Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Breath-Giving God

November 10th, 2013 No comments

“Breath-Giving” (Psalm 104:10-30)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
July 14, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Breath-Taking Creation
On our journey back from Phoenix last week, our last leg was a flight from Dallas to Wichita, and as we made our final descent, I looked out my window and saw that we were flying right over a massive cloud bank just as the sun was setting, and it looked like we were flying over a million blazing cotton balls. As we descended through the clouds, there was a whole world to be seen up in the sky – mountains and valleys and plains and islands in the vast expanse of the clouds. It was absolutely breath-taking.

I remember that same sense of awe and wonder at seeing the sun set across the Sea of Galilee, a sight Jesus must have known so well; or a waterfall in the Dead Sea desert; or as a boy, seeing the June sun set on the golden seas of wheat that surrounded our house on all four sides. Or watching Sophia take her first breaths and her first steps. Absolutely breath-taking.

You know what I’m talking about. The amazing beauty of the sunflowers that line the Kansas ditches at the end of summer. The turning of the leaves in fall. The pure, crisp beauty of winter snow. The amazing greening and the delightful smells of springtime.

Or a foal that rises to its feet moments after birth. The mountains in their might and majesty, the plains in their splendor. The awesome power held of the depths of the seas. The countless stars spanning a crisp night sky. Absolutely breath-taking.

That’s what Psalm 104 is all about: the breath-taking beauty of God’s joyful work in creation – mountains and waters; light and wind and night; birds and trees and goats and lions and people upon the face of the earth. The delights of the fruit of the earth.

The Psalmist looks upon all these reminders of God’s goodness and delight and love and simply overflows with praise. The Psalmist wants us to look at a truly amazing world that God simply delights in, rejoices in, even plays in. A world where a look into the vastness of the universe is a window into God’s delight, where a lily blooming in springtime is a picture of God rejoicing, where God plays sports with the great creatures of the sea.

Look around, and see the fingerprints of God’s joyful spirit all over creation. Think of a time when you saw or heard or tasted or smelled or touched some corner of God’s creation, and for a moment your breath caught in your lungs as the awesome joy and beauty and power and glory of the Creator just washed over you.

If you haven’t ever had that experience, become a student of creation as the psalmists were. Observe the skies in their expanse and color. Listen to the songs of the birds in the morning. Marvel at a spider’s web. Behold the pure joy of an infant’s giggle. Learn about the cells that make up our bodies, the particles that are the universe’s building blocks, the awesome electric power of a thunderstorm. Peer into the vast expanse and enormity of the universe.

It’s God’s wisdom and pure delight. And the Psalmist says, when we reflect on and ponder and study and just enjoy God’s creation and praise God for it, that magnifies God’s joy. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Breath-Giving God
Breathtaking. Or really, a better expression would be “breath-giving.” You see, when the Psalmist says in verses 29 and 30, “When you take away the breath of your creatures, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth,” there the psalmist is putting into poetry what Genesis 2:7 says:

“Then the Lord God formed the adam (“human being,” or “Adam”) from the dust of the adamah (“ground”).” Adam from the adamah. Adam from the adamah. Adam from the adamah. It’s a pun, a play on words – adam from the adamah. Human beings are filled from the beginning with God’s joyful sense of humor. I’ve often thought that in English, it would be like God fashioning a person out of dust, and saying, “Hey, Dusty!” (I think it wise to laugh at God’s puns, lest there be greater punishment.)

But that’s what we are, isn’t it? Think about it. In the whole vastness of the universe that that stretches so much farther than we can imagine, we really are just dust. In Hebrew, there is just one letter’s worth of difference between adam and adamah, one letter’s worth that separates each of us from dust, dust from Dusty (see, it works!).

But that one letter’s worth makes all the difference, and the rest of Genesis 2:7 tells us what it is: God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the adam (the human, Adam, Dusty) became a living being. The breath of God is what transforms us from just a random collection of carbon and water to living creatures.

