Unforgetting Who We Are Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins May 29, 2011 John 14.15-20 This is Memorial Day weekend (join us tomorrow at Richardson Park in Wilton Manors if you can), and this is the holiday where we in the United States remember those who have lost their lives on the field of battle. I hope [...]
Unforgetting Who We Are
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
May 29, 2011
This is Memorial Day weekend (join us tomorrow at Richardson Park in Wilton Manors if you can), and this is the holiday where we in the United States remember those who have lost their lives on the field of battle. I hope we can also give honor to those who died at American hands. We may identify some people as enemies, but they too are children of God. And while we honor the courage of our service men and women and the courage of the members of the armed forces of every nation, let us also continue to hope with God for the day when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
I would urge us to add to our commemorations those who died fighting for civil rights, for gay and lesbian equality, those who lost their lives to terrorist attacks, and those who died fighting for their lives as AIDS or Breast Cancer or other maladies invaded their bodies, and let us give thanks that their fight helped others to survive.
But even as we remember those who gave their lives in service of others, let’s also remember the sacred value that is innate to each of us. That, I believe, is what our Gospel reading is about today.
The writer of John’s gospel is helping his community embrace and express hope in troubling times.
Jesus is executed c. 29 CE, and John’s Gospel is written c. 96 CE. That’s a 67 year long period! The writer seems to be addressing the anxiety of following Jesus in his absence. Jesus is gone and his immediate return didn’t take place as many hoped it would.
Jesus’ followers hoped he was the Messiah, a warrior hero who would literally save them from the oppression of the Roman Empire; but instead of Jesus rescuing them with a military solution from Roman oppression, Jesus wound up being killed by the Empire.
The movement insisted that Jesus somehow did not stay dead. How could he? John tells us that Jesus’ life was nothing less than a word from God, and surely God’s word remains with us always. Still, the Jesus movement hoped Jesus would literally, physically return, that he would come back to finish the job, and this time, he would have the armies of Heaven on his side. Rome would be toast! They convinced themselves that not only would this return happen, but it would happen in their lifetimes. St. Paul suggests just that, and the writer of Mark’s gospel says it unambiguously. But that didn’t happen either.
In the Book of Acts, Luke deals with these disappointments with the Pentecost narrative, having the spirit returning after the Ascension to enliven the Church to continue Jesus’ work…WE, the church, filled with God’s spirit become the body of Christ, that is, WE are the second coming in Luke’s imagination.
John seems to handle this anxiety in a similar way by suggesting that there is already a divine presence beyond physical senses that is always with us and it can always help us.
John is telling us we don’t have to forget our hopes, nor are we to give up on the power of hope when hope doesn’t yield desired results…hope itself is its own power, its own reward, its own comforting medicine for the soul. Even if what we hope for doesn’t come to pass, the hope itself was a blessing, a comfort, a source of strength.
John wants us to be very careful that we DON’T forget to hope. If we have forgotten to hope lately, it’s time to UNFORGET to hope, that is, it is time to remember how to be hopeful again. Misery, complaining, fear, regret, seeing the worst, expecting the worst, predicting the worst….what a horrible habit that is; not only because it is exhausting to everyone we make listen to us whine and bellyache, but also because it robs us of our own hope and joy. If we have forgotten how to summon the power of hope, John calls to us from the pages of scripture today to try to remember again.
Johns is suggesting that what we hoped for externally may actually exist within us! We can wake up to the spirit of truth, the helping presence within us that can empower us to deal with the changes and challenges of life. Even when things don’t go our way, even when they seem exceedingly difficult, there is within us the ability to remember that we are not alone, we are connected to the human family, to the highest aspirations of all time, to the great ancestors, and to the very spirit of life. We can imagine a brighter future, we can summon courage for the moment, and we can rest in the assurance that our lives have meaning beyond the difficulties and even beyond the achievements that we experience. Remember this inward power, this helpful presence, John seems to be saying.
John calls this power the paraclete, a helper, the spirit of truth and he tells us that it is with and within us.
This indwelling and everlasting spirit is a source of help, of encouragement, of hope for us.
The one, omnipresent spirit of Life connects us all: “I in God, you in me, and I in you”, John has Jesus say.
