This breath of God that fills us

Living Stones 

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain. / I dip my cupped hands. I drink 
a long time. It tastes / like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them / deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing / that just happened?
          —Mary Oliver
          Easter came and went.  And it sure looked like a no-contest win for the Empire.  All the social, political, economic, and religious systems that Jesus challenged in his ministry were still in place.  The kingdom—the kin-dom—the commonwealth of God had not arrived in glory to right all of society’s wrongs.  Caesar and Herod were still shoring up their own power.  Caiaphas and the other chief priests still held death-grip control of the religious establishment.  The challenges we all struggle with are still with us.  Jesus was crucified – some say he is risen – but it looks like nothing has really changed. . . .
          In our world, old-growth forests are being clear-cut.  Whales are washing up onshore with bellies filled with tires, car parts, and massive amounts of plastic waste.  Many governments are willing to spend more money on oil pipelines than free access to clean water and education.  The use of nuclear weapons is being bandied about like reckless teenage boys playing chicken.  And now, I guess, we have to protest to insist that science is real and worthwhile; that facts exist?!  It seems that we are actively campaigning for our destruction.  And I wonder what has our celebration of Easter really changed?
          Are we content to find our hope and security in military power, economic dominance, insulated privilege, the denial of climate change, and the abundance of cheap and disposable goods?  Or do we believe that something, in fact, has changed—is different—because of the resurrection?
          We often hear people say, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  It always feels the bleakest before real and lasting change comes and transforms us—before that glass ceiling finally shatters—before evil and hate relinquish their strangle-hold on truth and justice and possibility….  And maybe that is what is happening when we find the disciples huddled together in a locked room a few days after the crucifixion.  They are afraid.  They’re just not certain about what—if anything—has changed.
          And yet, this story of the hibernating disciples is also a Pentecost story—a story about the birth of the church—against all odds.  The disciples were gathered there—intimidated and frightened; skittish and suspicious. . . .  And suddenly, Christ is with them.  And he says, “Peace be with you. . . .  Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Then he breathes on them.  Not the rush of a violent wind and the tongues of fire that Luke talks about, but a human exhale . . . and a simple word:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Now, I’ve heard preachers talk about how God must’ve been proud of the duck-billed platypus and the beetle and the blue heron and the moose.  But there is something special about human beings.  God fills human beings with great capacity for meaning and purpose—with the ability to search the heavens—with the power to tend and care for one another and for creation—to write poetry—to play music—to create art and beauty.  And Clivie reminds me: to build his interesting and complex transformer toys!
This breath.  This breath of God that fills us.  It is truly amazing, miraculous.  So extraordinary that we don’t want to imagine losing that breath of God—that creativity, that possibility, that powerful connection to God.
And that breath is what I was thinking about when I read about Ledell Lee last week.  I am always interested when Arkansas makes the news—because that place is so much a part of who I am.  But this week it made the news for a particularly troubling reason:  On Thursday (4/20/17), Arkansas executed Ledell Lee—its first execution since 2005—in a special rush to complete a number of executions before its lethal injection drug expires at the end of this month.  Even the pharmaceutical companies are arguing that there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, but even so, the execution went ahead.  Now, there are many things that disturb me about this situation, but what especially grabbed my attention was an almost throw-away sentence in an article that stated that on Thursday, Lee declined a last meal and opted instead to receive communion. . . .  Who does that?!  Someone who wants that connection.  Someone who yearns to receive that breath, the Holy Spirit.
And that is the gift Christ left with those disciples.  There was nothing especially remarkable about any of them.  They were a commonplace, odd bunch.  But Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit:  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”   
So, what has changed?  They’ve been sent. . . .  Jesus says, what I have done in my life is now up to you to continue.  YOU have to keep it going. . . .  They have received the Holy Spirit.  And it charges them to be about something beyond themselves.  They become the Church.  Not just worshipping God, writing scripture, and praying.  But going out and serving people—often people who don’t even offer thanks.  Emptying our pockets for other people’s children.  Finding ways to provide shelter for those in need even though our own carpet needs replacing and our furnace needs work and the ceiling in the fellowship hall is falling down and our kitchen isn’t up to code.  Making time to go over and mow her yard even though our own grass is a foot high.  Speaking out for those with little or no voice—our environment, death row inmates, science, grace.  Offering an ear, a hand, communion. . . .  Prioritizing compassion.  Emphasizing courage, kindness, and sacrifice—even when we might be tempted to focus only on ourselves.
So, what has changed?  These people.  Their hearts. Us.  God has breathed on us.  Filled us with new life.  And the hope of the Holy Spirit.  And our feet are right where they need to be.  To start right here.  Right now.  Moving our world in a new and hopeful direction that values love and solidarity—that embodies the moral vision of our faith—that treasures the gifts of all creation—that sees the blessings all around us and the ways we are all interconnected.  Happy Easter, everyone!

See you in church,



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