Rev. George Miller
April 23, 2017
This week I’m heading to Grand Rapids, MI. It’s a sort of spiritual pilgrimage, as the 1st church I pastored was located there.
As someone who has lived in numerous states, I’ve noticed there are various geographic-specific traditions.
Michiganders are notorious for their frugality and fondness for windmill cookies.
Ohioans are bananas for buckeyes and Skyline Chili served over spaghetti.
Missourians like hamburgers and hot dogs marinated in BBQ sauce.
Minnesotans keep their butter-dish on the dining room table or in the kitchen cabinet so their butter stays soft and can be served at any time.
Something else Minnesotans do- run their fans, all year long.
Discovered this when I went to college at St. Cloud State. Visited friends in their dorm rooms in the dead of winter. Sure, they had the heat turned up, but they also had an oscillating fan going back and forth.
Makes sense. In the summer the fan keeps things cool. In the winter, when windows are closed up for a long, long time, the fan keeps things fresh- moves the air about, preventing stagnation and stank.
Air. Wind. Breath. All play an important part in today’s reading.
If you recall, back in January we did a sermon series titled “Land of Delight”, using Malachi 3 and the book Grounded In God.
Malachi is the prophet who challenges people to be generous so they can see just how much God is going to pour down an overflowing of blessings.
Malachi 3:12 states “Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight…”
Grounded in God talked about experiencing God in the natural world. On January 17 we shared how air, wind, and breath play a role in many religions.
The Buddhists believe that to breathe is to achieve mindfulness and connects us with all living things.
Our scripture tells us that at each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world.
In Genesis, God’s breathe speaks all things into being. In Exodus, a strong east wind parts the Red Sea. In Ezekiel, breath enters into a valley of dry bones so they can live again.
As Diane Butler Bass stated, it is this holy wind of God that animates life, which creates and recreates the world.
It is this holy wind that we encounter in today’s reading as the resurrected Christ breathes upon the disciples to mark the beginning of the church.
In John 20 we have a unique tale, as it seems to consolidate Easter and Pentecost into the same event.
According to John, it’s still the 1st day of the new week. Mary Magdalene saw the stone had been removed, prompting Peter and the beloved disciple to run to the tomb, in which they only saw the linen wrappings.
That night, while the followers of Jesus fearfully gather behind locked doors, Christ appears to them and says “Peace be with you”, not once, but twice.
He breathes upon them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…”
Air. Wind. Breath.
To breathe is to achieve mindfulness and connects us with all living things.
At each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world- Genesis, Exodus, Ezekiel, and now, John.
It is so elementary, so rudimentary; we almost fail to see how revolutionary this is, this story of how Christ says “Peace”, how Christ says “forgive”, how Christ…exhales.
…let us pause for a moment and think.
John is telling us about Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God. John sees Jesus as the end-all and be-all of every and anything.
There is nothing Jesus cannot do. He has all power, glory, and honor.
Jesus is the Alpha of all alphas, a supernatural Superman who calmly gives direction to his mother while being crucified, and sips wine right before dying.
As John tells it, the priest and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus for raising Lazarus. Judas betrays him and brings soldiers and police to arrest him.
He is denied by Peter, questioned by Pilate, beaten by representatives of the state, and killed by a foreign government via the means of corporal punishment.
Ridiculed, shamed, lied about, naked, and watching military men divide his clothes.
Jesus undergone an embarrassment of actions, and yet…
…and yet, when the Resurrected Christ appeared to Mary, he said “Go to my brothers…”
Not “Go to the ones who denied me” or “Go to the ones who betrayed me” or “Go to the ones who deserted me.”
But “Go to my brothers,” an expression of family, a statement of love.
Jesus Christ, the Supernatural Superman, the Son of God, comes back, and
-He does no belittle his betrayers.
-He does not damn the disciples for deserting him.
-He does not demand jihad or jail for the Jewish priests or Pharisees.
-He does not say “Ravage, raze, and the ruin the Romans!”
He says “Peace.”
He says “Forgive.”
“Peace be with you” is such a lovely expression. On one hand it can mean “May you be free from worry and full of calm.”
But it can also mean “May God give you every good thing.”
May God give you every good thing…can you imagine any better blessing to breath upon another being?
This sentiment can also be found in Hebrews 13:21 and 2 Corinthians 9:8.
In my opinion, what the Resurrected Christ is doing right here is bringing everything right back to the beginning of the biblical narrative, right back to the books of Genesis and Exodus.
Christ is saying “May God give you a garden growing with goodness; may God place you amongst milk and honey.”
The Resurrected Christ appears amongst very, very frightened folk. He has all the power and authority of all the earth to do whatever he sees fit.
He does not give them a curse. He does not start a war. He does not build a wall. He does not drop the mother of all bombs. He does not have 7 men executed in 11 days.
He says “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He says “Forgive the sins of any…”
He says “May God give you every good thing.”
If there was anyone, at anytime who coulda, shoulda, woulda lashed out at friends, organized religion, government leaders and foreigners, it was this man who innocently hung on the cross.
Instead, he stepped back into the world, wishing blessings of contentment, blessings of having enough, and blessings of delight.
He is the one we base our faith upon; he is the one our church is built on.
May his breath be our breath as well.
Amen and amen.