When preachers speak on this text, they often focus on the word paraclete and its meaning as helper or advocate or comforter.
But what may be even more fascinating is the phrase “spirit of truth.” This helping presence is the spirit of truth, but what exactly does that mean?
“Spirit” [pneuma in Greek] means spirit or “breath” or “energy” or “life-force” or “power” or “wind.” The Breath of Truth must somehow be empowering. If you haven’t felt lifted up, stop blaming the world around you and start to tap into the spirit within you, the breath of God, the indomitable life-force.
And “Truth” in this passage is the translation of the Greek word “alethea”.
“Alethea” is connected to the word “lethe” and Lethe was one of the 5 rivers in the underworld in Greek mythology.
Lethe bordered Elysium, the resting place of the virtuous.
Lethe was the river from which the dead drank to forget their past lives. Lethe made you forget who you were and the life you had lived so you could be reborn in a new life. Lethe was about making you forget the truth of your life. In fact, lethe means “forgetfulness.”
“a” as a prefix in Greek is similar to “un” in English. Alethea literally means “un-forgetfulness”. It’s translated as “truth” in this passage but it seems to have a sense of waking up, of unforgetting, remembering the truth, becoming enlightened, seeing past illusion to what is really real about ourselves. The spirit of truth is the potential for waking up to the truth of our wholeness (holiness) and being all we are meant to be, all that we have been designed to be.
30 years before John is writing, St. Paul said, “The spirit of God…lives in you!” (Romans 8.11a). I bet John had read that, and is building on that theme as he writes to his community.
It’s as if John is telling his community, “You’ve waited almost 70 years for Jesus to come back and take all your troubles away. Rather than waiting anymore, why not realize that the same Spirit that was in Jesus is also in you. It’s time for you to collectively be Christ to the world. It’s time for you to feed the hungry, comfort the sick, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, work for justice for all people, and continue to share hope with others.”
That’s what it means to follow Jesus. That’s what it means to be the church. It’s not the building, the vestments, the rituals, or the traditions…it’s us and how we make a difference in the world.
The church isn’t a club, it’s a mission meant to reach out, to build up community, to include new people and new kinds of people, to find new ways of sharing good news; it’s deeds not creeds, love not law, hope not hate, and building a new future rather than worshiping the past. The church is the assembly where we remember who we really are, and then commit to helping others remember who they really are.
The Spirit of Truth, the Pneuma of alethea, is the power to remember who you really are! And who are you? A child of God, made in God’s image, filled with Breath of God/spirit of life. You are connected to all life; you are a person of sacred value. All that Jesus represents to us and all that Jesus ever was comes back to us as we remember that like Jesus, we are children of God, part of God, loved by God, living eternally in God. When we recognize the spirit of God in us as the source and substance of our lives, we know that we are not alone, we never have been, and we never could be.
Isn’t that comforting and empowering? And this awareness of our unity with the divine allows for continuous, indomitable, life-giving, world changing hope! And that is a reason to “Shout to God…” as the psalmist said in today’s first reading, and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
The Spirit of Truth helps me remember who I Am.
I Am a child of God.
I Am Spirit-filled.
And my hope is renewed right now!
“May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best forgotten.” Irish blessing
At Home In Divine Love
Sermon for Sunshine Cathedral MCC
May 22, 2011
Rev. Brian Hutchison, M.Div.
So I have to apologize… I was really sure that I was such a faithful Christian that I was going to be raptured yesterday, so I didn’t prepare a sermon… In fact, I stayed outside all of yesterday for when the rapture of pure souls happened (of which I am certainly one). I stayed outside so that I wouldn’t start to float and keep hitting my head on the ceiling. I imagined that would not be a pleasant experience, so I just wanted to be “rapture ready.”
Actually, I knew better, as most of the world did yesterday. I know that there is a great history of those who decided to predict the so-called “second coming of Christ.” One of the most popular that we know of is 19th century preacher William Miller, who founded the Millerite Movement. Through complex calculations, Miller predicted that Christ would return in the year 1844. One of his colleagues, Samuel Snow gave a specific date: October 22nd. Thousands of Millerites gathered on October 22nd 1844 so that they could experience their journey from earth to heaven together. Many of them had given away all of their earthly possessions. They waited… and waited… and waited. But nothing seemed to happen.
