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Homily for Pentecost Sunday 2017

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There are many things that I don’t know about you, whoever you may be, but there is one thing I know for certain about everyone in this Cathedral right now. It is that you are breathing, at least I hope you are. If we human beings don’t breathe then we die, so it is a matter of life and death. Nonetheless we take this most fundamental activity for granted most of the time. We just breathe on, whether we are awake or asleep. It just ‘keeps on keeping on.’ And so life goes on. Every now and again you perhaps become conscious of your breathing. We won’t do breathing exercises together but its not a bad thing occasionally just to focus on an activity which we take for granted but which is a matter of life and death. We worry about the pollution of the atmosphere, and rightly so, as its not much good to us breathing poison, but we don’t worry so much about the action of breathing. Yet we do on Pentecost Sunday! Pentecost Sunday is all about breathing – the breathing of God. The fact is the God of the bible is a very ‘breathy’ God. In the beginning, in the primeval darkness when there is only the chaos, the first sound of the bible is the sound of God breathing – the breath of God moves across the waters of chaos. It’s all you hear. A little further on in the biblical story God is going for a walk in the garden of Eden. He sees a beautiful rich clump of soil; the soil that he has created. He reaches down and picks up that rich soil, looks at it and then breathes into it. And what do we get? The human being. What are we but earth into which God has breathed his own breath? So that out of the earth there springs the magnificence of the human being. Now in the story of Pentecost which we have just heard, we are told that Jesus says “peace be with you; I’ve been to the very heart of darkness on the Cross and you have nothing to fear; your fears are a bluff no matter how powerful they may seem.” Then we are told, after saying this, he breathed on them. A strange thing to do, is it not? It’s exactly what God did in the beginning – breathing into the soil and dead earth from which comes the human being. Now Jesus breathes the same breath; the breath of God which is the Holy Spirit, into a church itself which was dead. It really hadn’t come to birth; they were in a locked room for fear of the Jews we’re told. Fear had locked the room. So Jesus breathed into them and this time we get not the human being but the ‘new’ human being who is capable of being beyond fear and unlocking the door. They go out not only into the streets of Jerusalem but the streets of the world. So what God did in the beginning to create us, Jesus does on Pentecost Sunday to create the Church. Without that breathe we are just a cadaver, a corpse. All we can do for ourselves is rot. Yet if Jesus does breathe into us the breath of God, then for all our rottenness we could still be the body of Christ aglow, with all its life, the life that’s bigger than death; the life that’s bigger than all rottenness.

Not many of us have ever given mouth to mouth resuscitation. I won’t call for a show of hands but all of you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s called the kiss of life. Well on Pentecost Sunday that’s what we celebrate – God’s kiss of life to us. What is mouth to mouth resuscitation? You’re going to die because you’re not breathing. So I bend down and I breathe into you my breath, my life. I draw you back from death into life. You live again because of my breath. It’s exactly the same when Jesus breathes upon the disciples in the locked room. It’s mouth to mouth resuscitation. That’s what we mean when we talk about a breathy God, one who gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s what he did to raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus lying in the tomb was a corpse and a fairly badly mangled one at that. Yet when God breathes the Holy Spirit into the corpse of Jesus he rises into the magnificence of the risen life; the fullness of human life. It’s bigger than death. Similarly with the church, and its locked room in the beginning, Jesus breathes new life into that corpse and we get the church that will be with us to doomsday and beyond. The church which is the body of Christ, and here on this Pentecost morning in Brisbane, Australia, we say come Holy Spirit to a church that needs the breath of life in new and deeper ways. The Australian Bishops have decided to move all of us towards what we call a plenary council of the Church in Australia in the year 2020. We are currently awaiting the approval of Pope Francis to do that. The Bishops decision was a recognition that we cannot, at a time like this, simply put a notice saying ‘business as usual.’ We have to take stock of our current situation and on the basis of that stocktaking, to make decisions and many of them bold decisions about the future of the church in this diocese and in this country. Now all of this is, and must be, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. If it is not a way of the Holy Spirit being breathed into us in a new way that will thrust us into God’s future then all it becomes is empty bureaucracy and mere administration. We are so, so far beyond needing only bureaucracy and administration. We do need what Pope John XXIII called a new Pentecost. That was his prayer, that the Second Vatican Council would be a new Pentecost for the church around the world. It hasn’t turned out to be quite like that in the 50 years since the Council. But now is the moment for the cry to rise from the heart of the Church on this Pentecost Sunday. Come Holy Spirit; Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come into the church in Australia in new and deeper ways, so that just as Christ rose from the dead, just as the church was born in the beginning by the power of the spirit, so too there will be for the church in this country and at this time, a new birth, a new Pentecost. Amen.

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