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Date: April 2, 2017 (Lent 5) 1. Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Ps. 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: being open to the Spirit. 4. Aim: educate, encourage. 5. Proposition: “Even a feather can block a breath: what blocks the Spirit in us?”

 

GOD’S BREATH, NOT HIS TYPHOON

 

Wind upon the waters, voice upon the deep, rouse your sons and daughters, wake us from our sleep, breathing life into all flesh, breathing love into all hearts, living wind upon the waters of my soul.1 That’s the first verse of “Wind upon the waters”. It’s a nice hymn. It uses biblical imagery, the melody is modern and the accompaniment works well. It picks up well the imagery of Ezekiel and his valley of dry bones and puts into hymnody some of Paul’s discussion in Romans 8. In fact, it’s almost rousing and easily competes with hymns such as “Holy Spirit, come with power” that sings, “Holy Spirit, come with power, breathe into our aching night.” 2 Spirit, power, wind and the dryness of our souls are woven together. It’s good. Of course, we all know the linguistic connection between the Spirit and wind. Jesus used that connection in his conversation with Nicodemus,3 just as Ezekiel did in his vision. Many preachers have highlighted the truth that the word for wind in both Hebrew and Greek is also the same word for spirit. We’ve all heard that before. It makes sense. After all, when a human being breathes his last, he exhales and it appears as if the spirit is expelled with that last breath. Breath and spirit are joined in human experience. Hebrew and Greek both picked up that connection. It is only a little stretch to then link breath with wind, especially when you consider the “breath of God”. It makes perfect sense inside the Bible to talk about breath, wind and the Holy Spirit of God. 1 “Wind upon the waters,” v. 1, Common Praise, 1998, #408. 2 “Holy Spirit, come with power,” v. 1, Common Praise, 1998, #643. 3 John 3. Sing as a congregation. Page 2 of 5 -Openness to the SpiritThe Bible then makes it clear that God’s Spirit—his breath—brings genuine life, both physically and spiritually. As his Spirit breathes into our spirits, we live the life God intends. Authentic life is powered by the Holy Spirit and authentic living is always inspired living. The Ezekiel passage is a famous resource for preaching about the Holy Spirit. And it is probably just as famous for preaching about the “dry bones” of our exiled age. Believers have been compared to those dry skeletons which can be knit together and given new life through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of all these sermons, we preachers tend to focus on the wind of God—“wind upon the waters”—and there is a temptation to portray that wind as a nearly gale force storm. The Holy Spirit appears to blow into our lives at 100 km per hour, a nearly irresistible force that overwhelms all resistance. We’ve heard it all before and every preacher has sought to rally the troops with inspiring sermons challenging the disciples to greater efforts. Sweet. But I think it is more akin to “Breathe on me, breath of God.” 4 If you think about it, something as insubstantial as a feather can turn aside one’s breath. That final exhalation at the time of death is no wind, it is a sigh that can be stopped with a piece of silk. I rather think we are dealing with God’s breath of the Spirit and not his gale force winds. So, like someone doing rescue resuscitation, God can breathe new life into our spirits through the action of his Holy Spirit. We can be reanimated, revived and renewed through that Spirit breathing into our spirits. But, it is just as easy for us to block that small breath of the Spirit. That’s worth considering. First of all, it is likely that everyone listening to this sermon is already a disciple of Jesus, already indwellt by the Spirit. Most Anglican congregations nowadays have few visitors—sad, but true. It is also just as true that next to no one comes to Church to be seen or merely out of habit. People who worship in 4 “Breathe on me, breath of God,” Common Praise, 1998, #649. Page 3 of 5 -Openness to the SpiritAnglican Churches nowadays are disciples of Jesus, trying to learn his content and trying to live his life. That life is and must always be a Spirit-directed life. The abundant life of Christ5 is Spirit-life: our thoughts, words and actions are guided by the Holy Spirit working according to the Father’s will. Genuine Christian living is by Christ’s definition empowered by the Spirit. Our difficulty is that the breath of God—that whisper of sound, the sigh of contented love—can be easily redirected. And we know that, don’t we. Our selfishness and its twin, the search for personal glory, can avert the influence of God’s Spirit. The hunger for power, prestige and popularity can push the Spirit out of its control seat. Even the search for fulfillment and intimacy can inhibit the influence of the Spirit. You can see what I mean: the tender breath of God can be redirected by our thoughts, words and actions. We have the power to limit the Spirit’s influence in our lives. His Spirit is no gale overcoming all defences—it is the gentlest of breezes carrying his refreshment to our spirits. As disciples of Jesus, we have to do something about this. I suggest a threestep program. 1. Living a life of conversion. I want you to be aware that conversion to Christ is never a one-time event: it is always a process, a daily walk with Christ in the direction of the Father. There may be high points marked by an experience that stirs the emotions like the three disciples had on the Mount of Transfiguration, but conversion itself is a day-by-day, step-forward, step-backward journey. If we are to remain open to the sigh of the Spirit’s leading, we must choose a life of conversion. That process of self-surrender and infilling becomes our long-term goal as disciples of Jesus. 5 John 10:10b. Use posters, digital projector, flipchart. Page 4 of 5 -Openness to the Spirit- 2. What would Jesus do—if he were here? Disciples of Jesus learn the content of the Master and seek to live his life in our context. That content is available to us in both Scripture and in the Great Tradition of the Church. We seek to model our lives on his life, but lived in our culture, society and present. We continually ask ourselves, “Now that I have learned Jesus’ content, what would he do if he were here?” Please note, we don’t ask, “What did Jesus do back then?” That we learned in learning his content. We ask, “Given my circumstances now, what would Jesus do if he were here?” We constantly measure our thoughts, words and actions up against Jesus’ thoughts, words and actions, taking into account our circumstances. What would Jesus do if my life were his life? 3. Breathe on me now, breath of God. As conversion is a process, so is renewal in the power of the Spirit. Again, there may be more dramatic experiences of the Spirit’s presence. But renewal is a journey, someone continually seeking to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Our prayer then becomes, “Fill me ever anew with your presence. Empower me today with your strength. I surrender myself today to your influence and grace.” Conversion, practice, renewal: over time these three disciplines will make us more amenable to the Spirit. There will be fewer inhibitions to the Spirit’s gentle pressure. In fact, as we grow in conversion, ministry and renewal, the Spirit’s gentle breeze grows in intensity and strength. The more open to the Spirit we become, the more we are guided by his influence and the better we can perceive his work in our lives. What starts out in our lives as a baby’s breath in our baptisms can become a gust hearty enough to topple our self-will. Today, just for the sake of this sermon, let’s assume that all of us are not yet at the point of surrendering ourselves to God’s hurricane-force wind. It is more likely that we are still struggling with our conversion, practice and renewal. We are likely more aware of how we inhibit the work of the Spirit than of our willingness to be inspired by him. For most of us, the Spirit’s influence is a matter of perceiving God’s still, small voice and experiencing the sigh of God’s contented love. Page 5 of 5 -Openness to the SpiritLet us pray. Breathe on us, O breath of God. We open our spirits up to your holy and life-giving Spirit. Renew us in your grace and power, that we might perceive our Father’s will and be transformed by his love. We surrender ourselves to your Spirit and choose to be transformed by his abiding presence. This we pray for the sake of your Church, which is the Body of Christ. AMEN.