Fear and Breath
an apocalyptic sermon for July 3rd, 2022
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” -LUKE 21
Fear and Breath; an Apocolyptic Sermon
Preaching is a spoken art. So much of the meaning comes through in the speaking of these sermons so if you are able, I strongly suggest taking a listen.
Sermon starts at 23:45:
One of the more humbling things about getting older is realizing that you’ve started to embrace things you use to make fun of. Things like vastly increasing the font size on your cell phone, and going to bed at 8:30. And like how if 7 years ago when I was competitively doing crossfit you had told me that I would eventually give it up for – of all things, yoga – something I used to make fun of and that I am not good at at all, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here I am, 53 years old and all I do is go on longs walks and do yoga badly.
But when I started with the yoga, I struggled…with more than just revolved triangle pose – which I think is for sure the most unethical of all poses - I also struggled with the absurdity of listening to a 24 year old girl from Iowa tell me to not “forget to breathe!”– when the fact is I had breathed just fine without having to be reminded for like, my entire life, thank you very much.
I’m a few years in to this yoga thing now, and while I still get angry in revolved triangle pose, I’ve found myself becoming more and more interested in the breath as ridiculous as that might sound.
But I’m specifically interested in the breath as a Christian.
I bring this up because there have been several times this week that I have been overcome by fear and rage – which I now have started calling FRAGE. Fear and rage, when combind, are like a speed ball of emotion – together they cause my chest to tighten and my cortisol levels to spike and I guess what I am trying to say is that this week I really could have used a 24 year old girl from Iowa reminding me to breathe.
Because I could really use some comfort or calming right now – or at least a way to regulate my nervous system. Which is all just a long way of admitting to you that I CHOSE that weird Gospel reading we just heard. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations ... People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world”
Now, I am usually a lectionary preacher – 99% of the time I choose to preach from whatever text is assigned for that week. And this week I tried. I tried to preach about the story of Jesus sending out the 70 – but all I could think about is if there was ever a time for a good apocalypse it would maybe be now. Ironically, when apocalyptic texts are assigned in the lectionary during less stressful times I tend to groan out loud – like how in the world can I possibly preach this bonkers stuff?
But this week? This week I had no idea how I could possibly preach anything else.
Now, if you are someone who hears these kinds of apocalyptic messages as terrifying, you are not alone, but they were originally written to have the opposite effect – they were literally written to bring comfort and calm to those living in turmultuous times. To help them regulate their own nervous systems so to speak.
And friends, I chose this particular apocalypse People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world –not just because we are living in some apocolyptic times but because of the way breath shows up in that verse.
Ever since beginning a yoga practice, my ears prick up anytime I read about breath in the Bible….like how in Genesis God breathed into dust to create human beings – how it is from God’s own breath the firsrt earthlings were given life– and how the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a valley of dried bones, and God gave him breath to breathe upon the bones which came together and then danced. Again, breath = life. And how when Jesus died on the cross it was when he breathed his final breath that the text tells us he gave up his spirit. And how when the resurrected Christ appeared before his disciples who had locked themselves inside a room out of fear, he said peace be with you then he breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit.
He breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit.
So, in our text for today, when it says People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world I want you to know two things 1. This is an exact description of how I feel right now and 2. the word that is translated here as “faint” in Greek literally means breathing life out. We are a people who will breathe life out of ourselves from fear and forboding of what is to come. We are a people who can forget to breathe.
And if breath is life then in many ways, fear is death.
But honestly, I am afraid of so many things -
I’m afraid of being alone.
I’m afraid that I might get sick or the people I love might get sick.
I’m afraid of what this political climate might mean for our country, specifically for my Black friends, and my gay son and my young adult daughter.
I’m afraid of active shooter situations.
I’m afraid of not being in control of my own body through incapacitation or through coresion.
I’m afraid of my children making quick choices that might have lasting implications.
And strangely I’m also afraid of stepping on spiders because I’m afraid they may have some secret way of communicating with all the other spiders around and they will all know that I am a spider killer and they will all come and get me when I least suspect it.
But if I go through my fear list again, I see that not one of those things are happening right now.
