May 26, 2019

The Difference – The 6th Sunday of Easter – Revd Sally Bedborough

Passage: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Have you noticed that breathing has become very popular??

What used to be something that we did automatically, involuntarily is the term; we breathed without having to think about it….now breathing has become a bit of a science.

We can’t go far without hearing about diaphragmatic breathing  - that’s breathing deeply, from the belly; or being advised to ‘follow our breath’ – that’s cultivating awareness of our inhaling, pausing, and our exhaling. Studies have even come up with a formula to help us drop off to sleep. It’s 4/7/8. Counting to 4 on the inhale…..but I’m not sure if I want to share the rest with you just now in case you drop off in the sermon!!

This breathing business is all good. We know when it comes to feelings of fear, anxiety, nervousness, for instance, that taking control of our breathing can calm us, slow us down, and help us to focus.

It seems what we used to do automatically we can now do on a different level, and with helpful results. So it seems that there is breathing, and there is breathing. A different thing.

Our readings tell us quite a bit about breathing. This wonderful vision given to Ezekiel demonstrates the difference between breathing that keeps us alive, and breathing that brings us life in all fullness. The valley Ezekiel sees in his vision is full of dry bones; what a picture that is of a certain kind of life that is dry and dead, with no breath, life or purpose. The Lord God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones; that is, he tells him to speak words of truth and life to them. This Ezekiel does with amazing results: the bones join together, and then at Ezekiel’s words of prophecy, the breath of God enters them and they live. This, says the Lord, is a picture of the future resurrection: those who die will be raised and will live. Not only that, it is a picture of a present resurrection. The spirit of God will enter those who are hopeless, and those who are cut off. We might think here of those who are unconnected and friendless as well as those without hope. This is a wonderful promise to all of us who feel in need of connection and hope; as well as those who hope for a richer life both now and in eternity.

This is the difference that a certain kind of breathing makes then, breathing in the breath of God’s spirit, in contrast to our ordinary everyday breathing that takes in the air we need to keep our bodies functioning.

Now we turn to another difference: that between a home and a different kind of home. One kind of home is the place that we reside, we may settle there, have family, make friends, become connected. But there’s another kind of home, where we feel connected to God and to our deepest selves.  We come home in the sense of feeling that all we are is right. ‘Home’ was our theme on Good Friday and into Easter last month. With the aid of a powerful testimony from one of our Syrian refugee families, we thought about leaving home, being far from home, and longing for home. As we did so, we reflected on what and where our home is; crucially with God as our helper, our home is always within our hearts.

Such was the difference that Lydia found in her home. Like Ezekiel, Paul had seen a vision from God, urging him to travel to Macedonia. He does so, travelling from Galatia via Troas, Samothrace and Neapolis, and then on to Philippi in Macedonia. Quite some journey which seemed to take him many miles to a river where he met Lydia; a woman of quite some standing, a dealer in purple cloth. She was baptised along with her whole family and following this she invites Paul to her home: ‘come and stay in my home’ she says. This theme of home is ongoing in the scriptures: at the beginning of John’s gospel, two disciples are drawn to Jesus and they ask him where he is staying. They want to know where is his home. ‘Come and see’ says Jesus. And here in our gospel reading, Jesus follows up that invitation with another. The invitation is not for us to go and seek the place where Jesus stays, Jesus makes it clear that it is he who will come and make his home with us if we accept his invitation and open the door to him.

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

Our homes of bricks and mortar; and the homes of our flesh and blood human bodies, can be transformed by the difference made by the Holy Spirit, who is the one described as breath in our scriptures. The one who came to Lydia symbolically as she was baptised in that river; the one whose breath transformed her home and can transform our homes to be infilled with God in his love, mercy and goodness.

The final difference we notice is in the gift of peace. This different kind of breath makes a different kind of home and in turn brings a different kind of peace. Not the usual kind of peace that is traded in the world. The worldly peace is about victors triumphing over the defeated. Peace is brought to bear when agreements are made, trade-offs negotiated, compromises reached. No one is wholly satisfied. There has been give and take; most needs are satisfied, but not all. A certain group within the defeated ones simmers unhappily until a time comes for another uprising; a certain suspicion drives the motivations of others to hold the defeated ones down.

But this different kind of peace is not like that. The peace that comes from the Holy Spirit is the kind of peace that characterised Jesus in his life on earth. It wasn’t ‘peace and quiet’ - Jesus brought disruption, challenge and endless questions. His peace wasn’t a submissive peace at any price either.

The peace of Christ enables us to be without troubled hearts and without fearful hearts. This is because the peace of Christ brings a partnership with God; at our centre, in our hearts, we can have a hope, an evenness, a quiet that trusts God. We may still rant and rage at injustice, oppression, hatred and violence. We are not automatons with no feelings. The peace given by God is full of trust, it is a peace that passes understanding, it is our life’s work to glean something of this peace as we breath differently and as our homes are made different as a result of that breath.

A couple of weeks ago as Fr Jonny led our ministry meeting for the first time, he invited us to begin by taking a deep breath. That was wise. It brought us quiet, it focused us, it gave us that pause before we began to talk business. In many ways, this is what we are doing at this time of year as we await Pentecost and recall the giving of that particular kind of breath, that particular kind of home and that particular kind of peace. Let us then inhale deeply and pause as we wait expectantly. Amen.