There are a couple of words in Hebrew that can be translated as “breath,” and they can also be translated “wind” or “Spirit.” Breath, wind, spirit. Breath, wind, spirit. Breath, wind spirit. The same is true in the New Testament. God’s breath, God’s Spirit, is all there is, and everything there is, that distinguishes living beings from random dust.

“When you take away the breath of your creatures, they die, and return to their dust,” the Psalmist says. “When you send forth your breath, your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground, the adamah.”

Breath of Creation
If you want to catch a glimpse of the glory of God’s works, just take a moment and notice your own breath. Take a moment right now. . .

All day long, whether waking or sleeping, sprinting or relaxing, in and out, in and out, whether you notice it or not, you breathe the breath that comes from God, you are powered by the Spirit that comes from God.

Everyone has that breath. Everyone, without exception has within them that precious gift from God that makes us so much more than a random pile of dust on the ground, the adamah. What a breath-taking, breath-giving thought! I think that one of the things that can give God joy and give us joy is when just for a moment in the midst of the busyness of the day, we pause and take notice of a few breaths, and say simply, “Wow, thank you God for your breath, your Spirit that you have given to me.”

Genesis 1:2 tells us that since the very beginning of creation, God’s Spirit-Breath has been sweeping over creation. All of creation is caught up in the breath of God. That same mysterious breath-Spirit that was there when the stars were formed and the vastness of the universe was established, and clouds and sunsets and laughter, that same breath also lives in each one of us.

I wonder if that’s why when our hearts notice the awesome glory of God’s playful, delightful work in creation, that our breath catches in our lungs, because we recognize something that’s inside us as well – God’s creative power and love. It’s the same thing that’s in everyone – friend, neighbor, even enemy. It’s the breath that makes all people and all things God’s. And because it’s God’s, it’s precious and holy.

So often, though, people take breath for granted, or really, just fail to notice it at all. We breathe without thinking about it. We pass the incredible beautify and fail to notice it. So often we see things not as holy, but as flat, one-dimensional, empty. Not caught up in the breath of God.

Out of Breath
There’s a myth as old, old as creation itself, that life is scarce; that food is scarce; that time is scarce; that love is scarce; that God is scarcely to be seen. In short, that there is a shortage of the breath that enlivens creation and fills it with abundance, joy, and love. It’s the reason why the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Pharaoh saw that they had become numerous, and he got scared that there wouldn’t be enough. So he enslaved them. It’s such an old story. The reason for nearly every major conflict in human history: the notion that we live in a world of scarcity, and life is a competition of accumulation of resources for us and ours while we have breath.

In 1933, a delegation of church leaders met with Adolf Hitler. On returning home, the wife of one of the leaders asked him what he had learned. And he replied, “That Adolf Hitler is a very frightened man.”

And so we humans do terrible things. We make wars, and we enslave each other, and we take advantage of each other, we harm God’s creation, and we give of ourselves endlessly in this thing we call a “rat race,” jockeying for position. Why? Because we’re frightened. We’re scared. We’re worried. We’re worried that there isn’t enough, won’t be enough, and we better get ahead while we can. We always want more, more than our parents, as the American dream goes.

The author of Ecclesiastes describes it well: “It’s all vanity, vanity and chasing after wind.” It’s the same word we’ve been talking about. “Vanity and chasing after breath.” We spend our whole life chasing after breath, and it leaves us and our world and our neighbors out of breath, when the sad, sad irony of it is that God’s breath is all around us, enlivening creation. In fact, it’s so close it’s inside each of us. We don’t have to spend our whole life chasing after it.

It’s one of the reason’s God wants us to have a Sabbath, to catch our breath, to remember who we are and whose breath we breathe, and to use that breath just to rejoice with God.

Psalm 104 is a psalm about the abundance of creation, about God who gives all living things the food they need. The shelter they need. The joy they need. We live in a world of the abundance of God, not scarcity.

