Sermon for March 29, 2020
I remember a scene from movies many years ago. When a new baby was born, the doctor would lift the baby up by its legs and spank the child lightly as it came out of its mother’s womb. The child would shriek, crying very loudly. The doctor then knew that the child could breathe on its own. I read that a baby should begin crying within the first 30 seconds to one minute of life. But doctors no longer perform that spanking technique. We have learned a better way. To get a baby to breathe, gentle stimulation is usually required and accomplished these days by rubbing the baby's back or gently stimulating its feet. Whichever way a baby starts breathing we know that baby has received God’s gift of life given through the breath of God.
Once again scripture speaks directly to us in times of crisis. I think about the breath of God. And I think about this disease we are fighting. For the disease kills people by taking away their breath. We are trying desperately to find enough ventilators to keep people alive. Let us pray that God will continue giving us breath, helping us physically today and protecting us forever.
I have been thinking a lot about God’s gift of life. In the second chapter of Genesis we read that human life began when God breathed life into Adam. “then the Lord God formed man from the dust on the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Just as God’s breath gave life to Adam, God’s breath gives us life.
The breath of God is found throughout our scripture today. Ezekiel told about the gift of life. It was given to an entire valley of bones, dry bones. God told Ezekiel to preach to the bones and that God would cause breath to enter into those bones. Later in this same passage, God told Ezekiel to prophesy about the breath, to call on the breath from the four winds. Ezekiel “prophesied as God commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
While it is a story about physical life, it is also a message about the spiritual lives of the people of Israel. Ezekiel was speaking of the dry bones as the living people of Israel. The nation had sinned against God and individual people had sinned. Ezekiel said that God would breathe life into the people who had turned against God. The people had been scattered and Ezekiel prophesied that they would be brought together again.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul stressed that same idea. We are called to live our lives not in sin but rather in the Spirit. We know that God’s spirit is often referred to as breath, the breath of God. Paul makes the point that the Spirit is the one who gives us life and that we receive that life through the resurrection Jesus. It is clear in this verse, “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.” God gives us life. God takes us out of our sinful ways. God lives in us and makes us whole. We are encouraged to live our lives letting God lead us onward.
But the culmination of the life giving that we receive from God comes from Jesus himself. He didn’t breathe on Lazarus but he gave him life. Jesus told Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. It is yet another example of how Jesus changed things. Jesus didn’t focus on our sin but rather focused on his gift and our belief. The gift is about our life today and our eternal life. He said, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” We are given life on earth by God and we are given the gift of eternal life in Jesus. We are only asked to believe. It seems like such a small commitment for such a large gift.
A theologian named Eleonore Stump offered this perspective that I want to share in my own words. The two sisters, Mary and Martha, were devastated by the loss of their brother Lazarus. They felt as if Jesus had ignored them in their time of need. They felt as if they could never recover from the loss of their brother. Both of them said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus knew better what they needed. As Eleanore Stump wrote, “When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Mary has her brother, and is loved by Jesus in a way more deeply fulfilling to her and more glorious than the mere healing of her brother in his sickness would have been.” Jesus gave them a better gift than they had even expected.
We are in a difficult time. We think we know exactly what we need and we pray that God will respond to our requests. Sometimes I don’t understand how God has chosen to deal with us and I wonder how God’s plan fits with what is going today. But God knows best what we need and is giving it to us even though we don’t understand. This week my niece posted something on her Facebook page. I was surprised because I don’t often hear her speak about her faith. You may have seen this from another source. I am not suggesting what I am about to read is God’s current plan for us. But it does fit with the theme of turning from sin and turning to God as we heard in Ezekiel and Paul today. This is a part of what she wrote.
In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, "you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don't want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can't go to church. If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
God’s breath gave us life when we were first born. God’s breath gives us new life when we are caught in the web of sin. God’s son, Jesus gave his last breath and rose from the dead again so that we can have eternal life. God’s breath is always there for us.
As I contemplate the breath of God, my mind turned to music for inspiration. I am touched by music, by the melodies and the words. I first thought of the hymn, Breathe on me breath of God. The words inspire us. God’s breath fills us with new life. Dear God, let me love what you love and do what you want me to do. Dear God, let your breath make my heart pure. Dear God breathe on me until my body glows with your divine fire. Dear God, breathe on me so that I may join you in eternal life.
I encourage you to keep this image of God’s breath giving you life this entire week. Let me suggest that while you are sitting at home you take some time to google different songs that speak of the breath of God. God’s breath has inspired many songs.
My favorite Youtube recording of breathe on me breath of God was performed by the Hasting College Choir.
If you like contemporary songs listen to “Holy Spirit, Living breath of God by Keith and Kristyn Getty.
Another choice would be Breath of God by EMU music from 2015.
When I was in college I sang a spiritual called Dem bones, Dem bones, Dem dry bones. It was about Ezekiel ’s story. This week, I enjoyed the Youtube video by the Cathedrals Quartet, Dry Bones.
Finally, I would suggest you listen to Amy Grant sing Breath of Heaven.
It is about Mary the mother of Jesus and it sounded like a Christmas story. But I think you will find comfort and hope in these words she offered, “breath of heaven, Hold me together.”
“breath of heaven, Lighten my darkness, pour over me your Holiness.
That is what I need today. I need God’s breath to hold me together.
You may want to keep these songs with you in the weeks ahead. I think our road is going to be much longer and more arduous than it has been already. I encourage you to keep these words on your heart, breath of heaven, Hold me Together. Amen.
Last modified on Sunday, 29 March 2020 16:19
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