One Millerite, Henry Emmons wrote of his experience, “I waited all Tuesday and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days …– sick with disappointment.” This event went down in history as “The Great Disappointment.” Can you imagine that awkward moment: “Hey… So that whole rapture thing didn’t work out… Can I have my toaster back?”
As people who have only lived in the age of science, these sorts of things may seem very silly to us. After all, it does sound like the stuff that science fiction is made of. “Beam me up, Jesus!” But the fact that millions of copies of evangelical Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series books have sold and continue to sell, shows me that there is something deep in the human experience that resonates with End-Times ideologies.
Today’s gospel reading from the Gospel of John marks the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. At least by John’s account, Jesus has an inkling that he will soon face the Roman Empire in great demonstrations of nonviolent resistance as he proudly marches into Jerusalem, turns over the money changers’ tables in the temple, and continues to make a ruckus until his arrest and execution. We know that Jesus has this inkling because he tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” and then he says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Their reaction seems to be one of confusion. Though Jesus tells them that they know the way to God’s house, and certainly he doesn’t mean the temple, Thomas says, “We don’t even know where you’re going. How would we know the way there?” It’s as if Thomas is telling Jesus, “Stop sending us on a scavenger hunt. Just give us the address so I can Google it already!”
The point of this discourse is to demonstrate to the disciples the process of enlightenment, the process of realizing the nature of God in the world. This is a process that he had been leading them on for quite some time and Jesus knew it was soon ready for harvest. The reading from the Psalter today tells us of the nature of God. The psalmist writes, “Our God loves justice… and fills the earth with love.” The psalmist paints a colorful picture of people who react to such a God. Such justice-loving people shout and play joyful songs of praise using all of their diverse instruments. To the psalmist of psalm 33, the whole earth, not just parts with certain people and certain cultures- the WHOLE earth is filled with God’s love.
Psalm 134 reiterates this same point in asking the rhetorical question, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” The natural answer to this question is “nowhere,” affirming that God is omnipresent. A Course in Miracles teaches, “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” So to this text, God’s love is ALL-encompassing, surrounding the whole earth and all the universe. And a bonus result to this reality is that fear and all tactics of fear, including end-times rumors, cannot survive because they are not part of the reality of God.
The disciples’ fear of Jesus’ departure seemed very real to them. But Jesus gave them a very comforting image that demonstrates the spiritual reality of Divine Love in the world. He essentially tells them that there are many dwelling places in God’s house and that he is going to prepare these places for the followers of The Way.
If we remember that the house of God is really our very beings, our very bodies, minds, and spirits, then new light is shed on this metaphor. Think of the essence of Jesus, the Christ Spirit, as your spiritual interior decorator. He goes in, cleans up a bit, maybe has a yard sale or two, strips off the old wall paper, gives you new hardwood floors and… Can you tell I watch too much home-related television? The point is, Spirit longs to do something new in us, to sing a new song in us. It longs to update, put up a fresh coat of paint, and all for YOU!
Now you may be asking, “I don’t really get this metaphor. If I am the dwelling place of God, then aren’t I already in it too?” 16th Century Christian mystic Teresa of Avila posed this very issue. She imagines our inner space as a great castle. She says, “Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” She later continues, “Now let us return to our beautiful and delightful castle and see how we can enter it. I seem rather to be talking nonsense; for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when [they were] in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of “being” in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has.”
Teresa gives us a great illustration of our inner life. Are you in the guards’ quarters or even in the moat? Or are you in the inner most chamber where you fully realize the presence of Divine Love? I don’t know about you, but I know that I travel a lot within my castle. Sometimes I sneak quietly around, hoping not to wake the inhabitants of certain rooms. And other times I gaily skip down the halls… to the center where I can be centered in love.
This journey within ourselves is the journey of faith- the journey of literally putting our faith inside God, as God puts her faith inside us. It is a journey on which we continually grow- that is if we put forth the effort to grow. The author of the New Testament book of First Peter imagines spiritual growth as craving and drinking spiritual milk. In this person’s understanding of the Divine, God is Mother. She is the one who has birthed us again and again as the new creation that we are each day. She is the one who provides us with spiritual milk so that we can grow up strong and be able to palate solid spiritual food. This image of a nursing mother is actually so powerful that it was the primary image that the early church embraced as symbolizing the love of God.
