Acts 2:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Let us pray.
Lord, the day of breath has dawned – the breath of a bustling spring, drawing all creatures to sing, creep and crawl on the face of the newly awakened earth; the breath of the Holy Spirit, flowing with power and dancing like fire across the scalps of the disciples; the breath of triumph ,as the new milestone of confirmation is attained; the deep and excited breath that we are nearly at the beginning of the end of the CoVid quarantine; the day church celebrates the breath of God calling to the world and daring it to walk from the graves of the past and be born anew.
This morning Lord, as we feel that Spirit breath travel across our own skin, give us hearts to see that it is a breath that will blow through us and transform us if we bend and follow it or a wind that break and destroy us if we resist. Give us courage this day to be the people who defy death and breathe life, who turn from the dead bones of broken isms to follow the God who restores wholeness and unity.
In your holy name we pray,
At the conclusion of the service today, we will be celebrating the milestone of two years of work on Madeline’s part, and the milestone of three years of work on Payton’s part, in order to reach their moment of confirmation. Confirmation is the day that we turn to these young women and ask them, “Your parents and teachers have been sharing with you the story of faith since you were baby in their arms. Today, we are asking you: do you believe this story? Are you ready to begin telling it yourself?” They do not answer it lightly; they have studied and thought and pondered about that story. They have challenged and pushed and questioned that story. And I have told them – that when you are asked that question, the answer you will give is not given to make your parents & grandparents happy nor to go along cuz it’s what you’re supposed to do – no. This is a big deal because in this moment – you will affirm that the story of faith is not just something you listen to and nod at when appropriate – no. This is the moment when the story is placed into your hands to become your own, to add your narrative to it, to breathe your life into it and feel the Holy Spirit breathe her life into you. Amen
A story is just a story after all until it is given breath and life. Each of our confirmands is going to expand and build on the story we as believers have been living since Eden. Stories are powerful – no matter how wonderful or how sad they are. The page and print must have that final element of breath and interaction in order to come alive. Stories filled with the breath of God can build a community into a mighty unstoppable force that flows out with juicy, rich blessings to refresh and revitalize entire nations. These breathed stories did not begin with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; in fact, the very word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Shauvot – which is the Spring Harvest Festival, celebrated 50 days after Passover, Pente meaning 50. So the story was already in place of how God’s action in the great exodus from Egypt led to new life and new harvest in a new land. In fact, the story of God bringing abundant life out of death is echoed throughout the Old Testament. Hear the prophet Ezekiel in Chapter 37:
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
To prophesy is to tell the story. The breath of God is the breath of life – the only mechanism by which life is bestowed at all. And down the centuries, as the disciples huddled in fear, despite their repeated encounters with the Risen Jesus, their faith so encrusted in doubt and timidity, that they could not move – God’s Spirit once again brought breath and life so forceful that it burst them from their dark room and sent them to all the world – telling the story of a love so powerful that it gave them the ability to speak all languages that all might hear it, that all might receive that breath and fire and join in telling the story of that God love so powerful that not even death can stop it!
But the sinful world does not want that story repeated. It would rather control us and mark us as its own, stealing our breath and stifling God’s love story. And that world uses everything it can to snatch the breath from our lungs and tell us a story of hopelessness and death, a story in which each one of us is out for the best we can get and all others be damned. That world story is one of division and brokenness, a place where our worth resides in the size of our bank account, in the colour of our skin, the “proper use” of our genitals. That creepy slinky story coils around us like a snake and squeezes the breath from our lungs. In fact, if you want to know if the story you are listening to is the Divine life giving story – ask if that story encourages you to breathe and not be afraid or if it tells you to hold that breath and live in fear. God and God’s messengers are forever telling us “Do not be afraid!” That is the mark of faith and love, the mark of life and Spirit.
The ones who speak fear – who creep into our hearts and whisper “They are not like us” – hand us the weapons of racism and sexism and ableism and genderism – the insistence that there is only one right way to inhabit a human skin and any variation is suspect and deviant – these are the voices and the stories that our faith calls us to reject.
In ancient Corinth, a class system of have and have nots was so insidious that it was poisoning the very story of God’s love extended to all through Christ. Paul writes to them that God does not abide division – rather that they are all coequal parts of a coequal body. He tells them the story they are to be living: 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Like the church in Corinth, we have been exposed by recent actions to be living in a false narrative. We have allowed divisions and exclusions to take such root in our American story that merely the sight of a darker skin can raise white America’s blood pressure and sharpen our senses. And that’s a story that we in white communities must now disavow. We must look deep within ourselves and root out the narrative that feeds those fears and divisions. And I know how many of us are fighting against that call. Oh, I am not racist! I would never do such things. But what are we doing to stop them from happening in the first place? What stories are we creating to reach across those divides and begin tearing down the false narratives that have fed us for so long? It is not enough to not tell racist stories – we must begin to tell and live stories of unity and change.
In the deepest, most awful parts of apartheid in South Africa, ArchBishop Desmond Tutu, dared to tell a different story, to cast a vision of a unified country, one based not in the fear of race but in the blessedness of mutual love and respect. When he first began to tell that story, many in leadership chided him, telling he was creating the divisions and the turmoil, that as a man of God, it was his job to build bridges. ArchBishop Tutu’s great response was “You cannot build a bridge starting in the middle. You must choose from which side you will begin. I will begin with the people who have suffered, as Jesus did .”
ArchBishop Tutu came to this vison because of the story he believes Jesus was telling him; that the church is to stand on the side of the oppressed and advocate for change. In this country, people of colour are living a very different reality that for far too long has not been included in the story of white America. These competing stories are now erupting in ways that demand to be heard. It is not God’s story that places black and brown bodies in fear; that is the story of Satan, of the enemy who wants to watch the world of God burn to the ground. That is the despairing story that snatches the breath from our sisters and brothers of colour and tells them they can never ever be safe. That tells them that no matter where they live, work, play, just be – they must always always always be on high alert. The Reverend Traci Blackmon says “It is impossible for me to be unarmed when my blackness is the weapon that you fear”.
Fear is Satan’s weapon, fear is Satan’s story; that fear snatches the very breath from our lungs and turns us on each other to our mutually assured destruction. It locks us in rooms, terrified of encountering anyone different from ourselves. But now. Now – the story of Pentecost, the story of God, the story of Jesus, the story of the Spirit’s firedance through our lives, the story that Madeline and Payton affirm for themselves today – THAT story is a story of love and inclusion and barriers dropping! That is the story of opening our eyes in white America to understand that not being racist isn’t Thy Kingdom come – no! We come to see the knee on that throat of our brother and hear the cries of our fellow believer as he dies under that knee. Dies because we have believed the Satan story of fear, rather than the God story of being one loving, unified body of Christ. The day has come for us to reject the breath stealing stories of difference and division. The day has come for us in white America to move out of the passivity of being nonracist, nonsexist, nonableist, nongenderist and step into the faith narrative of living in a proactive ANTIracist, ANTIsexist, ANTIableist and ANTIgenderist narrative which fulfills the Spirit’s Pentecostal call to new life in a unified body of believers in which each member is cherished for their unique gifts!
THAT is the faith Madeline and Payton come to be affirmed in; that is the story that they, and we, are challenged to live into. And that is the story – the neverending story – of how, in God’s name, we prophesy to the breath and from the dead, broken bones of the past, bring forth life!