Now the Psalmist isn’t naïve. There were people starving when the psalm was written, just like how, in an outrage of injustice, there were 30,000 children who starved yesterday while you and I filled our bellies. No, not every one does have enough. But that’s because of greed, not because of scarcity. That’s because of fear that there’s a shortage of breath and bread, a fear that leads to hoarding instead of helping.

Jesus proclaimed a different reality. The story begins with God’s Spirit – God’s breath – descending into him. And he goes about healing and casting out demons and proclaiming forgiveness of debts and good news for the poor. He provides an over-abundance of wine for a wedding party. And when there’s a hungry crowd, a young boy offers up five loaves and two fish. And what does Jesus do? He give thanks and he shares it, and it turns out that there’s more than enough.

John’s Gospel calls it a sign. It’s a sign of what’s always been true of God. When bread is broken and shared, there’s more than enough. There always has been. And in Jesus, the breath of God was renewing that truth. “I came,” Jesus said, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“Though he was rich,” Paul said, “he became poor so that you might become rich.” That’s the abundant life he invites us to, giving, sharing ourselves, and in doing so, finding the abundant life.

Entangled in the Breath of Christ
It’s absolutely breath-giving. One of the times when I was so amazed by God’s creative work in the world that my breath caught in my lungs was when I was in physics class in college. Now I’ve been informed that not everyone finds quantum physics to be as exciting as I do, and that’s okay. But just humor me here. I learned about something called quantum entanglement, which says that if two particles interact with each other so as to become entangled, even if they are separated by light years, a change in one will be immediately reflected in the other, faster than the speed of light.

I think that’s what it’s like to have the breath of God – to be entangled, caught up in the life of God, so that we also share in God’s love and joy and creativity. That’s why God breathes in us. To be with us. To be connected to us. To delight with us. To be creative through us. Each of us is permanently entangled with God.

After Jesus was crucified, his disciples were scared, as we so often are, scared that life and joy are scarce. But he came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Breath,” the Holy Spirit.

When we breathe in the resurrection breath of the life of Christ, the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit, we become entangled, caught up in the life of Christ, sent as he was as a sign of God’s renewal of creation. Amid an out-of-breath world rushing after more and more and inflicting so much pain and violence, our job is to breathe. To breathe the same breath of peace that Jesus breathed. To breathe the same breath of the truth of abundance

Breathe in the resurrection breath of life of Christ. Breath in with me. If you have Jesus, you will always have this breath, this Holy Spirit. And be amazed at the breath-giving work of God. Now, go and breathe out that breath of peace and joy and rest and life throughout this beautiful earth. Be creative with God. Delight with God. Share the breath-giving wonder of God’s joyful work.

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New Breath

February 16th, 2011 No comments

“New Breath” (John 20:19-23 & Acts 2:1-21)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
December 5, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Sealed In

It’s Easter Sunday, and that evening finds the disciples huddled behind locked doors, fearing for their lives. The tomb has been unsealed and emptied of its dead, Jesus has broken the chains of death itself for the redemption of the world. A whole new creation has begun! The beloved disciple and Peter have seen the empty tomb, and at least one of them has believed, but even then, they’re still stuck, trapped in the old order. Mary Magdalene, you’ll recall, has been sent with the good news of the resurrection, but perhaps they just thought that those demons of Mary had returned to give her visions of the dead.

At any rate, on the day when the tomb has been unsealed, we find the disciples sealed into their own tomb of fear, confusion, and disbelief. Their Lord has just been crucified, and whatever else they might have happened that day, people had begun to talk that they were his followers. Indeed, many of them would endure a similar suffering death as their Lord.

Clueless Disciples Then and Now

Nevertheless, if there were ever any time to remark on the ineptitude of the disciples, on their inability to get it, it would have to be here. Jesus had talked about his death and resurrection in three days. Two of the disciples have seen the empty tomb. They have even heard an eyewitness account that Jesus has conquered death itself, and yet they still remain bound by their own fear and unbelief.

