This Story Blows Rev Dr Durrell Watkins April 12th, 2015 In the gospel reading today, Jesus says, “Receive the holy Breath” or holy Energy or holy Power. Holy Spirit could be stated as “the Whole Spirit of God” or “the power of Wholeness.” It is a poetic way of helping people connect with the All-in-all. […]
This Story Blows
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
April 12th, 2015
In the gospel reading today, Jesus says, “Receive the holy Breath” or holy Energy or holy Power. Holy Spirit could be stated as “the Whole Spirit of God” or “the power of Wholeness.” It is a poetic way of helping people connect with the All-in-all.
How does one receive breath? By inhaling! The Breath of Life is everywhere, fully present, so to “receive” it is simply to become aware of it. Divine Power is as close as our very next breath!
And who is it that is breathing on the disciples and telling them to inhale the omnipresent Spirit’s power? It is the Resurrected One who offers this reminder of the All-in-all. If the Whole of Power of Life (holy Breath) has given him life that cannot be kept down, then we all can embrace the power of this Universal Presence in which we are forever alive and whole. That’s the hope that is offered.
Remember, this story comes 67 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and 26 years after Jerusalem and its Holy Temple have been destroyed by Rome. This story may be less about Jesus or his disciples, and more about John’s community, gripped by despair, filled with dread, overcome with weariness. This story is for anyone who needs an infusion of new life! The story is for us.
The story reminds me of being a kid and getting a scrape or splinter or a bee sting. My mother would always treat my various boo-boos with some antiseptic fluid that felt something like battery acid; but then would blow on the medicated area to sooth the irritation from the medicine. It never occurred to her I suppose that it was counter-productive to sanitize a wound only to immediately then blow her germy breath on it. But I survived childhood, so no real harm was done, and in the moment, I did feel comforted. The breath eased my pain.
I think spiritual communities are called to minister to wounded souls, but the medicine might be irritating. To heal the damage of misogyny, to confront the problem of unarmed Black men being killed in our streets by our protectors, to point out that religious freedom is not freedom to oppress LBGT people will make some people, some of us, uncomfortable. But that’s the gospel challenge. But we balance our prophetic witness with pastoral care, irritating people as we challenge them, but then also blowing a cool, comforting breath on the irritated area. We afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. We pour alcohol on the wound, and then we blow. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Breath.” This story blows.
Beyond all this huffing and puffing, notice that Jesus isn’t afraid to show his wounds. He isn’t limited by them. He doesn’t identify himself with them, except to acknowledge that they weren’t able to have the last word in his life, but neither is he ashamed of them. He shows wounded people that he is himself a wounded person. The wounds don’t make us weak; they give us empathy, compassion, and they remind us of how strong we really are. Like the old Timex commercials, we can take “a licking and keep on ticking.” The wounds aren’t a source of shame, but a reminder of our resilience. He shows the wounds in order to show the healing power that is greater than the wounds.
That’s why it’s important to be honest with our struggles. Sometimes we want people to think we’ve figured it all out and are bullet proof; so, to keep up that image, we hide our struggles, or deny them, or lie about them.
But I admire people who take all the shame and stigma out of HIV by refusing to be ashamed of their status.
I admire people who fight and work and struggle to manage their depression and reclaim their joy, and then share their story with others who might be struggling so that they know there is hope. They don’t want you to pity them for their emotional struggles; they want others who struggle to know that it can get better.
I admire people who are honest about their weight issues. They’ve been through Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous, they’ve tried Slim Fast and Fat Burners and Jazzercise and water aerobics and yoga. They’ve tried hypnosis and portion control and personal training. And some have had success. Some have gone up and down. Some have had mostly disappointment. Some have had years of good luck and then a major setback. But they celebrate their successes and refuse to allow the setbacks to define them. They may or may not lose the weight easily, but they have lost the needless shame.
And I admire people who survived negative, abusive, fundamentalist religion and dared to embrace a more positive and progressive kind of faith. Religion hurt them, but they redeemed religion by giving it another try, by insisting that it be uplifting and affirming rather than blaming and shaming.
By the way, as many of you know, I have personal experience with HIV, depression, weight, and fundamentalism; and I stand here today, a healthy, happy, fit, religious liberal. I have wounds, I have scars, and I share them because I’ve also had healing and I want everyone who needs healing to know that it is possible for you.
And notice that Jesus greets his friends with “Peace” but there is nothing peaceful about your dead friend getting through your locked doors. He shows them his wounds and then says again, “Peace.” Then they rejoice. As the saying goes, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” Or as I often heard in childhood, “Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Jesus said comforting words, but not until he really shared himself, wounds and all, could his hurting friends really hear those beautiful words.
The disciples were hurting and afraid. They were hiding behind locked doors. They were hiding their wounds. They were hiding from society, from religion, from government, from their families. They were closeted, unaware that they had a voice to share from their particular journey and experience.
“Receive the holy Breath” is another way of saying, Come Out!
This story blows! Jesus doesn’t just blow on them; he blows their cover. He in effect says to them, “Stop trying to blend in or pretend the issue is over. If you don’t live out loud, they will try to erase you, demonize you, dehumanize you…it’s okay to be tired, even scared, but don’t pretend to be less than you are and don’t pretend that it doesn’t matter who you are! Come out! Someone, maybe the whole world, needs you to step out of this locked closet and share your story, your hopes, your experience, your gifts. Breathe in and come out!”
The post-resurrection narratives show Jesus showing up a lot. He just keeps showing up, keeps coming out! In the stories we hear, in the rituals we share, in song and sermon, he keeps showing up. Rome killed him at Golgotha, but in the experience of his community, he still pops up, over and over again. Resurrection isn’t a one and done deal, and neither is our work for justice, inclusion, and peace. We must always work for peace, must always work for equality, must always work to recognize and care about the so-called least of these.
Jim Crow ended, but racism remains…so we must still show up.
Sodomy laws were defeated, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell was struck down, and marriage equality is gaining ground, but the all out attack against the dignity of same-gender loving people continues…so we must still show up.
Poverty remains…so we must still show up.
Preventable wars are waged and human lives are spent like petty cash…so we must still show up.
Women who do not accept second class status are still vilified…so we must still show up.
The myth of male superiority is still so prevalent that transgender people are treated abominably because their very existence threatens gender binary constructs and male dominance within those constructs…so we must still show up.
Jesus keeps showing up. He shows his wounds, and his healing from them. And he calls his friends to do the same, to come out, to show up and speak up, to not be limited by or ashamed of their wounds, but to share all of who they are to bring hope and healing to others.
John’s Jesus says, “As I have been sent, so send I you.” It is amazing to be reminded of our sacred value. Now, we are called to help others learn that they too are persons of sacred value…just because they exist. And I promise, as we pay attention to the South, and the Midwest, and the Caribbean, and Africa, and Asia, and Eastern Europe, we see that God’s name is being used in vain to shame, abuse, torment, control, and marginalize women, same-gender loving people, gender non-conforming people.
As followers of Jesus we are reminded that we are powerful, wounds and all, and we are called to share ourselves with the world so that more people can be healed of the shame they’ve had about their wounds. Arkansas needs us. Indiana needs us. Oklahoma needs us. Jamaica needs us. Florida needs us. The world needs us. Receive the holy Breath, and let’s share it with a world in need. If we will, then this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
The Breath of Life energizes me.
The Breath of Life heals me.
The Breath of Life flows through me to bless others.
And so it is.