By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
January 11, 2009
Read: Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) In the beginning.
And from Mark…“.. just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” (Mark 1: 10)
What does that look like? The heavens being torn apart and Spirit descending. We’re given a clue with the words “like a dove”. But what does that look like? And can you imagine a formless void at the beginning…nothingness…and then a wind from God swept over. The Hebrew word for wind here is ruach, which can be translated breath; wind; movement; and that word occurs 378 times in the Hebrew scriptures. And in the new testament, the word for spirit – pneuma-occurs 379 times.
So, today I want to walk us through God’ s breath and what that might mean. In the beginning we have ruach:
In the Hebrew scriptures, the word ruach generally means wind, breath, mind, spirit. In a living creature (nephesh chayah), the ruach is the breath, whether of animals (Gen 7:15; Psa 104:25, 29) or humankind (Isa 42:5; Ezek 37:5). God is the creator of ruach. In humankind, ruach further denotes the principle of life that possesses reason, will, and conscience. The ruach imparts the divine image to man, and constitutes the animating dynamic which is the soul of a person.
Now let me try to share that concept another way. James Weldon Johnson wrote a wonderful poem entitled “The Creation”…the ending goes like this:
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
So, what am I saying? I’m saying that we all have that breath of God within us, that source of life. As long as we breath; as long as breath comes in and out of us, we are alive. We have an opportunity each and every day to tap into that source of life within us – that dynamic breath that comes from God.
Karen has a beautifully painted gourd from Central America. The art includes the great beauty of our created world – nature, people, food, etc. But, as if that weren’t enough, there is a door cut into the gourd and when you open it, you see the nativity scene. This then, for the artist, is what lies behind or within creation – the motive of the creator, God, to provide not just a bountiful world of possibilities but a bountiful spirit within that reflects the creator. The Spirit descended like a dove into Jesus.
There is a story about Rose on the email forward circuit. It goes like this:
The first day of college our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.
She said, ‘Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?’ I laughed and enthusiastically responded, ‘Of course you may!’ and she gave me a giant squeeze. ‘Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?’ I asked. She jokingly replied, ‘I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids…’ ‘No seriously,’ I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age. ‘I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!’ she told me.
After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this ‘time machine’ as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.
Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.
At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, ‘I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.’
As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, ‘ We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.
There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.’ She concluded her speech by courageously singing ‘The Rose.’
She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives. At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep. Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.
Those lyrics Rose spoke about go like this:
Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.
It’s the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It’s the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin’
that never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun’s love
in the spring becomes the rose.
Doc is a character in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday. A Ph.D from the University of Chicago, Doc now earns his living selling marine specimens he has collected from their tidal pools near his home in Monterey. He has a good life, but when he reflects deeply, Doc is troubled by a nagging sense of discontent. “Have I worked enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I loved enough? … What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me? What have I contributed to the Great Ledger? What am I worth?”
He asks ‘what am I worth?’ For many, life unfolds, day after day, with the question unanswered, the verdict in suspense. The secret remains hidden. What am I worth?
In baptism the secret is out at the beginning, in the beginning, the truth is known at the inception, and there is no need to fear, come what may. “You are my beloved child, my very own. I have placed you here and called you to be my own. In you, I delight.”
Nothing in all creation, neither death nor life nor things present nor things to come, can separate us from the love of God. You are a child of God; You are valuable. You contain God’s breath of life; so take the chance and dare to live. Amen.
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