Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Create Breathing Room

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/27/2012

a video recording of the sermon is available at


Previously: together we follow the way of Jesus.

Jesus is the center of our action

We are on the move

We haven’t arrived

We’re going to somewhere, from somewhere

The question is “What is our next step?”

It’s not that complicated

This week: create breathing room

What is breathing room? It’s space where something good can happen. It’s relief. It’s what we need when we are suffocating, when we can’t breathe because something has happened to us that’s knocked the wind out of us. It’s what we need when everything is closing in on us and we are overwhelmed.

We are designed to be able to contract our diaphragm, expanding our chest cavity, creating a vacuum that draws oxygen laden air through our noses, down our windpipe and into our lungs, which exchange carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen, readying it for delivery to every cell in our bodies. And then, in the same breath, to expel the toxic carbon dioxide back into the air around us, where it can be used for good purposes by this great green planet.

It happens naturally, unconsciously all the time.

Unless. Unless something gets in the way, keeps us from breathing. And then we are in serious trouble. Because without fresh oxygen, without getting rid of carbon dioxide, we haven’t got much life left in us.

Sometimes, something as simple as breathing room is the difference between life and death.

It’s the same with life at the deeper level of our spiritual lives. Because intimate connection with God is as important for life as being able to breathe is.

God is the true source of all life, human life included. He’s the source of joy, freedom, peace, hope, yes, even love itself.

And we are designed to naturally, instinctively depend on him for our life, to receive from him, to breathe in his love and peace and joy and hope with every breath, and to expel the anxiety, despair, anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, envy, and fear that builds up in us as we live in this broken world.

It’s meant to happen naturally, unconsciously, all of the time.

But apart from the breathing room Jesus creates for us in his resurrection, and the saving work he did on the cross, it doesn’t. Because of our sin, and the sinfulness of others, we find ourselves disconnected from God, out of his favor, thinking we don’t matter to him. And so in our suffocation, we look for life other places.

What we need is breathing room. What we’ve found in Jesus is breathing room. What we’re called to create for others is breathing room.

[examples in church – compassion, youth, children’s, worship celebrations, small groups, etc.]

Pentecost Sunday today. The day we celebrate the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit of his son Jesus on the church.

In the Greek language, the language the accounts of Jesus and the early church are written in, the word translated “spirit” is pneuma. Which means spirit, but also “wind” and “breath”. The holy spirit of God is the holy breath of God. On Pentecost, God breathes on humanity. Like he breathed in Adam’s mouth to give him life, through the Holy Spirit, God breathes on us to give us new life.

It is the holy spirit that empowers us to experience the nearness of God’s presence, to hear his voice directing us, expressing his love and favor to us. It is the holy spirit, the holy breath of God that works transformation and healing in us, and in our relationships with others. It is the holy spirit that restores the image of God in us, allowing us to participate with him in making all things new through the saving work of Jesus on the earth. It is the holy spirit, the sweet breath of God, that brings hope and joy and freedom and peace to our lives.

So today we’re going to talk about what it means to say that Jesus creates breathing room for us, and what it means that he has called us to create breathing room for others. Then, in June, we’ll look specifically at how we are to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect.

Let’s read from John 20, where John writes about the pre-cursor to Pentecost. The time when Jesus first gives his holy spirit, his life-giving breath, to his disciples.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

John 20:19-22

Let’s understand the context first.

A couple of days earlier, Jesus had been executed on a Roman cross. The various powers in Israel perceived Jesus and his followers as a threat to their interests, and so they had cracked down on them. They’d arrested Jesus, convicted him in a mock trial, crucified him, and were making sure his scattered followers didn’t try to mount a retaliatory rebellion. Jesus’ disciples were crushed, the world closing on them, suffocating. Their master – the one they’d put all their hopes in – had been humiliated and killed, dashing their hopes and ruining their lives. And now they were afraid of being hunted down and arrested themselves.

The disciples are disfavored.

A week earlier, they were the most blessed of people, favored to be called friends by the miracle working Messiah.

But now the so-called Christ has been disgracefully killed, cursed to hang on a tree. The kingdom they’d put their hopes in had been a mirage, and they are left with nothing.

Disillusioned friends of a fraud, all of them. The world is turned against them, holding not even pity for them.

The disciples are discounted, too.

Once they had dreams of glory, sitting at their Master’s hand. Healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sinners, wielding the authority of God’s Son.

And now? Fools who’ve proven themselves capable only of being duped. No second shot at glory just around the bend; they’ll be lucky if their fishing boats and tax collecting booths still have room for them. The world isn’t full of potential, only disappointment. [shel silverstein, “sister for sale”]

And the disciples are disconnected.

The community they had been born into, the community that had once been the community of promise for them had cursed them. So they are huddled together behind locked doors, cut off from their original source of life.

They’re not even connected to each other, except in fear, confusion, and doubt. Not life-giving connections, for sure.