In the Greek First Peter was written in, the word our modern translations have translated as “spiritual” literally means “logical, reasonable, or wise.” The milk of logic and wisdom help us to grow. We are given the sense to look beyond the literal words that we read in scripture to find the complex and yet practical meanings that meet our lives right where we are. We are empowered by with wisdom and logic God so freely gives us to stand up to harmful theologies that tend to oppress and exclude minorities, especially sexual minorities. They also empower us to stand up against theologies that deny the goodness of creation in hoping that it will all go away in an end-times event, just because life is not as easy as some would like it to be.
We have a calling by Divine Love to preserve creation, not destroy it; hope for its future and not for its end. I join in the traditional Christian prayer today of, “Come Lord Jesus.” By this, I mean “Come out from the depths of our beings to destroy systems of oppression. Come out from the centers of our spiritual lives to promote justice and equality for all. Come out from the dark corners of our inner castles into the wonderful light of living in love instead of fear.
We have the ability to do so as the Divine within is a Reconciler, a Peacemaker, a Lover, a Giver, and a Gatherer. We are gathered together as one people who were once not a people, a people who share awareness that we are homes where God dwells. And we need not go anywhere- especially some undefined place in the sky- to find God. This is the Good News. Amen.
I am the castle where God dwells.
Divine Love fills me and all the earth.
I grow today by the spiritual milk I receive.
I am not only at home, but I am home.
And so it is! Amen.
The Road to Healing Rev. Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin Third Sunday of Eastertide 2011 (Gospel reading from Luke 24) Dorothy Gale, we friends of Dorothy know so well, found her world a topsy-turvy place. Someone wanted to harm her beloved dog. She lived in Tornado Alley. She got caught in a very dangerous storm [...]
The Road to Healing
Rev. Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin
Third Sunday of Eastertide 2011
(Gospel reading from Luke 24)
Dorothy Gale, we friends of Dorothy know so well, found her world a topsy-turvy place. Someone wanted to harm her beloved dog. She lived in Tornado Alley. She got caught in a very dangerous storm and was rendered unconscious. She later experiences a lot of craziness. Her house flies to another world and lands on a witch. Almost immediately she makes the acquaintance of two more witches, a whole city of very tiny people, a living scarecrow, a logger who is made of tin instead of flesh, a talking a lion, and even flying monkeys. She wanders on and on following a yellow brick road in hopes of finding a wizard who can help her get back home. When she finds the wizard, she learns he’s a fraud! In the end she discovers that she has experienced all this madness and confusion needlessly because she had the power all the time to return home.
As I think of very recent events in our world…earthquakes and tsunamis and the threat of a nuclear disaster in their wake, tornadoes and floods in the Southern states, an economy that continues to struggle, bullied teens who in hopeless desperation have tried to end their lives, on-going homophobia and legalized discrimination against same-gender loving people…for many people, our world still seems a topsy-turvy place. What an encouragement it can be to hear our ancestors in faith reminding us that we can journey forward toward a destination of peace and healing, and that hope and joy can be our companions along the way. We find such encouragement in the gospel today.
In the gospel reading, we see Cleopas and his companion traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Cleopas means “glorious”. He and his friend are sad, but even when life is difficult, in truth, Cleopas is glorious. They are on their way to Emmaus. Emmaus means “warm springs” or “mineral springs”…allegorically, the story seems to tell us that Cleopas and his traveling companion are on a healing journey. They are on their way to the medicinal springs of recovery and restoration. They are seeking to reconnect with their spiritual truth, to the glorious reality of their lives.
Along the way, they encounter a stranger, and even though they are hurting, they take the time to share with the stranger. They share their stories. They share their hearts. They share their time. They share their food, their resources. And in the sharing, they experience resurrection power! They encounter the living Christ in their act of sharing. They reach their healing; they embrace their glorious nature by the very act of unconditional generosity, of unfettered kindness, of unconditional welcome.
