Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Breath of God

“Breath of God”
Acts 2:1-21; Ps. 104:24-34[1]
It always amazes me when people try to breathe new life into the church by a greater emphasis on rules. To some extent, it is the debate that the PC (USA) has been arguing for over 25 years—do we encourage the sometimes surprising developments that can happen in church when we give people the freedom to be who they are, or do we keep things the way they are and always have been.
It’s not really a new debate, however. Almost from the birth of the Church, people have been arguing over whether the guiding principle should be one of “order” or “ardor.” The impulse to “order” is what says we need standards and accountability in religious institutions—at its best any way. At its worst it uses man-made rules and regulations to keep people boxed into a certain way of doing things and to keep whoever is doing the “boxing” firmly in control.
The impulse to “ardor” is what emphasizes the freedom and joy and freshness of life in the Spirit of God. At its best it encourages innovation and creativity—it leads us to be the church “reformed and always reforming.” Unfortunately at its worst it can become just another means of control, marking off a few specially endowed leaders who basically get to dictate to everybody else what their “new life in the Spirit” is supposed to look like!
The good news of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us all—indiscriminately, without any conditions, and essentially without constraint. This doesn’t mean that a life that draws its breath from the Spirit is free to go off the rails, for the very “fruit” that the Spirit produces in those who breathe this new life—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, self-control—defines the character of Jesus.
This experience of the Spirit brings us to an interesting paradox—the Spirit who breathes new life sets us free from all external constraints, but this new life is essentially one that constitutes “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). To some extent, you can understand why some people think that what we need in church is more rules. After all, if you cut people loose, you just don’t know what to expect. But the good news of Pentecost is that when the Holy Spirit breathes new life into people, although we may not be able to anticipate all that it will mean, we can expect that it will be consistent with the character of Christ.
According to the book of Genesis it is the way we were created to live. We are all just “lumps of clay” unless we are animated by the Spirit of God. In the original creation story, it says that “the Breath of God” (Gen. 2:7) brought life to humanity. Our Psalm text for today interprets that “breath of God” as the Spirit of God. In a very real sense, the Spirit is the “Breath of God” who brought humankind to life in the first place. And the Psalm text also extends that to all creation: the Spirit is the “Breath of God” who brings life to everything and everyone (Ps. 104:29-30)![2] And the good news of Pentecost is that the Spirit breathes the new life of God into us all.
I think the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost “on all flesh” means that no one can control the Spirit. After Pentecost, we all have full access to the very “Breath of God” that makes our lives rich and full and free and alive! When the fire and wind of the Spirit comes upon the disciples in Acts, it enables them all to proclaim the message—and to do so in a way that everybody there understood what was being proclaimed. No official priests were needed to convey the meaning of some arcane oracle. After Pentecost, the loving and life-giving presence of God in all things through the Spirit is freely accessible to everyone. No one can monitor it; no one can dole it out; it can’t be bought or sold or traded; no hierarchy can constrain it and no human rules can regulate it.
At Easter we celebrate the new life that came to light in the resurrection is in the process of renewing everything and everyone. [3] It is a celebration that continues with Pentecost as well because it is through the Spirit of God that we experience this new life. Everything that God offers us with the gift of new life—love, hope, joy, freedom—is the work of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:11).[4] Like the wind that blows where it will, the Spirit is the “Breath of God” who breathes new life into everything and everyone!

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/23/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX
[2] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 9-10, 96, 98-103.
[3] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 220, 254, 256; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope, 87.
[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 204-5; Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 296; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:15; J. L. Mays, Psalms, 336-37.

1 comment:

buffalojeff said...

Dr. Brehm,

Jeff Fisher, class of 97 at Southwestern. I got to thinking about you for some reason today. I'm always thankful for your great teaching of New Testament and Greek. I always enjoyed your classes.

I married Marsha Silvester. We graduated at the same time. I pastored in NE Texas for a while and then spent 7 years as a bi-vocational pastor in Buffalo.

We currently live in Raleigh, NC closer to Marsha's parents. God has been using us the last 3 years to help those struggling with sexual bondage. I had to take a break from vocational ministry to work on my own junk. It's been the best switch for us and a great place to God's healing.

Our site is

Without fail, everytime Kansas' "Carry on My Wayward Son" comes on the radio I think about you. You sang that in class a few times.

Perhaps that's why you came to mind this morning.

I hope you are enjoying your role at FPC. It looks like you are continuing to pour out your creativity and thought though your blog, and I'm sure many publications.

Good to see you on the web.

Jeff Fisher