Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Last week I participated in a yoga class focused on breathing exercises. We were taught ways to breathe that would energize our bodies, ways to heat our bodies up or cool them down, and ways to destress with our breath. As the class progressed, our instructor talked about how gaining control over our breath can help regulate other autonomic body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, even slowing our brain waves or changing the way our bodies release hormones. Breathing is a pretty powerful thing. At a moment when people around the world are literally struggling to breathe, whether due to coronavirus or oppressive systems or climate change, it was a heartening message to hear that my breath is my own. 

It is hard to read this Gospel lesson and not cringe at Jesus breathing on the disciples, imagining the aerosolized particulate his respiration spewed on them. But his exhalation includes these words, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

I’ve often wondered who or what or where the sin is retained? On thinking about this in relation to Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples, I wonder if forgiving or retaining sin is like breathing? When you let go of your breath, it simply exits taking with it the gases, toxins and particulate your body doesn’t need. Your body will keep doing this for as long as you are alive, whether you give it much thought or not, but the more thought you give it and the more control you have over it, the greater the benefit to you. If you choose not to exhale, your muscles will fatigue, your body will fill with toxic gasses, and eventually, you will lose consciousness, and your autonomic nervous system will regain control over your respiratory system and you will be forced to exhale.

I think retaining sin is something like holding your breath. If you hold it long enough it will just build inside you until you are forced to let it go. Or, you could let it go bit by bit with every exhalation. If you can gain control over how and when you forgive, then like gaining control over your breath, you will have more control over how you live your life.

This Labor Day, what can you release? What can you let go of? To what are you giving unnecessary labor?
Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew, that I may love the way you love, and do what you would do. Amen.
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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