And then, they go back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem not only is a holy city for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but in religious imagination it represents the indomitable hope for justice and peace. In fact, Jerusalem means, “place of peace.” The people in the story are hurting from all their loss and from the fearful experiences of their lives, and so they go on a journey in search of healing, and along the way offer kindness and compassion to someone they meet on the road. As they give of themselves, they discover their true glory and they experience the healing they’ve been longing for, and therefore are able to return to a place, an attitude, an experience of peace and joy. What a wonderful and even practical story for our own time.
The road to Emmaus was their yellow brick road…they traveled it looking for healing, but discovered that their glory was within them the whole time, and it was released into manifestation as they cared and shared, and then they were able to return home to a place of true peace.
Now, there is another matter that has weighed heavily on many hearts this week. In fact, I have received more emails in one week about this topic than about any topic in recent memory. As we know, on September 11, 2001 our nation was attacked by al Qaeda, an organization founded and led by Osama bin Laden. The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a field in rural Pennsylvania were all struck by hijacked planes. The Twin Towers were completely destroyed, and over 3000 people were killed. 90 countries lost citizens in the attack.
The man who orchestrated the attacks couched his rationale in religious language. He tried to present his hatred and cruelty as being somehow matters of faith. He believed in God, though his understanding of God was one that many of us might find distasteful. He prayed five times every day. He read his scriptures. His admirerers said he was humble, even shy, and generous with his friends. And yet he was capable of exploiting people’s fears and prejudices and inflicting suffering on unarmed civilians all over the world. There is a lesson there about religion that preaches fear, hatred of the other, that imagines God to be vengeful, warlike, and bloodthirsty. Osama bin Laden showed us how ugly and dangerous fundamentalism in any religious tradition really is. He showed us that when we fail to see God in all people, the way we treat people can be very ungodly.
Last Sunday, a decade after the tremendous losses of 9/11, Osama bin Laden was killed in a special ops maneuver; and the emails immediately starting pouring in. People were struggling with conflicting emotions. They were glad that a perpetrator of evil had been stopped and would never commit an act of terrorism again. But they also felt troubled to see on the news people singing and chanting and dancing in the streets; human life, even the life of our enemies should be treated with more respect than that. They hoped his demise would bring closure to the families of his victims, but they didn’t want to feel good that someone had been slain. Some of them did feel good about it and then felt guilty for feeling good. Some realized that what they really felt was relief, and perhaps that was more appropriate. Some said they wished Bin Laden could have been taken alive to be tried for crimes against humanity. But he offered no surrender, and the truth is, his death may have been how this drama had to end. Or was that a rationalization, they wondered?
Their emotions were tumultuous and complex and they wanted some kind of spiritual guidance. To that end, I wrote an article and a prayer, and you will find them both in your Sun Burst newsletter.
I’m not defending nor condemning any action our government took. My thoughts and feelings were as complex and complicated as anyone else’s. I do know that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who curse you. I also know that for me, at least, that can be a difficult teaching to follow. So, I want to share some of the thoughts of other spiritual leaders that might be helpful as we struggle with these recent events, with the moral and ethical questions they raise, and with our desire to let the better angels of our nature be expressed.
Larry Benfield, the Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas gave this wise counsel: “As long as we continue to revel in any death, the peace for which we pray will be delayed.” He continues, “Let’s not gloat…The Christian witness [is] simply…that God’s love has the power to overcome all things. And we leave it up to God. To have the courage to make such a statement even in this momentous moment is a sign of well-developed moral fiber…”
A rabbinical teaching offers a story about Moses and Miriam singing and dancing after their enemies, Pharaoh’s soldiers, drowned while pursuing them: Moses and Miriam rejoiced that they had escaped their enemies and could now hope for true liberation. God allows the celebration. But, when the angels start to sing and dance also, God chastises them. God says, “The Egyptians were part of my creation, the work of my hands. How can you sing and dance about their destruction?” Humans in a particular moment were allowed the rawness of their emotions; but angels were expected to see a bigger picture and respond with a bit more grace.
We remember from a parable attributed to Jesus that even the wayward son or daughter, the prodigal child, is cherished by God.
