Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon: "Breath of God" (Isaiah 43: 1-7)

It is so good to be back with you in worship today.
Last Sunday I had hoped to be in worship at Christ Church Uniting, on the island of Oahu. That's the church that hosted me when I led a group of youth and young adults on a service and cultural immersion trip in the summer of 2017.
However, the timing didn't quite work out, and instead of being in worship last Sunday morning, I was standing in the airport security line at Honolulu airport.
The Sunday before that, I did make it to worship. Tristan and I attended Waiola Church in Lahaina, the oldest church on the island of Maui. This church has been around for 196 years; it was founded in 1823 by the sacred high chiefess Keopūolani. A number of Hawaiian royalty were members of the congregation back in the days when Hawaii was an independent kingdom, and they have been laid to rest in the graveyard next to the church sanctuary.
That certainly sounds lofty and grandiose, but Waiola Church is not a big church. There were no more than 40 people in worship, and even though some of the songs were sung in Hawaiian, so much of the worship there reminded Tristan and I of worship here at Bixby Knolls Christian Church.
The service was informal. At the beginning of some of the songs, the guitarist and pianist needed just a moment to make sure they were on the same page, both literally and figuratively. And throughout it all, there was an incredible feeling of love and welcome - or aloha, as the Hawaiians would say.

Sometimes I can't believe how, in recent years, I've been able to visit places I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be able to visit. My trip to Brazil several years ago, and these trips to Hawaii.
And the amazing thing is that as I reflect on the experiences I've had on these trips, it makes realize how much I take for granted about the place I call home. It makes me all the more thankful for being able to live where I live, sharing my life with the people I care about.
Worshipping at Waiola church two weeks ago reminded me how wonderful it is to be part of a church like that; a church like the one we have right here at BKCC, and the wonderful aloha that is present here - or, to use a Hebrew word that means almost the same thing as aloha, the wonderful shalom that is present here.

Not long after standing in that airport security line last Sunday, we were on our way home, flying across the Pacific Ocean. Looking down out the window and seeing nothing but blue water, I couldn't help but think about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation.

The creation story in the first chapter of Genesis says that when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without shape or form; it was dark over the sea; and the breath of God swept over the waters.
The breath of God - also referred to as the wind of God, or the Spirit of God.
It is the life-giving energy that God breathes into every creature. It is the breath of life that God breathed into Adam's nostrils, bringing the first human to life.
The breath of God is in you. Take a deep breath; you are breathing in God's spirit.
Breath and spirit. Respiration and Inspiration.
At the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, I learned that the Maori word for this spirit/breath is hā. The word itself sounds like a breath, does it not? Hā.
In seminary I learned that the Hebrew word for this spirit/breath is ruach… Ruach…
It was ruach that was hovering over the surface of the ocean at creation.

When God met Moses at the burning bush… Well, the Bible doesn't say much about God's ruach there. But I've always found it interesting how the animated movie The Prince of Egypt portrays that scene.
In that movie, Val Kilmer does the voice of Moses. But the filmmakers weren't sure how they wanted to do the voice of God.
Should God be the deep, loud, booming male voice that is so often used? Should a female voice be used? A child’s voice, perhaps? What voice should the filmmakers give to God?
In the end, the filmmakers decided that Val Kilmer would voice God as well as Moses.
In other words, God speaks with Moses’ voice. Or, maybe it's the other way around: Moses speaks with God's voice.
The only difference between God’s voice and Moses’s voice is that God's voice is a whisper. Little more than a breath.
Hā. Ruach.
It's Moses’ breath. The breath of Moses and the breath of God are the same. God and Moses share the voice, the same breath, the same spirit, the same ruach. God and Moses are one.
The breath of God gives us life. It also gives us purpose. It helps us know who we are, and what we are called to do. It helps us find ourselves.
Often, if we feel lost or confused, all we need to do is focus our awareness on the breath of God that is in us, and things become clear. We remember who we are.
Among some Polynesian cultures, the way to greet one another is by pressing your noses together and breathing in. This reminds you that your breath is the same, that you share the same life energy.
I first became aware of this from the movie Whale Rider. Set in a Maori village in New Zealand, this amazing movie shows many of the characters greeting one another this way, and at the end of the movie, Paikea, the young girl, shares this greeting with a beached whale.
You can also see it in the movie Moana. The goddess Te Fiti has forgotten who she is, and she has transformed from a beautiful giver of life to a deadly, destructive lava monster… Until Moana approaches her, and places her nose against the nose of Te Fiti, reminding Te Fiti who she really is.
They share the same breath of life; and when they do, Te Fiti's ugliness dissolves, she remembers who she is, and she transforms back into the beautiful life-giving goddess that is her true form.
Have you forgotten who you are? If so, press your face against God's face; your nose against God’s nose. Breathe deep the breath of God. And let the ruach of God remind you of who you really are.
Now, maybe you’re like me, and you sometimes need things spelled out in greater, black-and-white detail. That reminder of who you are needs to be made plain. And that’s what we get in Isaiah 43.
The background to Isaiah 43 is the return from captivity of God's people. They had been held in captivity in Babylon - forced to live in a land that was not their own.
It was not the land of their ancestors. It was not the land that had been given to them by God.
As a result, they had felt cut off from their past, cut off from their ancestors, cut off from God. In short, cut off from everything that defined who they were.
Now, years later, they were being allowed to return to their homeland, but could they reclaim their identity? Could they remember who they were? Could they remember whose they were?
To them, God says: remember.
I am the one who created you and formed you.
I am the one who breathed life into you.
I have called you by name. Jacob. Israel. I gave you your name, just as I gave you the breath of life.
When you pass through the flood, I will be with you, just as I have been in the past.
When you pass through the firestorm, I will be with you, just as I was in the past.
Nothing can destroy who you are, because you are mine, and I am with you.
Dear Jacob, dear Israel, you've been through so much. I know you have. But you are still you.  You are still my beloved child, precious in my eyes, and beautiful to behold.
You are honored, and I love you.
This is the word of God to you.
Breathe these words in. Breathe them in, for they are words of life!
You are God’s beloved child, beautiful to behold, precious in God’s sight.
These words are a reminder of the spirit that is within you; a reminder of God's ruach that is within you.