Sermons

Rev. Dr. Russ Daye

22nd after Pentecost

October 24, 2021

Psalm 104 selected verses NRSV

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
 
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
 
    you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your[
b] chariot,
    you ride on the wings of the wind,
 you make the winds your[
c] messengers,
    fire and flame your[d] ministers.

 You set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it shall never be shaken.
 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
 At your rebuke they flee;
    at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
    they flow between the hills,

 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
 In them the birds build their nests;
    the stork has its home in the fir trees.
 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
    the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
    the sun knows its time for setting.
 You make darkness, and it is night,
    when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
 People go out to their work
    and to their labor until the evening.

 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom you have made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
    creeping things innumerable are there,
    living things both small and great.
 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

 These all look to you
    to give them their food in due season;
 when you give to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
    when you take away their breath, they die
    and return to their dust.
 When you send forth your spirit,[
g] they are created;
    and you renew the face of the ground.

Ezekiel 37:1-10

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live.  I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So, I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:  Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Three and half years ago I was camping in Death Valley with my son, Sam.  Luckily, for us, it was the last day in Death Valley when we started to hear a noise up at the top of the valley.  It sounded a little bit like ‘argh’ and we looked up and we could see this sandstorm forming – the valley ran from north to south, and it looked like the sandstorm was moving from west to east.  And my son Sam made the mistake of saying, “Whoever is camping up there, those poor suckers, they’re really going to get it!”  And it seemed only seconds after he said that, that the storm made a turn and started to come down the valley with some force.

We scrambled to get our gear inside the car and luckily the car was nearby, and we scrambled to find big rocks to put in the corners on the inside of the tent to hold it down.  We got into the tent – this was early evening – and we battened down the hatches, and as we lay there, this amazing sound came down the valley – Rrrruuuuaaaccccchhhhhhhh…

That sound, according to scholars, is actually the origin of the word used in Hebrew scriptures for both breath and spirit.  It’s onomatopoeic, which means the word is made out of the sound that something creates.  Ruach.  Ruach.  The breath of God.  The spirit of God.  The breath and spirit in us.  It’s thought to give all of the force of life to the world, but it also can become destructive when it becomes overpowering.

So, we laid down in the tent and I laid on top of my sleeping bag and I started to listen to the tent flap and the sound behind it:  Rrrruuuuuaaahhhhhhh.  And as I lay there, I was halfway between anxiety and ecstasy because I was afraid that the tent was going to blow down.  I had been in desert storms before when the tent did get destroyed.

My son Sam seemed oblivious.  I looked at what he had done, and he had turned to face the wall; he had on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and he was looking at his iPhone on which he had downloaded a movie.  And over the course of the next 2-3 hours, I lay on in my sleeping bag experiencing the power of Ruach, and my son Sam completely exited the situation into his movie. Then we both fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, to a perfectly calm day with the sun shining through the tent, both of us were covered with about a centimetre of red dust.  My son Sam woke up and he shook the dust off and looked surprised, as if to say ‘Where did all this dust come from?’

I had a really ambivalent feeling about what had happened.  I thought, well, Sam didn’t experience the same anxiety as me because he had that movie to exit into, but neither did he have the experience of the power of nature.  There’s a place where ecstasy and anxiety meet, and he had completely avoided it.

That reminds me of some of the verses of our reading. It speaks of the world’s creatures: ‘These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.  When you hide your face – a sign for cutting off spirit – they are dismayed; when you take away their Ruach, they die and return to their dust.”

Everything in the world is animated by Ruach.  Everything in the world is animated by the breath of God.  The energy flowing through my body, David (Passmore’s) body, your body, is animated by Ruach.  The electricity that we are dependent upon for this audio-visual system is a flow of Ruach.  The blowing of the winds and the shining of the sun are too.

I’ve been reading a book recently, which I find tremendously evocative.  The book is called The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other by a Korean theologian named Grace Ji-Sun Kim (who did her PhD just down the road at St. Michael’s and her Master of Divinity at Knox College.)  This Korean Christian woman argues that Chi and the Holy Spirit are the same thing.  What people in the Confucian countries – China, Korea – call Chi, and what people in Japan call Qi, we call the Holy Spirit, and what Jews call Ruach is the same thing.  It is the fundamental, primal Source of energy that flows through everything.  Like electricity, there are different kinds of it and the different kinds are needed.

