Rev. Becky Robbins-Penniman’s Sermon For Pentecost: Just Breathe
I need time to breathe again. So do we all. I did not preach yesterday, and our summer schedule of Mass on the first and third Sundays that begins in May because of the heat and the rain and storms and the coming and going of people and our summer youth effort, is a time of renewal for us, and in a different way, for our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community. For ,indeed, it is the Spirit of God that we turn to and call upon to refresh and renew us. Pastor Becky shows us how to breathe in the Spirit of God and breathe out forgiveness-a lesson for our souls and for our time.
Pastor Becky was my ministry mentor as I began my discernment of the priesthood and my street ministry in 2007. While some local male RC priests supported me in their hearts and other Roman Catholic women priests guided me from afar, no one could be my local mentor. God most graciously provided a woman whose priesthood in the Episcopal Church I deeply admired to be my local guide. We worked together for two blessed years. Then I was able enough to continue on and eventually she left Fort Myers to be the Rector and Pastor of The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Dunedin ,Florida. She is also now the Dean of the priests in her area. One of her most powerful charisms is preaching and it is always my joy to share her sermons here. Another of her charisms is depth and wisdom in accompanying others on their spiritual journey. I am blessed to have her walk with me once again. I am so thankful that she included this one, not exactly of her flock under her shepherding care for a time. May the fire of Pentecost ignite us every moment so we may also renew the face of the earth!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Here is her insightful, Spirit in-fused Sermon for Pentecost:
FEAST OF PENTECOST – YEAR B
MAY 24, 2015
CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, DUNEDIN, FL
Copyright notices: Copyright notices: The Scripture text (except for the Psalm) is from the Common
English Bible, CEB, Copyright 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible. Used by permission. All rights
reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all other content is original and copyrighted by Becky RobbinsPenniman,
2015. All rights reserved.
COLLECT OF THE DAY
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the
promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of
the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth…..
(This is Rev. S. Becky Robbins-Penniman with her mother, Rev. Anne Robbins one of the pioneer Episcopal women priests. I am so thankful for the spirit of both women priests in my life as a Roman Catholic sister priest.)
JOHN 14:25–29, 15:26, 27, 20:19–23
[The night before he died, Jesus said to his disciples:] “I have spoken these things to you
while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will
teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be
troubled or afraid. You have heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away and returning to you.’ If you
loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than
me. I have told you before it happens so that when it happens you will believe.”“When the
Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the
Father—he will testify about me. You will testify too, because you have been with me from the
[Three days later, on the Day of the Resurrection]
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed
doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them.
He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace
be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them,
they aren’t forgiven.”
SONG OF THE DAY: God of Our Fathers
How do you define success?
Is a person or group successful if it’s the biggest? the richest? the strongest?
the one that has won the most? one that is secure and in control?
That has solved all the problems facing it?
If so, Christianity in America, in general, is in trouble.
The Pew Survey called America’s Changing Religious Landscape1
that came out a couple of weeks ago
reported that the Christian share of the American population
dropped nearly 8 percent in 7 years, from 78% of Americans to 70%.
The Episcopal Church, specifically, is not successful.2
We’ve been losing members steadily for decades.
What is picking up the slack? Islam? Not really. They did gain some people,
but they are still less than 1% of the American adult population.
The group that is growing exponentially has of two kinds of folks.
The “Nones” who have never affiliated with a faith tradition,
which is about 9% of adults;
and the “Dones” who used to be affiliated with Christianity, but left,
not for another faith tradition, but to become nothing in particular.
19% of people raised one or another Christian church
now say they have no affiliation with any faith group.
So, if you define success as being a member of the winning team,
where the biggest is the best, you’re OK for right now –
I mean, 70% of American adults still identify as Christians of some kind;
that’s a hefty majority. But the trend isn’t good.
Certainly, you will want to find another denomination.
The Episcopal Church is hardly a blip on the statistical radar,
and it’s getting smaller.
Have I made you all scared and anxious enough?
Are you ready to throw up your hands and run around screaming,
“Oh, no! This is terrible! This can’t happen! We must FIX IT!!!”
I hope not, because I don’t think fixing it is possible,
I don’t think it’s wise, and, most to the point, I don’t think it’s faithful.
First of all, it’s God’s church, not ours.
To be anxious and fearful about God’s church is to succumb to functional atheism.
Functional atheists are people who SAY everything depends on God
but ACT as if everything depends on them.
Because church people generally don’t like change,
and because we define success as being big and powerful,
we want to take control, to stop the demise,
and put things back to the way we were in the good old days.
But we need to realize that God is ALWAYS doing something new. Always.
As Creation unfolds through the eons,
both on this big blue marble spinning silently in space,
and in galaxies a billion light years away,
it is all taking place within the life of God.
There is no place, no time, outside God. God has this covered, folks.
And even if God isn’t happy about the findings in the Pew survey,
should we be frightened and anxious?
Are God’s arms too short to deal with this? I think not.
Which brings me to my second thought:
Where is it written that the way church is now in Western culture,
with the forms and traditions that we have developed and, for good reason, cherish,
is the ONLY way God wants it to be forever and ever, amen?
The Church is God’s, and God has and will continue to call all that exists into being,
forming and reforming it through the ages.
Isn’t that what the lesson of the dry bones in Ezekiel is about?
Isn’t that what the psalmist says?
Whether we are talking about the House of Israel or Leviathans,
God’s Holy Spirit enlivens that which has perished;
that which was ends, then is recreated over and over and over,
filled with God’s breath, God’s Spirit, on this day as on the first day.