The prophet Ezekiel thought this is what God would say about this sort of thing, “I do not wish the death of the wicked, but for the wicked to repent that they might live” (Ez. 18.23). God surely wanted Osama bin Laden, and all whose lives are driven by hatred to be rehabilitated. God surely hoped until the very last moment that a peaceful, restorative justice would be made manifest. And when that proved to be impossible, the first tear shed last Sunday must have been God’s; just as on 9/11/2001 the first tear shed was surely God’s. Whenever we hurt one another, we hurt God.
Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that God is “the fellow-sufferer who understands…”
A wounded people celebrated the death of their attacker on Sunday; but the better angels of our nature cannot sing and dance over the death of any of God’s children. That’s why we felt so conflicted. We felt vindicated, and sad. And that shows that God is very much at work in our hearts. It is the God in us that wanted justice, and it was the God in us that then called us to sober reflection, causing us to feel the need to show compassion, even to one who showed us none. It’s why Bin Laden’s body was put to rest according the custom of his religion, showing him and his faith more respect than he ever showed any of his victims.
Compassion, kindness, and generosity of spirit are what allowed the resurrection experience on the Road to Emmaus; and those are the gifts that will lift us up during these tumultuous times as well. Our feelings simply were what they were. The more mature among us put them in perspective rather the quickly; the rest of us required a bit more time. But our task now is to move forward on the road to healing, committed to sharing hope and love and goodwill with our world from this moment on.
Dorothy followed the yellow brick road looking for a magical solution to her fear and pain. She discovered the magic was within her all the time. Cleopas and his friend followed the road to Emmaus looking for healing from their fears and grief. They discovered that they always had the power to express their innate glorious nature, even when things were difficult; and that’s what they did when they shared kindness and goodwill with a stranger. And as we continue on our spiritual journeys seeking to experience and to express more of the God within us, we will find that hope and peace are always available to us; they are the gifts God wants us to embrace and share, no matter what is going on in the world around us; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
Affirmations:Divine Love is healing my fears.
Divine Love is healing my hurts.
I am on the road to healing.
And Hope and Peace are with me now.
And so it is!
“Letting go doesn’t mean giving up… it means moving on.”
Breathe In and Reach Out
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
May 1 (Easter 2), 2011 – Sunshine Cathedral
We have two very different stories in scripture of how the Church of Jesus Christ was raised up and sent out after Jesus’ execution.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us (and we will see this at Pentecost) that the disciples and others were together on the Day of Pentecost when “suddenly a sound like the blowing of a fierce wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting…all of them were filled with the holy Wind [spirit]…” (Acts 2.2, 4a).
The disciples were together, and in their togetherness they experienced spiritual power which enlivened them to go out and lead a world changing movement, or so Luke imagines it.
But the writer of John’s gospel has a different idea of how it might have happened. That writer tells us, “…the first day of the week, the doors of the house where they disciples were meeting were locked for fear of those who might wish to hurt them, and Jesus came to them [locked doors notwithstanding] and said, ‘Peace be with you…As God has sent me, so I send you.’ And then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the holy Breath [spirit]’” (John 20.19, 21-22).
As John imagines it, there wasn’t a mighty wind crashing through a house full of brave people, there was a gentle breath, like one blowing a kiss, in a room full of frightened, wounded people. But in both stories, the result is the same. A wind, a gush of breath, a movement of spirit empowers people to move beyond their comfort zones, to move out and take risks for the sake of something that could heal and empower human lives.
In Acts, a mighty wind fills the house and the people are filled with the power of wind; in John’s gospel, the disciples are breathed on and filled with the power of breath. But it’s all spirit, isn’t it?
In both stories, it is spirit that enlivens and raises up and sends out disciples to be and to lead the growing, outreaching Church. The Church is resurrected by the power of spirit, whether that spirit is experienced as a crashing storm or a gentle breeze…the spirit raises up a movement that is meant to lift up others.
The writer of the text we call First Peter said, “…Jesus was killed in body, but raised to life in spirit” (1 Peter 3.18). Spirit raises up, lifts up, enlivens, and does so in order that the renewed person can become a conduit through which spirit can raise up, heal, and empower others.
