The Authority of Breath

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Matthew 21:23-32

Let’s take a minute, and breathe.

Get comfortable.

Quiet your mind.

Close your eyes.

Relax.

And breathe.

Breathe in and out.

Breathe slowly and comfortably.

Feel the Holy Spirit enter you as you inhale, filling you up. Giving you life.

Feel the Holy Spirit exit as you exhale.

Cleansing you. Lighting up the dark places. Forgiving you.

Just stay here a moment.

Breathe.

You can open your eyes.

I think we needed that. I think we need to slow down and breathe. Because I think our whole country has been hyperventilating lately. I think that we have all been on edge for a long time now, and it doesn’t take much to lead us to hyperventilate. This week the trigger was the protests on the sidelines at NFL games. I think we need to slow down and breathe for a minute. Slowing down and breathing helps us to think straight. When anxiety and emotions flood our brain, they swamp the neocortex, where rational thought resides. So anxiety and high emotions literally prevent us from thinking rationally. And we just believe exactly what our emotions tell us, which isn’t always helpful.

I think that’s been happening a lot lately. I think many of us have let our emotions tell us what to think about NFL players taking a knee. So many people are either 100% positive that it is very bad, or 100% positive that it is very good. And one thing I wonder as a Christian is what Jesus would say to us about it. And I just don’t know. Jesus never talked much about either football or national anthems. But based on stories like the one we heard today, my guess is that Jesus would say something completely surprising that knocks the certainty out of people on both sides, and leaves us all confused and possibly angry at him.

So I can’t tell you just what Jesus would say to people involved in this scandal, but I think I can tell you with confidence what Jesus would do for those people. He would die for them. He would forgive their sins. He would call them to work in his vineyard. He would love them.

It is so easy to divide people into us and them, and so easy to forget that they, whoever they are, are God’s children exactly as much as we are. Colin Kaepernick (capp-er-nick) is God’s child. Donald Trump is God’s child. Nancy Pelosi is God’s child. Alejandro Villanueva is God’s child. Everyone involved in this is God’s child. On the left, on the right, in the middle. And I think that one thing Christ is calling us to do as his followers is to remember this, and to remind people of this.

Now I’m not saying that both sides in every issue are right, or that both sides are wrong. No, sometimes there is a right and wrong answer. But we can never reach that right answer when our emotions are so ramped up that we can’t think straight. We can never reach that right answer when we view those who disagree with us as enemies, or as somehow less than human. We can never reach that right answer when we are so completely convinced of our correctness that we can’t even listen to other opinions.

And I think that’s where today’s gospel comes in. The chief priests and the elders approach Jesus while he’s teaching in the temple. This story takes place during Holy Week, right after Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The priests and elders are furious, so furious they’re hyperventilating, not able to think straight. They ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing this? Who gave you this authority?” They’re basically saying to him, “How dare you!” Because they think that they have all the authority. The temple belongs to them. They’re not interested in a conversation with Jesus; they’re interested in beating their chests and flaunting that authority.

But Jesus tells them, “You know, tax collectors and prostitutes are closer to the kingdom of God than you are.” And I can picture their eyes bulging, their faces growing even redder than before. “How very dare you!” they might have shouted. But Jesus explained it to them in his brief parable about the father and two sons. The son who did his father’s will is the one who actually did it, not the one who said the right words. And tax collectors and the prostitutes, when they heard the good news, they heard it for what it was, it humbled them, and they did what it called them to do. They fell on God’s mercy. They knew they were sinners, flawed and dirty. And they heard John the Baptist and Jesus calling to them that God loved them and offered them forgiveness. They heard that, and it changed their lives. They were humble, and gratefully accepted God’s authority in their lives. But the chief priests and the elders didn’t believe they needed forgiveness. They didn’t believe they needed to change. They did not recognize his authority. They were too attached to their own to have any humility at all.

As followers of Christ, we recognize his authority. And when we recognize his authority, it humbles us, and we realize that we do not have all the information, we do not have all the answers, we do not have all the truth. Only Christ does. And when we remember that we are committed to seek and serve Christ in all people, as our purpose statement says, then we are humbled in the presence of anyone. For we all are children of God, and we all bear Christ within us. You are a child of God and a bearer of Christ. And that person who disagrees with you so strongly is also a child of God and a bearer of Christ. And Christ, Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth. Who has authority. Who has all authority. Who has authority over everything and everyone. Who uses that authority to bring life to everything and everyone. Who breathes that life into you through the Holy Spirit.

So this week, I invite you to remember to breathe. Breathe, and be humble before the Lord of heaven and earth.

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