Day of Pentecost: Take a Breath

Day of Pentecost: Take a Breath

John 20:19-23

By: The Rev. Kimble Parker Sorrells

Have you ever been so anxious or afraid that you felt like you couldn’t breathe? Your chest tightens; your pulse quickens. It feels like your whole body is in overdrive. When I was a child and felt afraid at night, I would pull the covers up over my head. Whatever monsters were lurking in the dark or under my bed surely couldn’t get me if I was hidden away, safe from harm. As an adult, I no longer hide under the covers, but I still find myself seeking to hide away from the things in life that are scary or stressful. I still find myself realizing that my body has tightened and I can’t even take a deep breath.

When we enter today’s Gospel story we find the disciples in their own place of fear and trembling—huddled away behind locked doors, hiding from those who would persecute them. It’s a very different Pentecost than the one we see in Acts. There are no dramatic winds or tongues of fire. No ecstatic speeches in multiple languages.  Instead, we see a quiet Pentecost. Into the midst of fear and trembling enters the Risen Christ and breathes into the disciples the Spirit, and with it, the Gift of Peace.

While it might seem less dramatic, it’s still a radical moment—to find peace in the midst of chaos. The disciples’ whole world had changed—everything that they had hoped for was linked to following Jesus. I imagine their fear left them breathless.

Into this space Jesus speaks, “peace be with you,” and breathes into them the Holy Spirit.  Gail O’Day reminds us in her commentary in the New Interpreters Bible that this echoes the moment of Creation wherein God breaths into humanity the breath of life. Here we see a new creation and new life given to these disciples through this breath of the Spirit.[1] I have to wonder if in this moment, they finally took a deep breath for the first time. I wonder if their shoulders relaxed and their fear melted away into a sense of radical peace.

Perhaps it is because I relate so much to these disciples that this image of breathing peace of the Spirit resonates with me. Or perhaps it is because as a yoga teacher, I know so well the power of connecting to the Spirit through our breath. Secular studies show us that these breathing practices do have an effect to calm our minds and bodies, but as a pastor, I think it’s more than that. When we pause to breathe in, to intentionally connect to the Spirit—our life source—that Spirit fills and empowers us. The Spirit changes us. She is there to transform us, if we only take a moment to connect.

Of course, this Spirit, this breath of life isn’t just there for Divine stress relief or touchy feely comfort. We are granted Peace so that we can be sent to continue Christ’s work in the world, even in the face of great trials. This story is both one of receiving the Spirit, as well as being commissioned by Christ to go forth to do God’s work in the world.[2]

I wonder how often we as individuals and as communities of faith hide ourselves away in fear, rather than living a life centered in the radical peace of Christ. I wonder how often we stay in fear rather than journeying out to do the work that God has called us to do.

I can admit—I would really love for God to call me to something safe. I love stability. I love comfort. And yet, the work of the Gospel isn’t always comfortable, or safe, or easy. Working for Justice in the world sometimes means getting our hands dirty or getting out of our comfort zones. Sharing God’s love might mean taking a step out into the unknown.

This path that we are called to isn’t an easy one, but it is one we don’t walk alone. Every step, the Spirit is with us, breathing into us Peace; breathing into us courage; breathing into us life. I wonder what this looks like in our lives and in our communities? Might it mean we step out and take a risk in order to share the gospel rather than trying to just get by?

Perhaps this Pentecost, instead of wind and fire, we might search for just a moment of breath. In that space of silent prayer, we can draw our awareness to the presence of the Spirit around and within us. In that moment, we breathe in, knowing that the sustaining Life we breathe in is nothing short of the Divine Spirit. Perhaps this Pentecost, we might choose to breathe in peace even in the places of our lives or our community’s life where we are afraid. Perhaps we might choose to go forth from that space of radical peace to do the work of God.

 

kim-248x252
The Rev. Kimble Parker Sorrells

The Rev. Kimble Parker Sorrells is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and currently serves as the Georgia Field Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network—an organization affiliated with the United Methodist Church that works for the inclusion and rights of LGBTQ people. Prior to their work with RMN they served as Minister for Spiritual Formation and Youth at Saint Mark UMC in Atlanta, Georgia. They have also served as a hospital chaplain and worked in homeless services through their time in AmeriCorps. Kim is a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Berry College and is a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher. They draw on their theological and yoga training to inform their ministry’s focus on using spirituality and contemplative practices to equip us with the inner peace to be justice makers in the world. Outside of their formal employment Kim serves as chair of the Spiritual Leaders Committee for the Transgender Health and Education Alliance (THEA), and is a member of the Atlanta Coalition of LGBTQ youth.