Now the story of the disciples’ inability to understand Jesus is a well-rehearsed story in the gospels indeed – perhaps even to the point of becoming cliché. Often we’re left to marvel and scratch our heads at their severe cluelessness, of how they could travel around with Jesus all these many months, see all of his miraculous signs, hear his preaching and teaching, and still not get it – and still lock themselves in.

It has also been sufficiently well-rehearsed in the history of the preaching of the church to say, “We’re not so different from them, are we?” To see ourselves trapped with the disciples behind those closed doors, bound by fear, still living in the certainty of Friday’s darkness instead of risking Sunday’s dazzling light, even though we know better. I know I have taken great comfort in the inability of my own namesake, Peter, to get it, and his proclivity to get it horribly wrong. This is the image of the disciples with which we are comfortable, is it not? Their behavior puzzles us, but then again, we can relate to locked doors binding us to fear.

Bold Apostles

But if you read the book of Acts, the apostles aren’t bound by fear, but preaching with boldness. They’re no longer jostling for authority, but serving one another. They cast out demons! They heal the sick! We find in them no hardened, unbelieving hearts, but they go even unto death boldly proclaiming the Son of Man and generously offering forgiveness! Not even prison chains can hold them, much less locked doors and fearful hearts! Jesus’ promise that the apostles would do even greater works than he himself (John 14:12), had most certainly been fulfilled!

These mighty apostles are completely unrecognizable as the same bumbling, incompetent disciples we have learned to know and love so well from the gospels.

Indeed, they are not the same, which draws us to the part of God’s saving purposes, to the chapter of the story of God’s salvation, that we tell all too little: Jesus came and stood among them, among this very band of frightened, clueless, bumbling disciples; he breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In the same way that God breathed into the dust of the earth to give life to the very first human being, so now Jesus again breathes on his disciples, giving them a new breath, a new hope, a new life, a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit.

New Life by the Power of the Spirit

We often tell of the wonderful grace of how Jesus came and lived among us, healing, preaching, and teaching us how to live. With gratitude, we tell of the wonderful grace of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and we proclaim the unfathomable hope of the resurrection of Jesus. Wonderful grace!

And the wonderful grace of Jesus does still more. It is no accident that the giving of the Holy Spirit comes immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit actually changes people from delinquent disciples to bold apostles. It actually actually gives us a new breath for God’s glorious new creation.

Part of the wonderful grace of Jesus is that through the giving of the Holy Spirit, he actually enables us to live a new life for him, as Paul put it, to walk in newness of life if we will choose to yield to the transformative, regenerating work of the Spirit within us!

If we identify with bumbling disciples, so too are we called to identify with the regenerated life of the bold apostles, that it may be no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

Listening for the Holy Spirit

In Acts, and in Paul’s writing, the Holy Spirit is to be found at every turn. It is because of the Holy Spirit that the church exploded onto the scene of the first century. Clearly the disciples couldn’t do it on their own. No amount of planning or programs or fancy facilities or polished worship made it happen. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, and their willingness to yield to it.

Churches love to do planning and facilitating, which is good so long as we yield to the Spirit. On church councils, we like to divide up the rolls – one person is usually the chair, another the secretary, perhaps another is a treasurer, or the person in charge of finding scripture readers, or visiting the sick, or managing the care fund, and so forth.

I was once on a council where one person’s elected position was to call attention to the Holy Spirit. She would begin the meeting by lighting a candle and calling attention to God’s presence. And according to the council guidelines, she had the authority to interrupt the meeting at any time to call attention to the Spirit’s presence.

If there was a difficult decision to make, she could remind the council that God was present in the difficulty, and to call the council into a time of silently listening for the Spirit. If there was heated discussion, she could refocus the council on God’s presence symbolized by the candle. If there was a great joy, she could remind the council that the Spirit was there celebrating too.

