there? Hasn’t there been a time when we have found ourselves in a situation when we felt paralyzed? When we felt like we were buried alive beneath a mountain of fears and anxieties piled on top of us with no way of escape? And the longer we stay trapped inside the worse it seems to get. Our breathing gets shallow. We can’t even do the things we normally did in the past. We forget things and we can’t remember what it was like before this great weight pressed down upon us. Worse yet, we don’t see any way out. We can’t eat right, or sleep, or even pray. We may wonder, “what’s going to happen next? Is there a way out? And if there is, how do I ever get there?”

John’s gospel says, “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.” There’s a real word of hope here because the disciples must have been wondering what to do next, but notice what happened, Jesus came and stood among them. In the midst of their anxieties and worries, their doubts and their fears, their inability to carry out their daily activities, Jesus came to them. Jesus did not wait until they figured it all out. He didn’t wait until they had a plan or a way out. Jesus was and is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Jesus is the answer to all that we are seeking and we do not have to look for Him. Jesus comes to us. Jesus, Word made flesh, comes to us. This was the whole reason for God sending Jesus into the world. We cannot go to God, God comes down to us and meets us where we are.
God, incarnate in Jesus, comes to us in the midst of our pain and suffering and breathes into us new life. That is the good news we hear today, but ….it can also be frightening!

It can be frightening because the breath of the Holy Spirit is a life giving and powerful breath. It is the very breath of the triune God. It is the breath in the beginning of creation that breathed life over the nothingness. It is the breath that breathed life into the dust of the earth into humans made in the image of God. It is the breath that breathed new life into the dead bones in Ezekiel. It is the breath that breathed new life into the crucified Jesus, and raised Him from the dead and that same Spirit will raise us on the last day too! It is the breath of the Holy Spirit that intercedes for us when we have lost the words to pray. That breath, that wind, is a powerful force and it indeed is something to be feared, but not in a sense of anxiety, but one of astonishment and awe.

The breath of the Holy Spirit can be a frightening thing because it is so powerful it can take our breath away. Like sticking your head out the car window driving fast and trying to breathe in – it takes our breath away. But we as Christians want the Holy Spirit to take our breathe away! When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples, He was breathing into them new breath, new life. That mighty wind was so powerful that it blew out the old fears and doubts and filled them with courage and excitement! The breath of the Holy Spirit filled them with new dreams and visions! It filled them with the breath of the resurrection! And once they received that breath they would never be the same again. This first Pentecost was the beginning of the church.

We, the church today – who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through our baptism – are not the same either. In our baptism we were buried and raised with the resurrected Christ. This new breath of the Holy Spirit is within us and working within us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This breath, this Spirit, changes us from people of fear into of hope, and love, and forgiveness. As Christians, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can forgive. We can do what seems impossible, because the power of the Holy Spirit is within us. We are no longer breathing on our own, but we have the breath of the Holy Spirit that breathes for us. And that gives us peace and courage!

It gives us the courage to be the disciples that Jesus called us to be. We are able through this powerful breath of the Spirit to forgive, and love, and feed the hungry, and visit the sick, and clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned, and tell the story of what wonderful things God has done for us and through us, and carry this gospel to the ends of the earth. Through this breath of the Spirit we no longer worry how we are going to accomplish the work of the kingdom, because the kingdom of God is here among us and in us and uses us to bring it to others who know nothing about God’s kingdom. The breath of the Holy Spirit is a powerful force, but not One to be feared. We need this breath to live and to overcome those things that we fear.

It is time to allow the Holy Spirit to take over our lives and our church. It is time to allow the breath of the Spirit to blow out the dust and mold and dryness that has taken hold of us and breathe new life into us. We may worry, “Where will the Holy Spirit take us? What if it is somewhere we don’t want to go? What if it is dark?” The Holy Spirit will never abandon us, but will lead us where we are meant to be. And the light of the fire of the Spirit will be our guide.

That breath will fuel the fire that will light our way and light the way for all the world. That fire will burn away the darkness. Something may be torn down, but something else will be built up. Something may die, but something new will rise up. We are children of the resurrection and we need not live in fear. The fire of the Holy Spirit cannot be extinguished for the nature of the constant breath or wind will keep it burning. We need the fire of the Spirit. We need this Holy Wind to open the locked doors and transform and energize each one of us who make up the body of Christ, the church. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving among us whether we want to acknowledge it or not. It is time to stop fighting it. Breathe deeply and receive the Holy Spirit! Amen!




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