So I invite you, to consider what are you afraid of? I mean, really afraid of.
And to think – is any of that happening right now in this moment.
Whatever you fear, I want to give you this apocalyptic message – whatever your fears are – they may be real, but they are not the most real thing.
Not for nothing, but Jesus said do not be afraid…do not worry about what the future holds, do not miss out on what is most real, like basically all the time. But why would he make such a point of saying that all the time? Well, maybe Jesus isn’t trying to get us to add alertness and not being a fraid to our spiritual to-do list.
I think he’s inviting us into what we now call mindfulness, inviting us to be present to our breath, he’s inviting us into present moment presence – not because he wants to make us spiritual and good, but because he wants to be with us and God is always closest to us in the present moment.
Maybe God gave us the breath of life so that we might experience this life with God. When Moses asked God’s name he wasn’t given a name name, he was given Yeh Wah – which some say is not a name, but a sound - the sound of breath itself, it is God saying who I am is the one who gives breath inhale yeh, exhale weh*.
Which, stay with me here - strangely makes me contemplate gaseous oxygen. Gaseous oxygen that magic thing that allows for life here on Earth and yet is so rare in the universe… I wonder if in that moment of creation, when God breathed into dust and gave humans a living soul, if it was oxygen is, itself…could it be that oxygen is the breath of God that we still take into our very lungs. It has been with us and sustained us since creation.
And if so…I am in awe at how it only exists in this particular form here on this tiny blue planet. We live in an unfathomably vast universe and the only place we know where breath is even possible is here.
Inhale Yeh…exhale weh.
If it’s true that the only life that exists in a universe billions of light years across is on this tiny dust mite of a planet - then yes, there is still much to fear, but let us not hold our breath and miss how unspeakably beautiful and magnificent it is that against all the odds in the universe, we get to breathe air and think thoughts and love people, and walk in parks, and hold babies, and eat pizza and be bad at yoga.
Which brings me back to apocalyptic texts - with all the freaky imagery, with all the wars and rumors of wars and destruction and portents in the skies, and seven headed beasts – apocalyptic literature was really just a coded way of saying to people in crisis, that none of this is new. That wars and tyrants and disasters and insurections are real, but they are not the most real thing. I chose this text today because apocalyptic texts are meant to offer comfort and calm within a big hope filled message: that dominant powers are not ultimate powers. Pandemics rage and human violence erupts and powerful people exert dominance AND this has all happened before and God is still around – God is still as close to us as our very next breath. Empires fall, tyrants fade, Crises come and go – and the God who created us is still around, as close to us as our very next breath.
Apocalyptic texts offer us a living, breathing faith in the midst of absolute dumpser fires.
But just to be clear, I may still very well get sick, or my young adult children might screw up in a way that forever changes their lives. Things may very well continue to get worse especially for those who have the least amount of power. So faith doesn't mean that the bad things we fear won’t happen in the future, faith just means that in the midst of all of it, we have access to spiritual microscopes and a spiritual telescopes. Even in the midst of turmoil, when the fear and forboding of what may come starts to shorten our breath we can look through the aperture of faith for the smallest things showing up as the presense of God in this moment and this breath – we get to slow down and see a hundred tiny beautiful gifts in every moment –things like the particular green of the leaves right now and the sound of babies and the taste of bread and wine. And when the fear and forboding of what may come starts to shorten our breath, we also get to glimpse at what is so much bigger – we can look at the goodness of God in the stories of our ancestors in the faith who endured and prevailed. Through this telescopic lens we see that we are a small part of a very very big story.
And you can return over and over as many times as you need to - to the knowledge that God is already present in the future you are worried about and none of the things you fear about the future are as real as this present moment.
So no need to miss what is most real.
This moment right now, as you sit there and I stand here this is all we have. The air we are breathing right now, the room we are in right now, the people we are with right now. Here Christ is among us bringing peace he is still breathing on us and saying receive the holy spirit. Let not fear and forboding keep us from drinking that in.
Inhale yeh exhale weh.
*I first read this in Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Chicago: Crossroad, 2009), ch. 2.
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