We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, April 7, 2024 – Rev. Tom Hughes – “the breath of God”

What a joy to be together this morning and to have these wonderful lessons to go over there are a lot of things we need to touch on and there’s just a couple of things before I come to the subject thatI’ve been led to talk about.

The first one is in in the lesson; that we heard of just a few minutes ago, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on ;sinfulness. What I want you to understand about that in all the Johannine tradition that sin is not a particular kind of moral failure like I told the lie or something like that – it’s being separated from God. That’s what living in sin is – being separated from God. Of course the mission of Jesus above all other things as we just read was that we would be close to God not separated from God to live in glory and the peace of God.

The second one is -if you forgive the sins of any therefore they’re forgiven if you retain the sins of they retained now. What it is declaring to us is the power that we have as Christ followers the power that we have as Christians regarding forgiveness or non-forgiveness – now you can experience this in your own life. The idea if there’s something that you’re holding a grudge about something you’re angry about now you have two choices – you can hang on to that and enjoy chewing over it for the rest of your life or you can forgive it and let it go and it has no more power . That particular little sin is gone forever because you forgave it. That’s a lot of power but that’s the way it is if we are living in this Holy Spirit which Jesus is announcing today to the disciples.

Now what it says is that he breathed on them. Well there are a couple of other scriptural references I want to share with you about breathing but first of all let’s all take a real deep breath. Can you do that one more time ? You know you’re breathing in the first gift of God -that was the first gift that God gave us the breath of life. We take it for granted as I guess we should it. You can’t live without it, of course, that’s the point too but every now and then it’s good to remember.

That is the first gift followed by all the other gifts that God has given us but the word that that is used in the scripture today which is a Greek word –  “pnoēn zōēs”, which means a certain kind of breathing. We find it first of all in Genesis 2:7 where it says the Lord God formed humans of dust from the ground and he breathed into their nostrils. This is the breath of life and they became a living being. So it is having breathed in the breath of Life in Genesis that we became a human being, not before that. When God breathed it, that’s when life came.

The second reading I want to share with you is from Ezekiel. If you remember the story of the Valley of the dry bones and, of course, it’s symbolic of the House of Israel who had abandoned Yahweh at that time but the way it’s described is like this so there again you have the Breath of God bringing life.

Ezekiel 37:5-14 NRSV 5 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will put sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you will live. And you will know that I am the Lord.’”  6 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, a sound of rattling came from the bones, and bone came together with bone. 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. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast army.”

Of course that’s a symbolic as I say representation of the people of Israel of the House of Israel before Yahweh at that time but it speaks of course to the circumstances of all time. Now one other little reference from the Apocrypha, from the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom 15:11) where it says because they knew not the one who fashioned them, the one who had breathed the quickening soul and brought them a vital Spirit.

In all these three cases in the Old Testament this word, this Greek word “pnoēn zōēs” is used. It’s the only time. There are lots of times where it talks about breathing but never like this. It is breathing where life is imparted. That’s the point and in the lesson that we just read as the gospel today it’s the only time in New Testament writings that that word is used which means breathing life. That’s what Jesus did to the disciples that day breathed life into them.

Now it wasn’t they were physically dead and maybe they were beginning to come alive spiritually. What Jesus gave to them was the assurance of spiritual life. Jesus breathed upon the disciples and sent them out. You think it’s something that you get to believe in me because you’re standing here with me. Wait till you see all those people who come after. You who never see me in the spirit in the body, but only in spirit. You see how they follow. That’s us – we’re the ones who live in that time where we get to know Jesus spiritually which actually is much more vital to our internal life than if Jesus walked in the door right now because we know that he is risen and what we do know is that he lives inside of us and that he lives and we sing that beautiful hymn (“He lives”).

What do you make of all this ? What is the point ? It’s a very nice way to live but it’s even bigger than the individual. It’s about the beginning of the change of the world. Before Jesus breathed on those disciples and sent them out, there had been no transformation of the human heart by the holy spirit. This is something brand new in the in the annals of God’s love for his people . God is sending the holy spirit in a newer and deeper and life-changing way that’s never happened before.

It’s the biggest change there ever was since creation since God there in the garden said I give you my breath. That breath has come again this time. The Holy Spirit has come and dwelt upon and within each one of us so that we have the same charge, the same responsibilities in the same world before us as did the disciples. Now it doesn’t mean that life’s always going to be easy is a disciple of Christ because there are a lot of people who don’t like it then and now but of course that’s not the point. The point is that the word of God has spread and whether everybody likes or not doesn’t change anything because it’s the truth and it is the future and it is what life is about. That’s what God gives us and so as we as we live as God’s people in this day and time as we go forth from this  little gathering today into the world that’s what we take with us is that assurance that hope, that blessing that power that spirit of God that he breathed upon us, the breath that changes life that gives life, that imparts life to all those who receive it. So don’t ever misunderstand what has happened to those disciples, to us, to this church that the Holy Spirit has come upon us in a way that changes life. It changes the meaning of life. It gives purpose and direction.

Every time you read something in the paper anymore it’s about somebody who’s been miserable and had this miserable life and done this that and the other and you think that’s s such a waste, what a shame because if you know the spirit and power of God, if you’ve allowed the Holy Spirit to move into your own heart you know the joy and the happiness and the promise and the future that is ours under those circumstances that comes in no other way.

So they were in that little funny upper room and Jesus appeared the Scripture. It doesn’t give us a clear understanding of how he got into that room but it very carefully says the doors were locked but there he was. He said to them peace I give you. He’s not talking about a kind of general peace- “go in peace.” He’s talking about the peace the peace of God, the peace of the Holy Spirit the peace that comes only in this way into the world and that’s what we’re given so on this beautiful Sunday, this beautiful second week of Easter when we give thanks for Christ’s Resurrection we give thanks for that and coming of the Holy Spirit and is breathing the breath of life upon you and me for all our time on this Earth and for eternity and for that I say Alleluia hallelujah, hallelujah. Christ is risen. Amen! Amen!