“Breathe on me, Breath of God, / fill me with life anew, / that I may love what thou dost love, / and do what thou wouldst do.”
Pentecost Sunday. That celebration of the arrival of the Spirit on that little frightened band of disciples hiding out in the upper room behind locked doors with pounding hearts. The noise like a tornado, a freight train of a zephyr, blowing them from a tragic yesterday into a tomorrow swept clean and pulsing with possibility. You remember that wind? That breath? Yeah, we read about it every year. Pentecost Sunday. Acts chapter two. They were all together in one place. When suddenly ... We’ve read it, proclaimed it, depicted it, pretended it was happening to us. We wore our red, waved our fans, fluttered our ribbons, flew our kites, lit our candles. And enjoyed it, were refreshed and renewed by it, perhaps. Yet. There was some lack, some empty space not quite filled up with our play-acting, our commemoration.
Pentecost, in the mainline church at least, is a curiosity more than a true celebration. It sounds great on paper, in the book, but in our comfortable sanctuaries is seems a bit ... odd. Which is why I decided to skip it this year. Yeah, no rush of wind, no tongues of flame, no list of unpronounceable regions in the ancient world. Just breath.
“Breathe on me, Breath of God, / until my heart is pure, / until with thee I will one will, / to do and to endure.”
Breath - Spirit - Wind. In both Greek and Hebrew it’s the same word. Pneuma in Greek. Ruach in Hebrew. Just breath, that’s what I chose to look at for this penultimate Sunday in my tenure at Aldersgate. Just breath, that might also be wind. Which just could be Spirit. A transforming Spirit, an enlivening Spirit. An up from the grave Spirit. A not much to work with but still bringing life out of death Spirit. Wait, what? Read this:
Ezekiel 36:23-28 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Oh, right. But wait, there’s more. Ezekiel, is that the guy who ...
Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD." 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD."
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Yeah, that guy. A new spirit, that’s what God promises through Ezekiel. A new heart and new spirit. Open heart surgery is what’s on offer. I will take out that heart of stone, the one you grew to protect yourself. The one you’ve gotten used to because it keeps you from getting wrapped up in the messiness of other people’s lives. It’s just too hard, in this contentious age, to talk without being misunderstood, without getting defensive and overheated, without getting hurt. So, grow a shell, harden your heart. It’s easier. It’s safer. Learn to keep people at arms’ length, at the end of the barrel of a gun. It’s our right. And it is about as far from God as you can get. But God has a solution. Surgery. Take out the heart of stone, replace it with a heart of flesh. Will it hurt. Yeah, it will hurt. And go on hurting, every time you get stepped on. Every time you get rejected. Every time you are neglected, ignored, overlooked. It will hurt. But it will also glow.
“Breathe on me, Breath of God, / till I am wholly thine, / till all this earthly part of me / glows with thy fire divine.”
Maybe surgery seems too radical for you. How about mouth to mouth? Resuscitation. Get those lungs working again. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s a better way to live, trust me on this. Breathing is essential to a life in the Spirit. Breathing. Not simply respiration. That’s important too. But breathing deeply, until your lungs are bursting, take in all that God has in store for you. Even that which seems like punishment, because somewhere in there is new life and new hope and the ability to breathe even your tired old bones back into life.
“Breathe on me, Breath of God, / so shall I never die, / but live with thee the perfect life / of thine eternity.”
Life out of death, that’s what Pentecost is all about. About a new start, a real start. And breathing in hope when surrounded by despair. Moving in close enough to feel the breath of God, to know the Presence, even in the darkest night. That’s what I want - to be Alive in Christ. Breathe on me breath of God. Amen.
This will be my last online Bible study as pastor of Aldersgate. Though there is one more Sunday, it is at the end of one whirlwind week and the beginning of the next. So, I can’t promise to write something here. Those who are continuing one, stay tuned for a new chapter from Southport UMC. To those I leave behind, may the breath of God breathe life into your bones so that you may come alive in Him.