Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Might As Well Stop Breathing

What's this all about... this church thing? Really, what difference does Easter make? I wonder how many have pondered those questions as they considered whether or not to skip church services on Easter Sunday.

What's this Bible thing all about, as well? Here it's the best selling book of all time, but really what difference does it make for my life? It's full of all those old-fashioned stories, why was it even created? And what about the Gospel of John? It's several pages telling about the life and ministry of Jesus. What are we supposed to get from that?

For many of these questions there are no simple, easy answers. But when it comes to The Gospel of John, we do have an answer. It's included right in the text. The author lets us know what is the whole purpose of this book and these stories.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. - John 20:30-31

The purpose of John's Gospel is to lead the readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. That's what it exists for: to BELIEVE. The Gospel succeeds if when we are finished reading it, we believe in Jesus Christ.

But it doesn't end there. It's not enough that we believe... what's then important is what this belief opens up for us. To believe in Jesus as Messiah... To believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to open up for yourself LIFE IN HIS NAME. It is the desire of God, the Creator and Master of the whole universe, that you... that we all... have LIFE. This stems from God's deep love for us and for the world. Which, of course is told to us famously in John's Gospel (John 3:16). God, who loves you, is God who is intimately interested in every aspect of your life. God, who loves you, gives us a Savior in Jesus, the Son of God, so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), eternal life, LIFE!

The purpose of John's Gospel, The Scriptures, Easter Sunday, and the Church is so that we might have life in Christ's name.

In John 20 this truth is pointed out to us so wonderfully when the resurrected Jesus appears with his disciples the night after the morning it was discovered that Jesus' tomb was empty. The disciples heard about Mary Magdalene's encounter. They heard from Peter and the "beloved disciple" and now they are gathered together, still terrified. Jesus appears with a greeting of peace: "Peace be with you." Remember, God desires life, peace and hope for these faithful (and actually not all that faithful) followers. God knows they need life... Jesus desires in the depths of his heart that they have life... and so he breathes on them.

At this moment we are taken way back to the beginning of the Bible, to the creation stories of Genesis. In Genesis 2, God creates the first human out of the clay, dirt and mud. He forms the human, we know as Adam, like a master artist. There the earthling is... gorgeous... and dead. Like a statue or a big doll, I guess. But God desires to give life to that which he created. He breathes into the nostrils of the human the breath of life, and now that which was dead, is now alive.

As the disciples gathered in that room in Jerusalem, the evening after the first Easter, they were as dead as the earthling made of clay. Without Christ, and a living faith in Christ, they might as well be dirt. But, Jesus breathed into them... deep into them... into the depths of their souls. They were now alive: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Praise be to God.

But not everyone was in that room. Thomas had other commitments, I guess. Maybe like so many on Easter Sunday, he wondered: "Why should I bother?" I can just picture some of the disciples running into Thomas a day or so later. "Oh, Thomas, you have no idea what you missed!!!!" We know Thomas' response: "Unless I see this... Unless I touch that... Unless... Unless... Unless. You know what: I'm no going to believe."

For a follower of Jesus to choose to not believe is on par with us choosing to not breathe. How far are you going to get if that's the decision you make? You know, I'm tired of this whole breathing thing. I'm sick of the in and out of the lungs. I quit. I'm not breathing any more. Hmmm... Not a very wise decision is it? After all, God has given us all the air we need in the room your in, in the atmosphere that surrounds us. All you got to do is breath, to receive it's benefits. So breathe, already.

When followers of Jesus stop believing they stop breathing. And just as God has provided us with the air we need to live physically, as long as we breathe, so too is the God of the Universe who is intimately involved with every aspect of your life providing you with grace and life. It's everywhere. God's grace is being poured into you, whether you like it or not. Living out of the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit dwells within you and is always ready to guide and provide. So breathe... so believe... so be.

When we encounter the words of Scripture and the gifts of the sacraments we are breathing in this grace of God. When we participate in worship and look to serve, we breathe in what God is graciously giving us. But really, the very best thing you can do is a practice that puts the breaks on the crazy busyness of life that takes your breath away. This practice opens up your lungs, your heart and your soul to take a deep breath and just eat up all that grace God is providing you with: It's called the Practice of Slowing.

Dallas Willard couldn't express is any more strongly, for he felt that the very first thing a follower of Jesus needs as he or she seeks to encounter God is to "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." Hurry suffocates our souls. It fools us into trusting ourselves over God. We stop breathing and we stop believing. But when we take time to slow down and to pray... then we are taking a deep, nourishing breath... then we take in what God is blessing us with.

The Lord has breathed life into you. God's breath surrounds you and it's ready to give you all that you need. As you slow down, pray and contemplate the grace of God in Christ, you will believe and you will have life in his name. Take a deep breath... and know that God is with you.

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