For a couple of years Dan and I lived in the desert southwest. It was an interesting place to live, especially if one loves wildlife. Our house sat on the foothills of a mountain range that housed a canyon known world wide for its variety of birds, especially hummingbirds. Walking our dogs around our neighborhood was a lesson in observance, particularly if we were walking in the early morning or evening, during the cool of the day. It was during the cooler times of day that the wildlife came out. Every day we had to navigate around the packs of coyotes in the arroyos, or the bobcat family that lived on the roof of the house across the street. One day we encountered a gila monster sunning itself in a driveway. Vultures flew over head and with their keen vision scoured the earth for animal remains from the night before. Occasionally we were blocked from walking part of a street because of an infestation of Africanized killer bees. Particularly striking were the tarantula wasps. These wasps were the size of my thumb, black with red wings, and a stinger the thickness of a darning needle. Tarantula wasps sting the tarantula, paralyzing it, and then lay its eggs inside the body of the tarantula, which then becomes food for the wasp larvae. The tarantula wasps were not really interested in humans, so they posed little danger to us, despite their daunting appearance. Then there was the pack of javelina that would make a nightly pass between our house and the neighbors. Javelina, also known as collared peccary, look a little a wild boar, or a squatty brown pig. They are incredibly smelly and travel in packs. Javelina are vegetarians, eating primarily prickly pear cactus. We were constantly aware of the potential for scorpions or rattle snakes, and every spider was gigantic and poisonous.
Today’s Psalm and its mention of the Leviathan reminds me of living in an area where God’s wild creative energy is entertaining and dangerous. Giacomo Rossignolo, who lived in the sixteenth century, painted a fresco of the Leviathan, titled “The Last Judgement.” It portrays an image of a huge water creature, its jaws wide open and humans inside its mouth. In the middle ages Satan looked distinctly like the human-eating Leviathan. Thomas Aquinas described the Leviathan as the demon of envy, sent to punish sinners. In our own times we hear occasionally of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, a Leviathan like creature who lives in the Loch Ness, the largest body of fresh water in Britain. Humans are entertained and entranced by the wild creatures of the earth. Even mythical creatures capture our imaginations. 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 unit 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 offers us a clear model of how we are to live, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 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. 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 withstand and rebound from life’s challenges. This cannot happen when one chooses to go off on one’s own. This happens when one chooses to live in community and wrestle with the challenges and joys of diversity anchored in relationship with a community of faith and with God. 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, seek 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 resilient in facing challenges? How are we playful and creative? I can think of any number of answers to these questions. Among them, our long history is one sign of our ability to do these. Our mission as a Community-Centered church, with a very busy building filled with activities from groups that reside outside of the church as well as those who are members here, is another. Our church picnic, coming up in two weeks, is only one example of our playfulness as we dance, throw frisbees, toss baseballs, play soccer, blow bubbles, it’s a day of outdoor play that brings us together as a community having fun and celebrating life. Our new 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 soon, will find refreshment in the shade of the plaza and its water fountain. This summer we are launching an outdoor summer concert series, to be 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.
Our readings this morning have one theme in common - the call to relationship. Surrounding the call to be in relationship is the idea of being playful and creative. We confuse church when we think it is limited to a building. We confuse the importance of relationship when we are too serious. 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.
a reflection on the readings for Pentecost, Acts 2:1-21 and Psalm 104