One of the fundamental exercises in Tai Chi is an exercise in which two kinds of Chi are being brought to encounter each other:  yin from the earth (associated with the feminine), yang from the sky (associated with the masculine).  It is thought that the encounter of yin and yang produces a power like the encounter of a negative and positive charge that produces electricity.  So not only is Chi the fundamental force that animates all of the world, not only does it flow from the Divine – sounds familiar, right? – [but] there are different aspects of it, and they need to be brought into encounter with each other in order to create the full power of Chi, and they also need to be brought into balance.  So, there are certain exercises that you do in Tai Chi when you have too much yang and not enough yin, or vice versa.

But one of the most evocative things that Grace Ji-Sun Kim argues is that doctrinal and closed Christian theologies of the Holy Spirit have refused to accept that other cultures have concepts of the same thing:  Mana in Polynesia, Qi in Japan, Chi in China, and that that blockage of accepting that other cultures actually tap into the Holy Spirit, without being Christian, provides a block for Chi in the world.  And that block for Chi has manifestations that are personal, environmental, and political.

The othering we do to people of other cultures, that gives rise to systemic racism, is actually a blockage of Chi, of the Holy Spirit, because we refuse to allow the perception that those in other cultures, and even other faiths, may have different kinds of charges that have to interact with our own to produce the fulness of Spirit, of Ruach, of Chi, that then pours through and heals the world.

There’s a fundamental break and the break happens in our thoughts, in our doctrines, in our theologies. One of the things that Grace Ji-Sun Kim argues is that in the West, especially in Protestantism, we frequently make the mistake of over-valuing thinking and under-valuing the flow of energy and Chi in our bodies in the world, and that bifurcation is a blockage of the Holy Spirit.

We spend a lot of time asking, ‘Do you believe?’, ‘Do you have the right theology?’, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?’, ‘Do you believe in the Trinity?’, ‘Do you believe that She exists?’, ‘Do you believe in justice?’, ‘Do you believe in this form of justice?’, and when we get dominated by the thinking, instead of allowing the thinking to intermingle with movement and body and action and life, the thinking becomes a stuck point and it stops the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim really affirmed something for me:  I’m tired of ‘isms’ and ‘ologies.’  I don’t care if you’re a theist, a pantheist, a panentheist, an agnostic, an atheist, a Buddhist…  I just want to dialogue with you.

You hold your perspective, I’ll hold mine, but let’s get in an intellectual dance that doesn’t block us down in theological categories and doctrines but instead, releases Chi.  And let’s not just do it with other Christians; let’s do it with Muslims and Buddhists and Atheists and Animists and everybody else.

This is a time when the Church needs to unplug the blockages.  It needs to encounter others so that there’s a flow of the Holy Spirit, of Ruach, of Chi that animates the church and then interfaces with other faith communities in our larger culture and animates our culture so we can move out together to start solving the fundamental problems we all face together at this time.

I want to end with one point, and I’m moving from theology or politics to running a church.  I’ve been talking to people about volunteer opportunities in the church recently and I told them this story:  at my church in Halifax I had printed up 200 get-out-of-jail free cards, and every time I asked somebody to join a committee or do a task I’d give them a get-out-of-jail free card and I said to them, the moment that working on this task group takes away more of your energy than it gives you, hand in the get-out-of-jail free card and you’re free.  I really believe churches need to function in a way that’s less driven by duty, setting the jaw and maintaining things, and is more driven by joy and the free flow of energy.

So, as I come to see many of you in the coming weeks to talk about how you might contribute to the church, you have this sermon and the get-out-of-jail free card.  If you start to feel that a task or duty you have in the church is blocking your Chi – it’s taking more energy from you than it’s giving – then you’re free.

 

 

Image Credit:  Wolfgang Hasselmann – unsplash.com

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