We see in the allegorical story we find in Genesis chapter 2 that “The Unnamable One created the human-being from the earth and then breathed into the human-being’s nostrils the breath of life [the spirit of life], and thus the human became a living being.” The Breath of God, the Wind of God, the Energy of God, the Life-Force of God, the Spirit of God raises humanity up to its potential and fills us with hope and courage, with abundant life, when we allow it, trust it, receive it.
Every resurrection story is different in scripture. Mary Magdalene sees Jesus in the garden, but doesn’t recognize him and isn’t allowed to touch him. He’s like a dream.
In the original ending of Mark’s gospel, the women experience the resurrection only as an empty tomb and unanswered questions and uncertainty.
The Apostle Paul experiences the Resurrected Christ only as a blinding light and a heavenly voice.
A couple on the road to Emmaus experience the resurrection as a journey – traveling with a stranger and sharing a meal with him. It is the act of sharing that Jesus is revealed to them.
The disciples experienced it this morning in their fear and brokenness and despair; except for Thomas, who experiences the Resurrection later in response to his courage and his questioning.
Resurrection isn’t a one size fits all, one time chiseled in stone event…it’s an on-going experience and no two people experience it in exactly the same the way. At least that’s how it is portrayed in scripture. Resurrection isn’t something locked in the past; it is something we each experience for ourselves…it is the on-going miracle of renewed life, life that is meant to be shared so that others can also experience an abundant life. It isn’t just something that did happen; it’s something that does happen and it’s something we are meant to participate in throughout our spiritual lives.
In John’s story this morning, it is a movement that is resurrected, and that happens when the followers of Jesus allow themselves to see past their fears to amazing possibilities; it happens when followers of Jesus allow the Breath of Life to renew and revitalize them; it happens when followers of Jesus leave the false safety of their hiding place and start reaching out again to improve the lives of others.
“As God sent me, so am I now sending you. Receive the holy Breath!”
If you ever doubt that you can make a difference, that your time, talent and treasure can bring healing to the world, that your prayers matter and that your attitude and words can help facilitate a miracle, when you wonder if you can make a difference, imagine Jesus saying to you, “As God sent me, so am I now sending you.” And then take a balloon, and blow it up and release the air into your face as you remember the words, “Receive the holy Breath.” (Demonstrate with balloon)
When you volunteer for Sunshine Cathedral, or for SunServe, or for the Pride Center or a Food bank, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
When you invite people to Sunshine Cathedral, tell people about your wonderful church, pray for you church, and attend worship week after week not only to lift up your heart but as a witness of hope and empowerment for others, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
When you support your church and other worthy causes with time, talent, and treasure, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
When you collect more than a TON of food for the Pantry of Broward in just six weeks (as you did during Lent) to make sure families have enough to eat, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
When you collect food for the Cooperative Feeding Program, or when you donate to XanGo to provide meal packs to children in Resource Limited Areas, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
When you when you speak up for marriage equality, when you confront racism or sexism or classism, when you express concern for AIDS or Alzheimer’s or Cancer, when you care about the sick, the elderly, those in prison, and those who cross borders looking for a better life, you are drawing in holy breath and reaching out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others.
On the front of your Sun Burst this week, our weekly newsletter, you’ll see 33 things we’ve accomplished together in the first 4 months of this year…33 things that have helped people believe in, embrace, and celebrate their sacred value, 33 things that have offered hope or empowerment or comfort or affirmation, 33 things that have been offered in the name of God to lift up and bless people in our community and in our world…33 things that have helped people experience Resurrection in their own lives. And that’s just the 33 things we took the time to name, there are even more. And when you have participated in any of those things, when you have helped to make any of those things happen, you have drawn in holy breath and you have reached out in the power of Resurrection to help and heal others. That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ.
Reaching out to include, empower, help and heal others ought to make us feel good, just to know that our hands our God’s hands and through us God is blessing people all around us. But we get something more than just a good feeling out of it…The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever a person sows is what that person will reap” (Galatians 6.7). By reaching out to uplift others, we are actually uplifting ourselves. We are both experiencing and sharing Resurrection power. And this is the Good News. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
God in me is raising me above my fears.
God in me is raising me above my regrets.
God is me is raising me above my mistakes.
God in me is raising me to abundant life.
And I share divine life with my world.
“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.” ~Swedish Proverb