May23, 2021 Worship Sermon - "Th Breath of God"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

 Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Pay attention to your breath.  That’s the advice given to us by sages and mindfulness instructors; and for those of us who are inclined to be anxious, it’s advice worth following.  By paying attention to our breath, we take our mind off all the worries and distractions that our clamoring for our attention.  We focus on the present moment and the life-giving breath that flows in and out of our lungs.  Our breathing slows and we begin to feel the stress and anxiety float away.

During the past year, it’s been hard not to pay attention to our breath.  Breath has been on all of our minds, perhaps more than we would like.  It started off with reports of a new virus for which the human body had little natural immunity, a virus that left some people struggling - and even unable - to breath.  Then, as it became apparent that the virus was carried in aerosols in our breath, we became much more conscious of people standing too close and breathing on us without a mask… or we became very conscious of the smell of our own breath after a few hours of wearing a mask.  Our cities and downtowns emptied as people sheltered in place, seeking to prevent the virus’s spread on contaminated breath.  And finally, of course, almost one year ago today, there was the horrific image of a human being unable to breath, choked under the knee of an officer whose job was supposed to be public safety.  After a year like the one we have just had, who doesn’t need some time to catch their breath.

In the imagery of the Bible, breath is life.  When God formed Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth, God breathed the breath of life into them, and they became alive.  When Jesus appeared to his disciples after he had been raised from death, he breathed upon them, filling them with the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. 

It was to a choked and breath-deprived people that God sent the prophet Ezekiel with a message of hope.  Actually, as traumatic as this year has been for us, it pales by comparison to the experience of the people of Ancient Israel, the people to whom Ezekiel prophesied.  Their homeland had been destroyed and they had been carried off as slaves to a foreign land.  It was as if they had lost the breath of life; they were like desiccated bones, dried out and forgotten in some wilderness valley.

God brings the prophet Ezekiel into the midst of this valley of dry bones and asks, “Son of Man, can these bones live?”  I’m not sure this was a rhetorical question.  I hear a lot of pain and even uncertainty in God’s query.  I don’t here God saying, “Oh, don’t worry folks.  I’m going to making everything alright.  You’ll be good as new.” No, in the question “Can these bones live?” I hear God asking the same question we humans have asked, again and again, down through the centuries. 

  • Is there hope? 
  • Will justice prevail? 
  • Is love stronger than hate, life stronger than death? 
  • Or is life, as Macbeth put it, “Nothing but a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more”? 

Ezekiel hears God’s pain-filled question and then turns it right back on God.  “O Lord God, you know.”  So, Ezekiel and God set out together to answer the question, can these bones live.  It’s interesting, God doesn’t just snap God’s fingers and bring the dead to life.  God tells Ezekiel to prophecy to the bones.  God uses Ezekiel as necessary agent in the process of giving life to these dead bones.  Ezekiel speaks God’s word, and the miracle begins to happen.  The bones begin to connect; they take on sinews and flesh and skin and they stand upright.  And then God tells Ezekiel to call upon the four winds to breathe the breath of life into this multitude.  And the dry bones become living flesh.

Mortals, can these bones live?  I’m talking about the dry bones that fill our neighborhoods. The bones of lost hopes and dreams during a year of pandemic.  The bones of injustice and hate.  The bones of grief and isolation and sadness.  Is it possible that out of the ashes and the dust of the past year, there can yet be life?  O, Lord God, you know.

On Pentecost, we celebrate the Lord and giver of life… the Holy Spirit who has the power to breathe life into places of death.  Down through the ages, we have seen again and again the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.  We have seen it in history and we have seen it in our own lives, as the Holy Spirit works healing, and reconciliation, and liberation among us.  God is able to bring the driest bones to life.  The Holy Spirit does it every day.  Just look out the window and see the world coming to life.

Don’t forget, though, how God sometimes uses prophets to make resurrection happen.  There will be times when God gives you a message of hope to speak to someone whose hope has been cut off.  Let the Holy Spirit breathe through you to give life to that person or that situation.  And may that same Spirit breath the breath of life into your being today.

Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby