God is Still Speaking: “I Can’t Breathe”
A sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year A
This sermon was offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, during St Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s online service of Morning Prayer on June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday.
A recording of the entire service can be found here. The sermon begins at about 20:40 into the recording.
May the words or my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
I’d like to ask you all to imagine that you’re in a movie theater, that the opening credits have concluded, the titles have gone by, and the opening scene has begun, and that scene invites you to engage all of your senses, to enter into what lies before you; a series of images, captured in this poetic narrative
“The earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Is this a post-apocalyptic movie, is it a primordial scene? Where are we? Darkness over the face of the deep, a wind rushing over the waters, and a deep void. All of those images bespeak chaos, a lack of order, no space to breathe, no space to be.
And then, into that chaos, a voice speaks, “Let there be light. And there was light.”
That voice continues to speak. Having separated the light from the darkness, that voice separates the sky from all that lies beneath it, the dry land from the waters, the day from the night. Order is spoken into existence. Space to be is created. There is room to breathe.
Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, in his book On Christian Theology, call this the generative event. And he describes it as that moment that “breaks open and extends possible ways of being human.” A word is spoken into the chaos. Order is called into being; and we are given space to breathe, space to be; extending the possibilities of what it means to be human.
Fast forward in our movie to the next scene, where people are walking in darkness. Violence and revenge are the order of the day. Oppression and exploitation of people for personal profit, for the establishment of hierarchy and power have swept the face of the earth; and a voice speaks once again.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Again, a word is spoken into the darkness, into the void, into the chaos. The wind from God sweeps over the waters and the people; and a new way of being is created, a new narrative to define how we relate to one another and to God; a narrative that changes the world.
Leaning again on Rowan Williams, he describes this moment in this way:
“So to come to be in ‘in Christ’ to belong with Jesus, involves a far-reaching reconstruction of one’s humanity: a liberation from servile, distorted, destructive patterns in the past, a liberation from anxious dread of God’s judgment, a new identity in a community of reciprocal love and complementary service, whose potential horizons are universal.”
It’s remarkable perhaps, that Williams sees creation, that generative moment that created new ways of being human as ongoing; not complete with that poetic narrative that begins the Book of Genesis, but picked up and moved forward by the Christ Event; by God coming into the world once again, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and speaking a new word, a new narrative, a new way of being, that allows us to reconstruct our humanity, and liberate us from servile, distorted, destructive, patterns of the past.
You all have heard me, on more that one occasion, say that I wish that the Episcopal Church could claim credit for the sign that often appears on our neighbor on Roby Road’s front lawn. It says, “God is still speaking.” I think that, given what Rowan Williams has said to us this morning, we might also say that God is still creating. Creating, trying to bring to fruition and reality a new way of being human, one that liberates us from servile, distorted, destructive patterns; one that frees us from exploiting and oppressing others for our own benefit, or to raise our own position, status, or stake in the world.
God is still speaking. Williams, in his discussion of the Trinity, talks about the Holy Spirit as a partner in this ongoing project of creation. It is the Holy Spirit that brings new revelation, that helps us to remember all that Jesus has taught us, to remind us of what he has said, and to reveal the truth that we were not prepared to receive when Jesus walked among us as one of us.
A word was spoken into the darkness at the beginning of that generative project in the Book of Genesis. A word was spoken into the darkness when Jesus, the Christ, came into the world and walked among us. And I believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking words to us, even now, trying to liberate us from servile, distorted, destructive patterns.
“I can’t breathe.” I can’t breathe. Words spoken into the darkness. Words spoken into the chaos. Words that just might help free us from those patterns of the past that destroy and corrupt the creatures of God, that lead us into places of darkness and chaos, that corrupt our lives and keep us from participating in the ways of being human that God lays before us; the ways of being human that will hep us all live together in God’s creation.
These have been difficult times. And I am sure that when Jesus spoke his words in first century Palestine, they were hard for some people to hear, because those words required that some of us give up our grip, loosen our hold, on the power that we have. They required some of us to examine the things that we have accumulated, and to acknowledge those who have contributed to our possessions, our treasure, through labor and sweat that has long gone unrecognized and unacknowledged.
Jesus called us to a new way of being human and the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new way of begin human now. Jesus’s words have been repeated through the centuries, not always begin heard, and not always followed. But they are still with us because people have continued to say them. People have continued to share their message. People have continued to uphold the way of being that Jesus manifested in our midst as the way of truth, and life, and light.
It’s hard, I think, for some of us to hear “I can’t breathe. Black lives matter,” but that’s ok. Because that’s what God does. That’s what Jesus does. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. They speak into the darkness. They speak into the chaos. And they bring order to our lives and to creation. They lay before us ways of being human that we might not imagine on our own; ways of begin human that might be difficult enough that we would turn our backs in dismay, or fear, or just plain laziness. But those words are ringing so loudly right now that we dare not, and cannot, ignore them.
And if we are to do what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, to proclaim his message to all the earth, to create disciples, to baptize in the name of the Father who speaks a word into the darkness, of the Son who reconstructs our humanity and gives us a new way of being, and of the Holy Spirit who is speaking to us now, then we must take up that mantle and repeat those words as long as we have breath. I can’t breathe. Black lives matter. We are called to love God, and to love our neighbor, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the way that we do that right now is to show up, and to speak up.
On this day, Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after the Day of Pentecost the birthday of the Church, we are called to go, to be sent as God sent Christ, and to speak those words into the darkness, and into the chaos; and to invite others to join us in God’s way of being human.
 Gen. 1:2 (NRSV)
 Gen 1:3 (NRSV)
 Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology. Challenges in Contemporary Theology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2000.
 Ibid, 136.
 Jn 1:1-5 (NRSV)
 Williams, On Christian Theology, 138.