“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said to His first followers and now to all who confess “Jesus is Lord,” a gift the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome has us celebrating, as we now read:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Later Christians enlarged that celebration in the third part of the Apostles’ Creed, which I invite you to join in repeating:
“I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the
communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
of the body, and the life everlasting.”
But, just as anyone diagnosed with asthma or COPD or a chronic lung disease knows it’s difficult to take a deep breath, the same is true of Christians’ capacity to breathe in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
There are moments that take that breathe away.
KYW’s 22 minutes of news, sights of humans’ destroying others with explosives, mutilating bodies of their enemies, treating women and children like trash;
reports of scandals and abusive clergy in the “holy catholic church,” Jesus’ life- bearing “communion of saints” meant to be His body;
jobs that make every new day a time to dread, or a hopeless pursuit to find a job, or problems in the family, relationships that turn a home into a war zone;
a grave opened to receive a loved one who never had a chance to live a normal or full life, whose only relief from pain of body or mind had to come through death;
any one of these is enough to prompt the cry raised in an old hymn
Where is the blessedness I knew,When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view Of Jesus and His Word?
Where is the life-giving breath of God that brought ll this to life for me?
Some may ask and decide to become an agnostic or atheist;
all because the breath of the Holy Spirit isn't there to breath in.
There are prescriptions to bring more oxygen into the lungs: an antihistamine, or nebulizer, or oxygen inhalations,
and the calming, stress-reducing exercise of word therapy, which is an ancient treatment that also restores God’s gift of the Holy Spirit as words are slowly inhaled, held for a count, and then gradually released.
A prescription Jesus gave in five words that introduce the stories we have been reading from the Gospel according to Matthew; “The kingdom of heaven is…”
Take a deep breath and pause on that last word: “is” – IS, not will be, but IS…God’s breathed in presence, God’s reign in our time, present in the midst of whatever threatens to smother God’s gift of the Spirit.
Take a deep breath; breathe in the “is” brought into focus through a MUSTARD SEED or YEAST-like scene or story,
such as this one: (King Duncan, www.Sermons.com)
Mother Teresa’s worldwide community that serves the poor began with the meager resources of the tiny woman, who told her superiors,
“I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”
Their response was,
“Mother Teresa, you can’t build an orphanage with three pennies . . . with three pennies you can’t do anything.”
“I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.”
Look around this loveless, violent world and see the Mother Teresa-like ministries that began as a mustard seed or pinch of yeast-sized service, undertaken in the name of Jesus, and brought to life the breath of God's Holy Spirit,
and see where “ the kingdom of heaven is” here and now.
Take a deep breath; breathe in the “is” of God’s presence and intended way of living brought into focus through a TREASURE and FINE PEARLS-like scene or story,
such as this one: (Gospel for Asia, firstname.lastname@example.org)
An Asian woman was so ill her family, her husband and young sons feared she was going to die and she was ready to drink acid to put an end to her misery. Her husband heard a Christian radio broadcast request prayers;
he thought it was worth a try.
The gods to whom they were praying hadn’t been of any help.
Neighbors urged her to meet with Christians who would pray for her. First, she asked to freshen up in the bathroom on the terrace. There she saw a Bible leaning against the wall, opened it and began to read. Her heart filled with joy when she reached Christ’s words in John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I have chosen you.”
Jesus’ words were like finding a hidden treasure and a fine pearl that gave her the joy of living; she was on her
way to be healed as she saw “the kingdom of heaven is” here and now.
Take a deep breath; breathe in the “is” of God’s presence and intended way of living brought into focus through a NET-like scene or story,
such as this one: (“God is Still Speaking” Emily Heath, July 20, 2014)
Early in our nation’s Civil Rights movement, a newly ordaining UCC pastor stepped into the pulpit in his Southern church and called for desegregation. At the end of the service as a member shook his hand, he pointed out a man in the congregation and said,
“He’s the head of the local Klan and he’s not happy.”
Later that man called and asked to meet at a local bar late at night out in the country. On the way the pastor prayed as hard as he could, and when they sat down he was surprised to hear the Klansman say he knew he could no longer be the man he had been, and he needed God's help. So he asked the young preacher, "Would you pray for me?"
There, late at night in a bar he realized the church is like a net filled with all kinds of people whom we have
no right to label as saint or sinner, for we never know how God's life-giving Spirit is working in each person’s
life, and who might become proof that “the kingdom of heaven is” here and now.
There is more to the story about the Asian woman. When she stepped into a church building, she was disappointed; she didn’t see God..until she looked within the people and join them by breathing in Jesus’ promise:
“The Kingdom of God is within you.”
The “in” within each of us that gives us the breath to say with the Apostle Paul: …nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Take a deep breath, breathe yourself into that truth! Breath in the life-giving breathe, God's Holy Spirit.