[1] Gail O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville:Abingdon, 1995) 9: 846.

[2] Ibid.

Thanksgiving Day(C): The Bread of Heaven

Thanksgiving Day (C): The Bread of Heaven

John 6:25-35

By: The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. Thanksgiving Day meant Christmas was a bit closer and much cooler weather was soon on the way. Thanksgiving also meant spending the day with family and playing with my cousins in my grandmother’s backyard. But most importantly, Thanksgiving meant food! I can still remember the smells of my grandmother’s turkey and ham, the crunch of my aunt’s sweet potato casserole, and the delicious weirdness of my father’s oyster stuffing. What I remember most, however, are my grandmother’s angel biscuits.

My grandmother’s angel biscuits came from an old Appalachian recipe in our church cookbook. Angel biscuits are difficult to explain: they have the texture of a traditional southern biscuit but the taste of a yeast roll, deliciously perfect for soaking up gravy and bits of turkey.

Grandma always made her angel biscuits the day before Thanksgiving. She would place them in her refrigerator overnight on a large cookie sheet. I remember arriving early to her house and watching her cut the uncooked biscuits with precision and ease, something she had done many times. The smell of the rolls would fill the house, the yeast almost overpowering the smell of the fatback in the green beans on the stove.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I remember those angel biscuits. Grandma doesn’t cook much these days, and I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to make them myself three or four times. Perhaps it’s best they remain a memory.

The gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day is an interesting choice. When our minds are most focused on food, what we might soon be cooking, or which dish we most look forward to, John’s words strike us: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

It should be obvious to most that our civic and religious Thanksgiving holiday is not about food. Even the non-religious among us admit that Thanksgiving is at the very least a day in which we acknowledge what we have and what is important in our lives. For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is about giving thanks to God, the creator of all. The fact is, however, that when we give thanks to God for all we have, we are most often thankful for the “food that perishes,” as Jesus puts it. We might be thankful for our new car, for our home, for food, for clothing, for our job, and for money to pay our bills, things that are important, but things that perish.

There is certainly nothing wrong with giving thanks for the perishables in our lives, but that’s not the question Jesus is prompting. Jesus is asking where we place our faith. The gospel lesson doesn’t ask us to list the things for which we are thankful, the gospel lesson asks us to reflect on our faith and to receive the true bread, which gives life to world.

We can certainly be thankful for our material wealth, for our homes, for our jobs, and for the food on our tables this Thanksgiving, but let us not mistake thankfulness for faith. Thankfulness for turkey and biscuits won’t feed the hungry. Thankfulness for a closet full of clothing won’t clothe the naked. Thankfulness for a good home and a good job won’t house the homeless or right the economic injustice in our society. Only our faith in Jesus and our participation in God’s mission will do that.

The preacher should consider the implications of appointing a lesson from John’s bread imagery on Thanksgiving Day. The preacher should also consider how receiving the bread of life conflicts with or harmonizes with our religious and civic understanding of the Thanksgiving holiday and its traditions. Most importantly, the preacher will need to consider Jesus’s use of thirst and hunger imagery in the context of perishable bread. How might the preacher prompt her congregation to consider what it means to be thankful for the non-perishables? What does thankfulness for God’s mission and God’s kingdom look like? How might thankfulness move from acknowledgment and faith to action and participation?

As we break bread this Thanksgiving around our tables, may we who follow in the way of Jesus be moved beyond thankfulness for turkey and gravy; may we be moved to receive and share the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world.

 

fullsizerender
The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce

The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce is an Episcopal priest and the curate of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jacob has served churches in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. before receiving a Master of Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2015. Jacob enjoys reading, collecting Marian folk art, and playing with his very energetic dog, Hamlet.

