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Your One Wild and Precious Life

May 27, 2007

Denise Kelsall

Pentecost Sunday     Acts 2:1-11     John 14:8-17


Today we celebrate Pentecost. For us as Christians it heralds the arrival of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the disciples. Jesus has died and in fulfillment of John’s gospel which we read today, has sent the Paraclete – the advocate, the counselor, his Spirit to remain always with those who believe in him. Here in our first reading from Acts we read about a confused and fearful band of disciples who have an experience whereby they seem to be gifted with the ability to really listen and hear each other. Multiple languages are spoken and multiple people are heard and understood. It is a powerful and life-altering movement of spirit. Traditionally Pentecost has been seen as the birth of the church and to celebrate this momentous event we wear red to signify passion, life, fire and spirit. And where has it gone? What have we done with it?


After hours of despairing and soul searching for this sermon and reading so much laudatory and what seemed to be saccharine nonsense on the web – looking at traditional commentaries where its all telling me the same old story I realized that I did not know what Pentecost and church really mean anymore. It’s like the church has frozen, we are safe, cocooned in a welter of dogmatic assertions about God Jesus and the Spirit and who we should be individually and as church. I think I have become quite tired of it – and at the same time being deeply attached to it also because for so long I have lived it, prayed it, read it, talked it, loved it.


So I wonder - what to do? I look around my study and see all the worthy theological tomes and inspirational classics and think they would make a good bonfire. What is the point I ask myself!


We come here, we break bread and drink wine together and sing and pray to Jesus, we gather afterwards and catch up then we go home – and I think where does it go from here? We do all the symbolic holy things that have been done for two centuries and I begin to wonder if it makes a difference anymore.


I am aware of the ‘balm’of church and the comfort of prayer but I think I may be getting spiritual indigestion. I’m not sure I want to feel the warm fuzzies all the time and I don’t want to feel as though I’m wrong or bad because my attitudes to God are changing. I ask what’s happened to the revolution? Where has our radical madness gone and our prophetic and demanding call for justice and truth? Would anyone listen? Is goodness its own reward?


I could rave on forever about these things in my angry despair. I think that like those disciples at Pentecost I too am probably confused and fearful. I too need a heavy dose of something wild and spirited to transform my frustration into something creative and life-giving. Can we have some of that mysterious explosive deep and intoxicating spirit that is gifted and expressed in our reading today and try to change the world as Jesus bade us.


I guess my question is twofold. I wonder if the church really does speak into people’s lives anymore – do we image that radical love and compassion, that political and economic justice of Jesus or do we stolidly remain the place where things are sanctified and celebrated by the establishment and where societal norms are consolidated? Has our fundamentally counter-cultural radical call as followers of Jesus been sidelined, have we become too comfortable, too complacent, too concerned about inconsequential details that we can no longer catch the vision of Jesus and what he was about? Could we be, like the Jews out of Babylon, the faithful remnant out of which something powerful transformative and good can emerge?


Who is God for us really? Our scriptures, our liturgy and our prayers are full of a God who acts, who intervenes in amazing ways to help and restore his people. Then we have Auschwitz, the ‘killing fields’ of Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq. So who is God for you? Is your God a private deity, a mystical reality or space that we go to where we can commune with something transcendent or other in our lives? Most importantly – does our God experience change our lives?


So many questions – I am not expecting answers but like Jacob wrestling with a stranger all night long I too feel as though my hip or in this case my heart is dislocated. I guess – as the philosophers say – life is about meaning and purpose and I am struggling to find it in the church as we know it. I want more.


I have a calendar on my wall and for May the inscription under a wonderfully fluid drawing of three women dancing is a question from the poet Mary Oliver

“What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s a salutary question.


How can I, how can we make a difference? How do we recapture the fervour, the passion, the joy and the real active faith of those disciples when we are also constantly undercut and undone by our satiated society? We are part of a global culture – we see ourselves as part of humanity and can really identify with that refugee or the sweatshop worker in China. Yet at the same time we are protective of our way of life and fearful with the idea of competing with these in a global marketplace with no morality. So, paradoxically while we can understand more about ourselves our world and have empathy for the horror of so many lives, at the same time it becomes more hostile and frightening. We are adrift in a mass of information and knowledge that can bring a sense of hopelessness and the disintegration of the vision of life as wonderful and good. Put another way – how can I be so heartless as to live so well when my sister in Baghdad has half her face shot off by someone my country calls an ally. How can we reconcile our inner world with that?


It’s a struggle. And I begin to understand that it is in the struggle, the pain, in the questions themselves that God comes to assault us with the injustice and the cruelty of this world.


Like Jacob, I experience and perceive that our God is the one who comes to disturb us in the night and makes us question our received wisdom and challenge our comfort our passivity and our often despairing hopelessness. This is a God of Spirit, a God of action, an adversarial demanding God who comes to shake and wake us to our own plight and of those around us. A God who calls us to witness to a radical justice based on truth and mercy.


Like Jacob we hope can that in the wounding we grow more real about who we are and what we do, that we can see ourselves and God in the other, that we can listen and hear with greater depth, that we can search for the mending of relationships gone wrong and warped, and a being right with self and with God.


So it is a good thing to ask and consider, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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