And they’re disconnected even from their God, because it seems that everything they knew and believed must have been wrong. Would they ever find forgiveness from Yahweh? Would they ever be able to enter the Temple and offer sacrifices again, or worship in a synagogue?

Let’s read again, now, with that context.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Here we see the beauty of breathing room in a nutshell: people cut off from every source of life, locked in a room, when, suddenly, they find that things are different than they were just moments ago, and God himself is there with them, breathing his new life into them, if only they will receive it.

This is what Jesus does for us.

Breathing room.

This is what we are called to do for others.

Breathing room.

Creating breathing room is a lot like an embrace.

It begins with open arms that communicate favor to the other.

Followed by taking the other into yourself – making yourself vulnerable to them

And then opening your arms so they can go and be who they are made to be

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Here we see the first gift of grace that creates breathing room: Jesus’ presence, announcing peace.

A few things happen for the fearful, disconnected disciples all at once. First, despite the locked door, they are not alone. Talk about surprising. Would like to have bottled the amount of adrenaline released by their adrenal glands in that moment.

But not only are they not alone, they are really not alone; they not alone at all any more. Their aloneness, their disconnection with their community, with each other, with God himself, had ultimately been a result of Jesus’ absence in their lives, in their world.

So his presence, all by itself, is the difference between disconnection and connection, the difference between fear and peace.

Jesus’ simple statement, “Peace be with you!” gets to the heart of the matter. Peace. More than what we usually mean by peace. Shalom. Wholeness, well-being, with a relational emphasis. A greeting that says all is right between you and me. May all be right between you and God. May every cause of fear flee from you, and may you spend your life in a settled condition of peace. Jesus’ presence, announcing peace is a gift of grace that creates breathing room for the disconnected to connect.

This is the open arms of the embrace. The announcement that I have made room for you within my self.

Because all room making begins with making room in the self. We may want to make room for people in the kingdom of God, in our church, in our ministry teams or in our small groups. But breathing room always begins with the room we make in our selves. Shalom. Peace be with you. You are welcome in my life.

Then, Jesus is vulnerable with them. He lets them know him as he really is, scars and all.

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

This is the second gift of grace, the gift of one’s self.

It’s in his vulnerability that they see him for who he really is. The one who suffered the death they are afraid of, but now is alive.

This is the wrapping of the arms around the other. This is the part of breathing room that makes real what was promised by the open arms. It says that not only will I receive you as you are, but I will let you see me as I am. I will let you wrap your arms around me.

And then finally, the breathing room is made complete as arms are opened in release, in sending, in invitation to be fully who you were meant to be, doing what you were meant to do.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

The gift of grace that was present in the announcement of peace the first time is said again, now that the disciples know from whom it is coming and what it really means, and then Jesus sends them out on their mission, filled with the gift of grace that is his holy Spirit, the wind that moves them out into the world, alive to God’s purposes for their lives.

He doesn’t hold them back, lock them into himself, hang on to them desperately. He releases them into their true purpose as disciples. Favored, Counted, and Connected family members. Filled with his holy spirit, a holy breath they can breathe in now that he has created breathing room for them.

This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus. As people for whom he has already created breathing room, to go and create breathing room for others.

Before we finish with some practical tips, we need to understand one final truth. Remember that all room making begins within the self? We need to understand that room making is no small, or painless task. No, in fact, that is where the hardest work happens.

Because when Jesus made room in himself for us, it cost him everything. That is what the cross is all about. On the cross, Jesus made room within himself, within God, for us, just as we were, in our sinfulness. On the cross, Jesus embraced us even as we were rejecting him.

Because the truth about embrace, about creating breathing room, is that when we are doing it, we are allowing ourselves to be enriched by the other, just as they are. Jesus, on the cross, was God allowing himself to be enriched by us, still in our sinfulness, even though it cost him his Son.

There isn’t time to do justice to this idea today, but perhaps you have noticed this much at least. Those who love the unlovable are enriched by the unlovable, in a way that those who do not, are not. Think about those who love the sick, the dying, the deformed, the malformed, the poor, the ugly, the broken, the hurting, those who others might even call enemies in this world. Have you seen how rich their lives are? Because they are allowing themselves to be enriched by the other.

This is what our master, Jesus, does towards us. He invites us to do the same towards every other he sends our way or sends us to.

And this is central to the meaning of the end of this passage:

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

If we are faithful to our mission to create breathing room, we will see the glorious power that is released when sins are truly forgiven.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Practical Tips:

1. Pay attention to your handshakes and hugs this week.

2. Try to embrace one person you might otherwise avoid each day this week.

3. Pray the Lord’s prayer in one breath, and make a commitment to follow Jesus in creating breathing room for people whose lives feel as empty of God as your lungs felt of breath at the end of the prayer.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good sermon! And at such great was a day of repeated and intentional inhaling and exhaling. Inhaling of life and things of Him (at times in short gasps and in other moments drawn out pleas) with the beautiful exchange and exhalation of that which threatens to steal, smother and destroy life. Thanks for preaching a good word!