ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                                                                                            MAY 26, 2013

BREATHE

Genesis 1: 1- 5, 26 – 31 & 2: 2b – 7; John 20: 19 – 23

I was driving in the car one day when my 3 year old son said to me, “Mommy – what’s ‘dead’?”  In spite of his inability to articulate his question clearly, my “Spidey-mom sense” tingled and I knew he was asking:  “What does it mean to be dead? How do we tell what is “living” from what is “dead”?  This is the kind of question that sends a parent into a tail spin.  How do you give a simple, understandable explanation for death to a child without scaring them to death?  Do you tell him it’s like being asleep?  (Not if you ever want them to nap again).  Do you say it’s when the brain no longer functions?  (Opening yourself to being declared dead on a daily basis)  So, I said, “It’s when you don’t breathe anymore.”  And because I wanted him to learn to swim, I added, “not just for a minute but forever.”   My answer was very much in keeping with Jewish tradition which defined the point of death as the moment the breath leaves the body.

When we read the creation story in the book of Genesis, we discover “breath” is the source of life.  In Hebrew the word for breath “ruah” is the same word that’s used for wind, and also for spirit – both the human soul and the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit.  In fact the word “ruah” is very similar to the word Yahweh; we might say that within Yahweh is the Spirit.    One of the first things we’re told in Genesis is that in the beginning when God created everything from a dark and formless chaotic void, “a wind (ruah) of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1: 2).   Instead of “a wind of God” the KJV translates the word ruah here as “The Spirit of God”.  This sense of ruah might be best expressed as “the hurricane gales of God’s Spirit”.   The Spirit here is not a gentle sigh but a strong and wild force.

In the first two chapters of Genesis there are two accounts of creation.  The first is a dramatic, sweeping account of God’s creativity and all that comes into being.  God creates light; heaven and earth; land, sea and plants; the sun, moon and stars; fish and birds over a 5 day period.  On the sixth day God created all creatures and beasts; then God decided to create something special.  God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over [all creation.]” God created humanity in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.   God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  (Genesis 1: 26 – 28)   With every act of creation, God gave his affirmation and declared what was made to be “good”.  At the end of the week, satisfied with all he had done, God rested.

In the second chapter of Genesis, the creation of humanity is recorded in a more detailed, specific narrative. Here we read, Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (2:7) God took the dust of the ground and breathed his own breath (his ruah) into it to give it life.  He took a lump of clay and filled it with his Spirit so it can be a living being.  While all the animals God created were alive – they breathed and moved – Adam was distinct.  Unlike everything else God created, Adam was not made solely from the imagination and words (Word) of God.  God takes an even more intimate role in Adam’s creation.  God was both the poet speaking creation into being and a potter molding a lump of earth with his own hands.  God was intricately involved in Adam’s “birth”; God got his “hands” dirty to create this body.  Then God filled Adam with his own breath.  God’s Spirit enlivened Adams’ body.  Not only did Adam breathe, but he became more than dust, more than the other creatures – he became a spiritual being, the embodiment of the essence of God.  Clay is finite, passive and fragile.  It can be ruined.  Breath or Spirit is infinte, active, self-aware and lively.  So to make a being in God’s own image, didn’t mean that humanity would bear a physical likeness to God, it meant Adam would be a spiritual being, a being that could transcend our earthly and animal nature and reflect God’s character.  If we are meant to be an expression of God’s essence, then we need to ask: What do we know of God from these first two chapters of Genesis?  In what ways does the Spirit display God’s person?

God is the Creator.  All that we see, touch, taste, smell and know comes from the out-flowing of the fullness of God.  God’s creation is rich and awesome.  As Spirit-filled people we too are creative.   Holy Spirit causes us to be imaginative and fruitful.  Because God chose to share his breath, his Spirit, with us we’re given the ability to be co-creators with God.  Whether we’re creating a work of art, a machine, a garden, a story, a family or the Kingdom of God all of our creativity is an expression of God’s creativity.  God’s creation was a transformation of emptiness (the void).  Out of nothing God brought the cosmos into being.  It takes not only physical space but emotional and spiritual space to be productively unique.  Our deepest acts of creativity emerge from our souls.  We need to enter into the depths of our beings to find the power to put something new out there.  Our creativity takes shape in the midst of chaos; we need to throw away the constricting rules, regulations and instructions we’ve been fed throughout our lives in order to find the freedom to create and form something new; including restrictions we’ve placed on ourselves (I’m not creative).   Our creativity is not limited to art – it is alive in whatever we do – cooking, making slides, building a shelf, in our work and in developing ourselves  spiritually into the people God created us to be. The Spirit within us makes us creative.

