Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse
To begin, let’s all take some deep breaths. Perhaps you are in the pew, your face behind a mask, and could use a moment just to breathe intentionally. Or maybe you are at home on Zoom, distracted, or less focused, and not paying attention to your breathing. Please do so now: breathe in deeply, breathe out deeply. Feel calmed. Feel the presence of God.
This is the power of our breath. To center us. To ease our troubled heart, as Jesus tells us. When we are afraid, our breath can steady us. When we are anxious, our breath can calm us. Just paying attention to our breath can transport us away from what is worrying us.
To breathe easily, we take in, and we must give back.
This week, on Facebook, I read a post from Hassan Masri, an ICU doctor in Saskatchewan, who has been working on the front lines of the pandemic. In the post was a loosely-translated Arabic saying that he had happened upon, and that had resonated with him.
In his post was the following: “A wise man said that the simple act of breathing has taught us that to live happily, you need to take some air in and give some air back.”
In other words, he said, “To live a life that is not suffocating, you must take some in, but you must always give back.”
To breathe easily, we must take, and we must give.
I thought of this post when considering our readings for this week. In our first lesson, we get a too-short introduction to Lydia, a woman from the city of Thyatira, and a dealer in purple cloth. And yet she is so much more than that.
Lydia was an extremely prosperous businesswoman. In her time, purple cloth was the very finest to purchase. To get to where she was in life, in the society of the time, Lydia would have had to overcome great odds. We don’t know a lot about her – Did she build her business from scratch? Did she inherit it and continue to build it up? But no matter: she had prevailed as a powerful woman in a world run by men, and despite rules designed to keep her in her place. No wonder, then, that she is given special mention in our first reading this morning from the Book of Acts.
On the Sabbath Day, we hear, Lydia goes down to a place along the river that has been set aside by the authorities for prayer and worship. There she meets Paul and Silas, newly arrived, and takes time to listen to their words. Despite what must have been the pressing business of her day, she pauses to expand her mind. Rather than bury herself in work, she keeps herself open to new ideas. She is ready to breathe in the word of God.
We know from our lesson that she goes home and shares her faith with her household, and they, too, are baptized. And then she invites Paul and Silas into her home, to be her guests. Indeed, she prevails upon them – we are told, and we might imagine just how forceful Lydia can be when she wants something to happen. Having breathed in the Word, she released back generosity and hospitality.
Lydia finds a balance between giving and taking. Basically, the Arabic saying being cited by the good doctor is a reminder to all of us to find that balance. Yet, we all know takers, who suck the air from everyone else for their own purpose. And we all know givers, who are gasping for respite, because they never take any air for themselves. The trick in life is to take in when we are in need – whether that’s when we need wisdom, when we need rest, when we need comfort and care; and to give back the same – wisdom, rest, comfort, and care – in equal measure. We breathe in; we breathe out.
To do otherwise is to suffocate.
This week, perhaps we may all pay attention to our breathing. When are you holding it all inside? What are you doing when you breathe most easily? But also, look around: who are the people who take all the air from others? And who especially are those who give away too much of their own air. Just as we must find balance in our lives, we must step with care to be a loving presence that brings balance to the lives of others. Who might we stop enabling? Who might we help?
Jesus says to us: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives.” Indeed, he does not: Jesus does not give so that we might only be takers; so we might only breathe in. Jesus gives to us the gospel; and takes only what we can offer of ourselves, and yet inspires us into giving. Amen