texts: acts 2:1-21, 1Cor 12:3b-13 title:breathe

Throughout the course of this sermon, every person will partake in the same exact activity approximately 300 to 500 times without even thinking about it. We can live for several weeks without food; most people can live without water for three to four days; however, without this common activity we could not live more than a few minutes.

This arguably makes it one of the most important automatic functions our bodies perform. In fact, even though we can control this function to some extent, our brains will not allow us to stop it indefinitely. The brain will shut the body down before it will allow us to stop this function.

What are we talking about? Breathing, of course.

But the most important thing about breathing is this: it always happens in the present. We cannot save breaths for the future, nor can we use past breaths if we are running short. Breathing always occurs in the moment; there is nothing else in our life that I know of that is more immediate, more present-oriented than breathing.

So let’s talk biology for a moment, and examine what basically happens (with apologies to all medical personnel in the congregation). First, the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs contract, expanding the chest cavity and creating a low-pressure area that draws oxygen in through the nose or mouth. The oxygen travels through the trachea, past the larynx and into the bronchi. From there it enters the lungs and continues to travel down narrower passages until it reaches the alveoli. Once it reaches the alveoli an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs then relax and expel the carbon dioxide and then the cycle begins again. The oxygen rich blood is returned to the heart and then continues on through the rest of the body. Breathing is an automatic function controlled by our brains and we can usually go for minutes at a time without being conscious of it.

Breathing exercises have been used in different forms of psychotherapy for many years. Most often, deep breathing or belly breathing has been used to help people suffering from: anxiety, panic attacks, unhealthy obsessions, or just too much stress. The psychological benefits of breathing exercises are that it helps us slow down the affects of negative things so that we can manage the emotions or thoughts that stem from coming in contact with something we feel that we cannot control.

These exercises also keep us from hyperventilating, which can cause panic and anxiety to spiral out of control. Additionally, hyperventilation unbalances the oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood and can result in a number of physical difficulties.

Most of us know about breathing and its importance for our lives. How many of us know how important breathing is for the church? How many of us think about the way we inhale and exhale as we enter the church, sing hymns or listen to a prayer?

Ruach is the Hebrew word for spirit, wind, mind, and breath. Pneuma is its Greek counterpart, and a word of similar meanings. When this word is written in relationship to God, it is most often translated as Spirit. However, I want to propose that we begin to think about ruach and pneuma differently.

This is not about displacing the idea of the Spirit of God, but better describing the activity of God through the Holy Spirit. I am thinking about a companion meaning to the traditional language we have always used, that the Spirit of God is also the breath of God.

In ancient times, the spirit or soul was often equated with the breath. When someone stopped breathing, it was believed that their soul had left their body or ceased to exist. Breath, breathing, was synonymous with life and with activity. It was an invisible mystery that signified one’s health and vitality. At that time, humans did not understand all of the biological functions that occurred in the brain to control our breathing, thus one’s breath was a holy and life-affirming mystery.

In just a moment, I am going to be quiet for about 30 seconds, during that time I want you to listen. Listen to the way your body inhales and exhales; listen to the way your neighbor is breathing, is it labored, relaxed, forced? Listen to the collective breath of this church, what do you hear?

Now let’s try a second exercise. In just a second, I want everyone to take a deep breath and on the count of three I want everyone to exhale at the same time. What did you hear?

Let me re-read verse 2 from our Acts passage today: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”

Sometimes, you can just walk into a church and feel the life that courses through its veins, you can hear the gathered community of faith inhale and exhale; the rhythm of its breathing draws strength from inside and stretching out into the community around it. These lively houses of God are not driven by flashy gimmicks and clever marketing ploys; no instead there is something real and deep, something that flows in and around each member.

These are the communities of faith that drink deeply the breath of God in their midst, much like the disciples did on that first Pentecost. As the rush of wind surrounded them, each one of them inhaled the sweet warm breath of God, and then they began to speak in a language that all could hear.

Paul writes, in our Corinthians passage, that the one gift the Spirit brings to everyone is the ability to use his or her individual gifts for the common good. That is the vitality and life of a Spirit filled church.

It is not a place that has turned inward, hording the spirit and believing they have the answers. Instead it is a place that recognizes the breath of God among them and as they inhale a Spirit-filled breath, they in turn exhale into the communities around them, speaking the languages of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

For all of the talk about this being a Christian nation, for all of the wrangling about Scripture and its interpretation, for all of the wailing and lamenting about the lack of morals and superficiality; there is little talk about the gifts from breath of God being used for the common good. There is little discussion of how to exhale love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into the lives of those around us.

Therefore, I want to challenge you that next time you hear a minister on television lamenting about the state of the union or protesting a law or talking about how horrible liberals or conservatives are listen between the words. As that person speaks, listen to what they exhale, to how they speak of others who differ from them. The breath of God comes for the common good, and common means the good of all.

While all of that is well and good, I don’t think it is the most remarkable thing about our passages today. For that, we have to go back and read between the lines of our text.

The most remarkable thing I believe our texts tell us is that the Spirit, the breath of God, is present and the disciples are as well. At the beginning of this sermon I stated that the most important thing about breathing is that it always occurs in the present.

Almost every meditative practice from Eastern and Western religions incorporates breathing exercises as a part of its regimen. The reason why is that when you can concentrate on your breathing, when you can feel each breath as it enters and leaves, then you can be truly present to the world around you.

In a day and age where hyperventalative living is commonplace, deep breathing is the exercise that grounds us in a meaningful way to the life that is occurring before our eyes. It is not that we have to sit for hours concentrating on our breathing, nor is it that each breath has to be deep and each exhale loud and forceful. It is about noticing what is occurring right before your eyes through the recognition of the only thing that is always grounded in the present.

When we can breathe well, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide balances itself and the gifts of life become real and present before our eyes.

It is the same way with the breath of God. A faithful life does not happen by staring longingly into the pictures of our past, lamenting about how active the Spirit was back then. A faithful life does not happen by always gazing into the future anxiously awaiting the next big sign from God. God breathes now in the present and that is what we must do as well.

So awake from your slumbers and daydreams you people of God; fix not your eyes upon the horizon or the heavens. We are impotent when we are caught gazing into the future or wallowing in the past.

Instead stretch your lungs and breathe deep the breath of God. See the world in front of you, the people who laugh and love, who hurt and cry, and with the language and gifts that God grants each one of us. Inhale, exhale, and be present to the world God has shown you this very day.



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