God is also and always in relationship.  We notice in Genesis God says, “Let us, make humanity in our image…”   This use of the plural has always created speculation but to Christians it makes sense.  If God is three-in-one, this Trinity can only refer to himself as “we”.  To be in God’s image is to be in relationship with God, others, the earth and ourselves.  The Spirit within us is our first bond with God.  We are always in relationship with God through the Spirit.  We’re also created to walk and talk with God.  God makes himself fully accessible to us and we are to be fully accessible to him.  While God “knows us completely”, that’s not the same as sharing a loving, open relationship with us.  Key ingredients in being with God are prayer, reading scripture or listening to a sermon or book or daily life to hear God’s word to us.     Adam was put in the garden of Eden to tend it.  Our first calling as human being is to “subdue the earth”, that begins with subduing our earthly born-of-clay nature. We are to cultivate with the Holy Spirit, not only the soil of the ground, but the soil of our own souls.  Last week we touched on the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification.  We share in the Spirit’s project of making us human in the highest sense of the word; human as a reflection or expression of God himself.    Relationships entail responsibility.  The Church has long emphasized our call to “dominate” the earth and the creatures on it.  We’ve been poor stewards oppressing creation and taking advantage, rather than taking responsibility.  Life and all we need are a gift, given generously to us by God.  God’s not only the poet who speaks and the potter who molds, he’s the lover who gives of himself, even to death.  When we think about it our authority over creation is much less than we think.  A tornado can rip through Oklahoma City with devastating force; we don’t have the power to control it but we are called, in relationship to others, to take responsibility for its destruction and to support one other in our losses.   This is also true in our relationships with family and friends.  I can’t control what other people do, but I can respond to it in ways that are life-giving.  In some relationships we’re even accountable for others.  The other day I was about to make a visit to a congregational member when I noticed a child about 18 months old on the road.  A car had stopped to avoid hitting the child several cars behind him were trying to go around.  The toddler was oblivious.  I got out of my car and ran to get the child off the road.  Just as I reached him the mom came out and said she’d just gone to the bathroom for a moment. We can’t control everything that others do, but we are stewards of the people and relationships God gives us.   Holy Spirit brings us into relationship.

Finally, God is faithful to his creation.  God’s sovereignty is not shown in domination but in dedicated love.  Without God’s sustaining, consistent outpouring of life and creativity, all creation would end.  In a more intimate way God was faithful to Adam and Eve.  He didn’t set them into motion and walk away – he lived with them.  When they were unfaithful, God continued to love and care for them.  God gives us freedom and choices, because freedom and choice are expressions of God; there were risks involved in creation – we had the potential to go our own way; and we did.  In his faithfulness God is always ready to forgive us, heal us and welcome us home.  To be in God’s image is to be faithful.  We faithfully follow Christ and we are faithful, dedicated and loving in our relationships.  God is not one who betrays us; betrayal does not come from the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit makes us faithful.

Yet God’s gifts of faithfulness and freedom were betrayed.  Our baser nature came to the fore.  Clay won out.  In our freedom, we chose to use our creative energy to break down our relationship with God by doing the one thing God asked us not to do.  Humanity went from being a clear mirror image of God to being shattered glass.  Our image of God became most imperfect. Death entered the world.  And what is death?  It’s when we stop breathing – we stop the ruah of God.     When Jesus, who was the complete embodiment of God, rose from the dead, he restored the possibility that we could once again live forever.  His final act of creativity was to breathe on the disciples and say to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22)  It was a moment of re-birth.  Christ took the clay of our bodies and once again breathed his Spirit into us.  Christ’s restored us to the image of God.  Because of Jesus we have come full circle. As it was in the beginning so it will be for all eternity.   So, take a deep breath and receive the Holy Spirit.