Breathe In, Breathe Out, May 31

Breathe In, Breathe Out

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, Psalm 104:24-35; Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, and Quarryville United Methodist Churches, May 31, 2020



Just breathe.  Bishop Bickerton sent each clergy in the New York Conference a bracelet with ‘just breathe’ inscribed on it in the midst of the turmoil last year that threatened to pull the United Methodist church apart.  We were all wrapped up in the twists and turns of events and pronouncements and arguments, and in that moment, the bishop reminded us each to breathe, to claim the utterly basic human need for breath, and remembering that need, to let go of some of the stress that was swirling around us and among us.  It was a gracious and appreciated gift.


Today we’re again in the middle of madness, a world of death and fear, anger and terror, destruction and murder swirling around us, in a time when the instruction to ‘just breathe’ isn’t a simple thing at all.  In the last 75 days we have lost over 100,000 fellow Americans to a virus which causes a sickness that hardens the airways of a victim’s lungs to such an extent that just breathing is impossible, and the attempt is horrendously painful.  Tens of thousands more have survived Covid-19, but are still recovering.  Most of them do not take just breathing for granted as they might have six months ago.


We now have masks which we wear regularly, when we go into stores or expect to be near other people besides our family.  Most of the masks we wear aren’t burdensome, but they can be annoying.  They bring our unconscious regular breathing into our consciousness, and we notice that our breath is damp and warm, when we usually don’t notice our own breathing at all.  Just breathing has become, literally, in our faces.


As a nation this week, we watched a man, George Floyd, die on the ground, beneath a police officer’s knee, struggling for almost 9 minutes, all the while saying, “I can’t breathe.”  We know we’ve heard those words before, in an extraordinarily similar case, here in New York, from another black man, Eric Garner, who died six years ago at the hands of police.  In both of those cases, just breathing became impossible.  Cities across the country were filled with protests yesterday against the treatment of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.  Some of those protests have been followed by riots.  Buildings burning, filling the air with smoke.  Residents of city neighborhoods struggling to just breathe


Breathing air into our lungs is basic to being human.  Breathing is how we mark the beginning and end of a human’s life.  When Jesus dies on the cross, Matthew reports that he ‘cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.’  When Jesus is raised from the dead, John reports that he comes into the room where his disciples were gathered and breathes the Holy Spirit into their midst.  “He breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit.” is precisely what John 20:50 says.  Having spent two and a half months trying very hard not to breathe on anyone nor to be breathed on by anyone, this verse is more shocking to me this year than it ever has been before.  But I want that experience nonetheless.  I want to receive the Holy Spirit – not a spirit of fury or of fear, not a spirit of resentment or of despair, but a spirit of hope and courage, of determination and love.  Today, on Pentecost Sunday, on the birthday of the church, I join with Christians across the world, in all different languages, calling, ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ 


The Holy Spirit is that Spirit promised by Jesus to his disciples, breathed on the disciples by Jesus, sent from the heavens, blowing through the crowd like a mighty wind, descending on the disciples like tongues of fire.  The Holy Spirit as experienced by the followers of Jesus whom we call the early church was a manifestation of power, giving them the capacity to preach with courage and to heal with compassion, to speak truth to the powers and principalities who thought they ran the ancient world, and to discern God’s newness in the gospel of Jesus though they themselves were products of the old world that had been.  All the New Testament writers refer to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the church, though the details of the coming of the spirit aren’t identical.  The presence of the Spirit made the church something new, different from other clubs or guilds or prayer circles. 


We declare our trust in the Holy Spirit, and our welcome to that Spirit every time we worship in Jesus’ name.  But the Holy Spirit today is calling us out of the buildings, where we can’t even yet gather safely, into the streets.  This nation in which we live, and to which we belong, is steeped in the evils of racism and the legacy of slavery.  We cannot witness our black sisters and brothers killed by excessive violence by the authorities and remain blind to racism.  The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus still present in this world, demands that we speak truth, that we seek justice, and that we trust love as our tool of choice to transform the world. 


Speak truth, seek justice, trust love – this is what it is to be the church today. We are recipients today of that same Spirit that caused a ruckus on Pentecost so many years ago.  That Spirit got those disciples moving – and it included everyone – all languages, all nationalities, all races and genders and sexualities, too, I trust. The text from Acts today was read in five different languages.  If your Arabic isn’t all it might be, you may have missed that list of peoples who were gathered in the square that day – 9Parthians,  Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs.  God’s got everyone in mind when the invitation is offered – to claim the Spirit, to speak truth, seek justice, and trust love. 


We are of that vast crowd of disciples.  And our world is aching, crying out, for truth and justice and love.  We claim that power when we breathe in the Spirit Jesus breathes out.


Sara Thomsen sings a song called Rhapsody of Rest on her newest album, Song Like a Seed, tracing our lives through a day of living in the presence of the holy.  During the day, she breathes. Just breathes:


And I breathe in love, Breathe out to give love

Breathe in to hold love, Breathe out to be love


In the morning, thank you, thank you

In the evening, thank you, thank you

In the middle of the day, thank you, thank you

In the deep, dark night, thank you, thank you.


And I breathe in love, Breathe out to give love

Breathe in to hold love, Breathe out to be love


Breathe in the Holy Spirit, friends.  Claim its presence in your life, choose its wisdom to see the truth and guide your steps, own its power to give you courage to love, for the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, made manifest in your life, will transform this world.  Amen.


1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12For 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. 13For 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.


Psalm 104:24­-35

24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—

32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.

35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!


Acts 2

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”


12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:


17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.


21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


John 20:19-23

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

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