 

Day of Pentecost (C): Peace Out, Time for Work

Day of Pentecost (C): Peace Out, Time for Work

John 14:8-17; 25-27

By: Emily S. Kahm

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

If you’ve attended a Catholic Mass, you might recognize those words as the cue for people to start stirring from their otherwise well-rehearsed Catholic aerobics. As a kid, this line was the long-awaited signal that, for a few brief seconds, I was allowed to move and talk as I “peaced” the people around me with a handshake and, well, the word “peace,” or alternatively “peace be with you,” if I was feeling chatty that day.

It’s a little odd, isn’t it? When I try to envision “peace,” the images that come to my mind are those of perfect stillness, meditation, quiet, but in my church, “peace” comes associated with a flurry of movement, a part of our structured liturgy that is decidedly un-structured, a part you’re practically guaranteed to experience differently every time because the people around you change every time. The moment of “peace” can feel very uncertain—sometimes the music minister comes in with the Lamb of God too early and you don’t get to peace those folks you really wanted to peace; sometimes the peace drags on forever, long after you’ve run out of people for your one-word exchange. The moment of peace can feel decidedly fickle.

Maybe that’s some of what Jesus is getting at in this passage from John. This all takes place at the Last Supper, shortly after Jesus calls out Judas on his impending betrayal (going so far as to tell him to get gone and start betraying, already) and tells Peter, his otherwise faithful friend, that he will fail in a big way to be there for Jesus when he needs him the most. It seems a strange time to claim that peace will always be present with his apostles. John’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ divinity more than the other Gospels, but in his capacity as human, Jesus has to be terrified. He’s in the midst of a long, awful anticipation. I imagine this is what you feel when waiting for a major surgery scheduled long in advance, or when you know that someone you care for is about to die and you’re dreading the phone call that signals the end, or when your friend is about to be deployed into a war zone. The dread can be overpowering. So many of us focus on doing, and find our peace there instead, in the minutiae of eating a meal or taking a walk or doing the work we love best.

Perhaps now is where you expect me to make a point about the glorification of busyness in our culture and how our peace comes primarily, or exclusively, from an internal prayer life or community worship, or meditation—all those “sit and be” occasions. Well, it can, and in part, it should. However, our culture being obsessed with doing hardly means that the only holy path is to stop doing. We’re back in the frustrating domain of no simple answers; of seeking balance instead of a clear-cut solution. How do we balance being and doing? How do we, like Jesus, sit at the table when we’re scared out of our minds, but talk about the work we’ve done and how others will build upon it? And then, how do we know when it’s time to stop sitting and get moving, because justice requires arduous dedication?

Jesus is pretty specific with Philip that, if he can’t believe that the Father is in Jesus because Jesus says so, he should believe because of the works he has seen. Catholic social teaching talks about the inherent dignity of work; the importance of feeling like one is contributing to their community, even in very small ways.[1] We love to point at something we’ve worked on: be it a painting, an excellently-groomed tax report, or a child of ours who’s turning out pretty well, and remind ourselves how much our time and labor mattered. There’s a peacefulness in feeling useful and engaged. Perhaps that is some of what Jesus means when he says “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” When you find your vocation—that is, the thing in this world that you are called to do, the thing that won’t get done if you pass it by—even the most stressful and dreadful situations start to fill with meaning. Jesus knows, at least to some extent, that what he’s about to do matters, that it has to be done, and that he’s the only one who can do it right. The Spirit that Jesus says will come after him is an enlivening Spirit, one that prompts us to get going with the knowledge that we are not alone and that we will find a richer type of peace—more than just the peace of quiet sitting—through our labors.

So perhaps it’s not so odd that the “peace” at church is a peace of movement, bustling, awkward limp handshakes, and tentative smiles. When we are at home with who we are in relationship to God, our peace is bound up in doing. And on Pentecost, when we speak of being filled with the Spirit again, we might find ourselves refreshed, peaceful, and ready to get to work.

[1] http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/the-dignity-of-work-and-the-rights-of-workers.cfm

 

Picture1Emily S. Kahm is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver, in spite of which she lives in Iowa, serving as the Director of Faith Formation for a Catholic parish. Her research investigates sexuality education in Christian churches and how young adults embrace, reject, or reinterpret church teaching on sex. After years in Kansas City, Boston, and Denver, she lives in a small town that nobody has ever heard of with her husband, Chris, and their two rabbits, Calliope and Exodus.