Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:26-36 1 Cor 12:1-13 John 20:19-23
Sometimes I read something so brilliant, so perfect, that I want to share more than just the essence of what the writer says. Sometimes I want to share whole chunks of their thoughts, just as they say them. This morning’s sermon is, in large parts, down to the wonderful work of Barbara Brown-Taylor and I thank God and her for many of these words…
Take a breath. Take a breath.
Do you know that the word ‘conspire’ means to breathe together.
So take a breath again…and know we have just launched our own conspiracy!
Knowing this seems to make sense of why the newly risen Jesus would come and appear to his terrified disciples and breathe on them, and say, ‘as the father has sent me, so I send you…receive the holy spirit’.
Keep hold of that thought – of the link between breath and conspiracy and the Holy Spirit. Keep hold of it as you keep breathing through these next few minutes. Keep hold of that thought as you hear this…
BBT writes, ‘If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating, which means that every time any of us breathes we breathe star dust left over from the creation of the earth.
We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya and air that has turned yellow with sulfur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo…
Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby’s first breath, or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us into the next person, or tree, or blue-tailed skink, who uses it to live.
And she goes on to say, ‘When Jesus let go of his last breath – that breath hovered in the air in front of him for a moment and then it was set loose on earth. It was such pungent breath – so full of passion, so full of life – that it did not simply dissipate as so many breaths do. It grew, in strength and in volume, until it was a mighty wind, which God sent spinning through an upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath, and it worked’.
Today we celebrate Pentecost – the day when a holy hurricane turned lives upside down, forever, and the church burst into flames, burst into life, to bring good news to people everywhere, in words and phrases they could understand; to show everyone, whoever they were, that God was for them – for us – for all people. And it came in fire and words and power and in breath. Everyone was filled with God’s own breath.
And as they breathed God in, so they were changed on the inside.
And as they breathed God out, so the world was beginning to change around them.
Nervous, clumsy people, who always said the wrong thing, suddenly became bold and confident and eloquent. Grieving people became full of hope and joy and lost people found a sense of direction. And when they opened their mouths to speak, Jesus’ voice came out. They healed the sick and spoke darkness into light. And nothing had happened – no additional training or anything like that – they had simply dared to breathe in God…and then breathe God out again. And it turned them into a force that changed the whole world; the same force that propelled us here today, whether we know it or not.
Listen to the way BBT puts it… ‘The Holy Spirit entered them the same way it had entered Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for the same reason. It was time for God to be born again – not in one body this time but in a body of believers who would receive the breath of life from their Lord and pass it on, using their own bodies to distribute the gift’.
That is what we are celebrating here today*. And that’s why today is a specially good day for a baptism! Because in baptism we are doing that too.
In a few moments, baby Ada will be anointed with holy oil – the symbol of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit we are all breathing. Then she will be washed in holy water, in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And she will be given the gift of fire – a flame lit from our holy fire here in church – as a reminder that God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all, and as a challenge to go from this place, full of the Holy Spirit, and take God’s light to all the world – to make the world a lighter and brighter place, simply by being in it.
Today we celebrate the first mass outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost and today baby Ada has her own personal Pentecost in and through her holy baptism, and we all get to share in it – get to catch bits of it.
So, as we do that, I encourage you to notice your breath. And know it is God. And as you breathe God in, may you know beyond all knowing that you are completely loved. And as you breathe God out, may you know that even your very breath has power to change the world. And in Ada’s moment of baptism, may your breath be for her – aimed at her, as a prayer for her future, that she too may know she is loved, always, and may this little person one day go on to be a true force for good in this world. Amen.
*At this point I had to divert from the script because the baby was unable to be baptised today, due to Covid. Instead of completing the sermon as written, I invited people to come to the altar rail for anointing with holy oil, for a fresh outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.