This past week was, for me, an incredible journey, driving with my son across the amazing country we live in. The goal of the trip was to get him and his car to Seattle, where has moved to start his first job and launch his career, post college. We also had to do an extensive apartment search to find him a place to live, which we did! Following I-90, the drive out west, through the fast paced highways of Chicago, the rolling green hills of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, the spectacular beauty of the Badlands and the unexpected grandeur of Custer State Park in South Dakota, the vast and unique glory of Yellowstone with its hot springs and geysers, from the stunning Rocky Mountains to the rich green Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound of Seattle, left my son and I in a constant state of awe. At one point I even said that my eyes were growing numb from the ceaseless beauty we beheld. We were also entertained by the wildlife, the prairie dogs sounding their alarm as we drove by, amusing us as they ran and played and tumbled. We were delighted with the herds of buffalo, including babies, meandering across roadways and fields, owning the road, forcing cars to stop and wait until the buffalo moved on.
These majestic creatures, powerful and potentially dangerous, a species nearly as old as time itself, were stunning. The entire trip, while arduous and quick, only a week from start to finish, was a playful adventure through the beauty of God’s creation.
Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan is reminiscent of this trip, where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Clearly God must have a sense of humor to have created some of these creatures, just for the sport of it. The Psalm is a reminder that we are to have a sense of humor as we participate in the creativity of the world we live in. Being playful is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit inspired the followers of Jesus to form themselves into a cohesive community and spread the message of Jesus far and wide. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds together all the wildly diverse aspects of creation. The Holy Spirit is the great equalizer, as we hear in the reading from Acts, where all people heard the voice of the Spirit, each in their native tongue. This wildly diverse crowd of people from across the region of the Roman Empire, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, educated and peasant, soldier and tax collector, artisan and potter, baker and farmer, traveling merchant and who knows who else, all heard the Holy Spirit in a gust of fiery wind, breathing over them God’s words. From this the church was born and given its mission. The fruits of our good work, we hear, is love and wisdom. God revealed God’s self in human flesh that we might know God’s nature more fully, and love as God loves us, which is a process of maturity and growing in wisdom.
We hold this understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, the church and its mission, in tension with a world of people around us who have not or do not go to church. If one reads the news or follows news-feeds on Facebook, there are plenty of reasons to doubt or struggle with the institutional church: scandals are pervasive, abuse of children and women is secreted away, arguing over who belongs and who doesn’t, over race or human sexuality, problems in the church seem to be at epidemic proportions. I get it. I know something about the desire to walk away, to disconnect, to leave the institutional church behind, to go it on my own, to be spiritual but not religious. I lived that way for a third of my life. No doubt in some ways it was easier. I didn’t have to wrestle with relationships, I didn’t have to work to figure out how to be a good Christian and how to be a person of faith, how to live as Jesus asks of me. I could live anyway I wanted too. Sure, I could still have good values and still treat people fairly and work for justice.
However, learning to manage the tension of living in community, fostering a relationship with God, and navigating the complexity of diversity is what it means to be a faithful Christian, growing in compassion and maturity and wisdom and love. To be mature one needs to have resilience, the ability to move through and rebound from life’s challenges. Individually, and as a community, maturity reflects one’s ability to be clear about what one values and the principles upon which one makes decisions and guides one’s life. One of the key components of resilience and building healthy relationship is the ability to be playful and creative.
How are we, the people of Christ Church, seeking to live as God calls us? How are we working to be in relationship with one another and the world around us? How are we working to be in relationship with our neighbor? WHO is our neighbor? How are we working to be and become a beloved community? How are we resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful, creative, and transformative? The newly formed Renaissance Strategy Task Force has been charged by the Vestry to reflect on and explore these questions, and then to help us develop a strategy for growing this Christian community, in more intentional ways. They are not starting from nothing, they have a vibrant list of ministries and a long history to work with.
For example we host a very busy building filled with activities offered by civic, international, artistic, health focused, religious and sometimes political, meetings, classes, and events, offered by individuals and groups, revealing a creative ongoing source of energy as a community-centered church. More specifically, our church picnic, coming up next week, is an example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, and share a meal. It’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our exterior plaza, the community garden, memorial garden, labyrinth, and pet memorial garden, in fact our church grounds, are a sign of our creativity – beautiful and welcoming to everyone. Many people walk our grounds, sit in prayer at the labyrinth, and find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer will be our third year hosting the outdoor summer concert series, held on four Friday nights, two in July and two in August. This concert series is one way we are reaching out to the wider community, building relationships in creative and fun ways. In these, and other ways, we are feeding people in mind, body, and spirit.
As we celebrate Pentecost, our readings have one primary theme in common – the call to relationship. The call from scripture to be in relationship with one another, with our neighbor and with strangers, and with all creation, is serious. But, paradoxically, scripture also reveals that we do so playfully and creatively. Pentecost reminds us that church is a body of people working to be in relationship with one another, building a relationship with God, and manifesting God’s love in the world. Church is at its best when the people are diverse, creative, invigorated, prayerful, supportive of one another and a little wild and playful, just for the sport of it.