Three times recently here at Grace Hill, I’ve been in a meeting where the committee or an individual was working through something and there just wasn’t a lot of clarity, or there was anxiety, and someone simply said, “Can we pray about this?”

How easy is it to start brainstorming and testing solutions and trying to fix that we forget to listen to the Spirit. But rather, just to say, “Can we pray about this? Can we lift this up to God? Can we pause to listen to God’s will for this? Can we confess that we can’t do it on our own, but that with God, all things are possible? Can we pause to yield our will to God’s will”

Sometimes it’s even easy to make petition after petition to God, but even then forget to pause to listen for the breath, to what the Spirit has to say. Maybe we talk too much. Maybe we need to start by listening – after all, God already knows the concerns of our hearts, but we do not yet know God’s purpose, or if we do, we see through a glass only dimly.

Maybe before we even open our mouths, we need to open our Bibles to listen for God, or maybe we need to sing a song to listen for God, or kneel in submission to listen to God, or hear the voice of a sister or brother in the Lord, or simply sit in silence and listen for the still, small voice, for the gentle breeze blowing into our hearts.

Have you ever noticed that our worship begins with a call to worship that’s based on Scripture? We don’t begin with our words; we begin by hearing God’s Word. We don’t gather together on Sunday mornings because we all think it’s a really great idea. We gather because of God’s Word – because God has called us from darkness to light together and to gather, because as the Spirit has been working in each one of us, calling us, leading us, transforming us, so it has joined us by baptism to Christ our Lord and Head, and to his physical Body on earth, the Church.

We gather because God’s Word has has called us together out of nothingness; we gather because Christ has redeemed us; we gather by the power and grace of the Spirit, for apart from our gathering, there is no Body. And so, as we gather, we begin not by planning or petitioning, but by listening.


Mennonites have for centuries talked about yieldedness (Gelassenheit) as the centerpiece of our spirituality. We are to yield to the Body of Christ in giving and receiving counsel and practicing mutual accountability. We yield our will to God’s will. We yield inwardly to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, which is enabling us to live a new life for Christ. We yield to God’s greater purposes in accepting suffering with Christ and even the martyr’s death.

We cannot be people of the Spirit unless we let go of our fine-grained control of everything and yield to the Holy Spirit. Unless we let go and yield, we will never be able to accept the unpredictable grace of the Holy Spirit. In the biblical languages, the same word is used for Spirit and wind and breath – all three are caught up in the very same word, and like the wind, the Spirit blows where it chooses.

The Spirit unpredictably blew upon Mary, and she yielded and gave birth to Jesus, the Christ child. At his baptism, the Spirit descended upon Jesus, then blew him straight into temptation in the wilderness of all places and led him out again. It anointed him to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Breathe on us anew, Breath of God

Sometimes the Spirit blows, and we have some explaining to do. It blew upon the apostles, and they began to speak in many languages so that all could understand. But some in fact badly misunderstood what was happening, you might recall, and so begins the first sermon of the early church with such noble and rhetorical flourish: “These are not drunk!”

This Advent, be alert, be waiting, be watching to see where the Spirit will blow us. What surprising new life does it seek to bring to miraculous birth among us? What locked doors will it pass through to give us new breath, new creation? Maybe the peculiarity of the Spirit is for us, as it was for the apostles, an opportunity to witness, to tell this marvelous story of our salvation.

When the Holy Spirit comes to us at the end of the day, one thing is for certain: The Holy Spirit does not leave you, does not leave all of us together, the same. Because of the Spirit’s power, we cannot remain bumbling disciples forever, for it comes upon us in our locked rooms, transforms our fear into words of peace and hope, and sends us into the world to continue Jesus’ forgiving, healing mission to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God, to embody the Light of the World, to emerge from tombs thought sealed, and to open the locked doors that bind people’s hearts in fear.

The Holy Spirit will be given to whoever asks, Jesus said. May we yield to its awesome power, that we might be created anew, and that the breath of Jesus might become our very own. Amen.

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