And so God renews the face of the earth – including the Church.
And my third thought follows on this closely.
Today is the day the church celebrates an event:
the bestowal of the Companion, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit,
the Spirit of the Father and the Son, into the very air we breathe.
The story is told a couple of different ways –
in Acts, we get fire and wind and ecstatic disciples running in the streets.
They’re acting so crazy people think they are drunk.4
In John, the story we hear today, we get peace and intimacy.
Before he died, Jesus promised his friends he was going to the Father,
and that, when he got there, he and his Father
would send the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth,
who would teach them everything.
He didn’t say how it would happen; he simply made a promise.
On the evening of Easter Sunday, Jesus makes good on the promise.
The resurrected Lord once again comes into life on earth,
a life chock full of fear and anxiety, and says “Peace,” Shalom.
He says it again. “Peace,” Shalom.
And then he breathes on his friends.
Breath. Spirit. Wind. In both Hebrew and Greek,
one word is translated into three different English words.
In Hebrew, it’s ruach: the breath, the Spirit, the wind, the ruach of God
blows over the chaos and waters and inspires creation into being.
The breath, the Spirit, the ruach of God enlivens those dry bones.
The breath, the Spirit, the ruach of God restores the whole earth.
In Greek, it’s pneuma (pneuma) – as in our word “pneumonia.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about
the breath, the Spirit, the wind, the pneuma of God.
He tells Nicodemus that the breath, the Spirit, the pneuma of God
blows where it will, and later says that God IS Spirit, breath
When Jesus gives his breath, his Spirit, his pneuma to his disciples,
he is giving them the breath of God. That’s the event we celebrate today.
Now, the problem with celebrating an event
is that we naturally freeze it in time, as if this were a one-off,
a one and done, single occurrence. But it was not.
This giving of the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth,
the breath, the pneuma to the disciples, was not so much an event
as a beginning, a re-formation, a renewal,
that not only changed that moment, but every moment since then.
This bestowal of the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth,
the breath, pneuma never stopped– it is in the very air we breathe even now.
Not only that, but we, the church, can’t control it.
As your priest, I can and will and do assure you that God’s Spirit resides in you,
but I can’t and won’t and don’t control God’s breath!
This morning, as always, the Holy Spirit was here before we arrived,
inviting us to receive it, celebrate it, and, most importantly, take it very, very seriously.
The very air we breathe, here in this place and out there in the world,
is the breath of God. God is already within us, closer to us than our next breath.
Unless we think we can live without breathing, we can’t get away from it.
We can’t get away from it, but we can ignore it.
We can ignore it through plain ignorance, as the Nones do;
we can ignore it through a deliberate choice, as many of the Dones have chosen;
and we can ignore it through commonplace distraction and inattention,
which I’m guessing many of us do on a daily basis. I do.
This morning, for just a moment, become aware of your breath.
As you sit here, just breathing, you are receiving the Holy Spirit,
the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth,5
the breath, the pneuma that God pours out on all flesh
every moment of every day. Just breathe. Receive. Be aware.
. . . . . . . .
What shall we do with God’s breath, God’s Spirit, God’s pneuma in us?
What does Jesus tell his disciples to do with it? FORGIVE.
In Greek, to forgive also means to release, to set free, to erase.
The disciples are sent out to forgive ANYONE they meet – ANYONE –
to erase their failures, their regrets, to free them from their past.
Not only from their own stuff, their own personal baggage,
but also to liberate them FOR the reign of God,
to encourage them to be agents of justice, mercy and mutual respect,
working against the structures of corruption, greed, lust and injustice
that so often dominate human life.
What has happened over 2,000 years, however, is that the church
has become fascinated with the idea of how to withhold forgiveness,
glomming on to the tidbit in the verse that Jesus gave us the retain someone’s sin.
When we start binding and subjugating sinners to our power,
refusing to forgive them unless and until they do something for us,
exacting payment – literal or spiritual – before granting forgiveness,
the church becomes a place fear and anxiety as people fret:
“Am I good enough yet?”
No wonder outsiders aren’t interested in church.
However, I don’t think Jesus was giving his disciples an option, to forgive or not;
he was giving them a warning: I’m sending you to forgive;
I’m giving you God’s breath, God’s Spirit, to use as you go out
to put life into dry bones, to renew the face of the earth,
to bring Peace, hope, joy, courage, forgiveness and light wherever you go.
When you DON’T use God’s Spirit to free others,
when you stay put and don’t do anything but exult,
“I’ve got mine! I’m saved!” and keep the Spirit for yourselves,
or when you refuse to give forgiveness to anyone,
you’re holding your breath, stopping the Spirit’s work through you.
That’s not what Jesus did in his life, and his disciples aren’t to do that with theirs.
The church must get out of the business of controlling and managing sin,
and get on with what Jesus told his disciples to do: forgive. ANYONE.
To do that, just breathe: breathe in God’s ruach, the pneuma, the truth,
and become one with the Father and the Son in their Spirit,
the Holy Spirit that makes dry bones live again, that restores the earth.
Breathe in God’s peace, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
Breathe in God’s forgiveness, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
Breathe in God’s joy, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
Breathe in God’s courage, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
Breathe in God’s hope, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
Breathe in God’s light, but don’t hold your breath. Give it away.
For the church, what defines success is not when we get more and more,
but when we give away all God has given to us as he sends us out.
When we need more of the Spirit to deal with life,
no matter where we are, what can we do? Why, just breathe.