Throw away the padlocks
and join the Spirit’s Dance of Life
A sermon on Acts 2: 1-21 & Romans 8: 14-17 by Jill Friebel (indebted to Richard Rohr) 27 May 2007
We have been waiting for what comes to day. Nine days, fifty days, fifty years, five hundred years we have been waiting. This is the day we are always waiting for, but are never prepared for, the day of the great outpouring, the day that ties all other days together. It is the day when we can speak and be understood at last, the day when we can babble incoherently and people do not laugh, when it is OK to love God without apology or fear, when we know that all of the parts are different and yet all of the parts are enjoying one another. It is Pentecost, the day of the great gathering in and the great sending out.
We have been waiting for this Spirit – somehow forgetting that the Spirit was given us a long time ago- in fact it was hovering over chaos in the first lines of the Bible. We are waiting for one who has already come. We are waiting for water that has already been poured fresh and sparkling into our cup. We are waiting for a cool breeze in a desert of our own making. We are waiting for a fire that has been burning incessantly within. We are waiting for the life that we already have.
We are waiting, we say, and yet we have padlocked the door – out of fear. We are afraid of this part of God that we cannot control or explain or merit, which is seductive and cannot be legislated, measured or mandated. Let’s be honest. We do not like this part of God which is dove, water and invisible wind. We are threatened by this part of God “which blows where it will” and which our theologies cannot predict or inhibit. We, like the disciples in the Upper Room, sit behind locked doors of fear, and still say that we are waiting and preparing for his Holy Spirit.
Fortunately, God has grown used to our small and cowardly ways. God knows that we settle for easy certitudes instead of gospel freedom. And God is determined to break through. The Spirit eventually overcomes the obstacles that we present and surrounds us with enough peace so that we can face the “wounds in his hands and his side.” We meet the true Jesus, wounds and all, and we greet our true selves for perhaps the first time. The two are almost the same. “Peace be with you,” he says again.
“Peace be with you”. It is in his woundedness that Jesus meets us face to face and it is in our woundedness we meet ourself face to face. Wounds of others making, and wounds of our own making. Wounds that began early in life, for some -much too early - from abuse and neglect, and others of us just the mix of life with families and parents or a parent who did their best with what they had, just the same as we who are parents do our best. The naked and terrible truth is that no matter how hard we try even with all our very best intentions, we will never get it right. The whole parenting thing is fraught with risk. I thought I had come to terms with the messes I have caused, but I was reminded yet again of another stuff up yesterday by one of my daughters.
No wonder God waited so long to become a parent! If creation history were a calendar year, humans first show up in the last three minutes of December 31. That means the entire Judeo-Christian tradition appears in the last millisecond of December 31. We are the biggest risk God ever took in all of Creation for we are the only beings who received the gift of freedom and consciousness.
I saw a DVD the other night called ‘Evelyn’. It was based on a true story about Desmond Doyle an Irish worker whose 3 young children were taken into care in Catholic Institutions when his wife left him in the 1950s. He fought a legal battle to regain custody of them,. This required overturning the provisions of the Irish Children’s Act which did not allow for a father to care for his own children in the absence of their mother and a case presented in Irish Spreme Court in which it was claimed that the Children's Act contravened several sections of the Irish Constitution.
This father ‘went to the ends of the earth’ to get his children back. In the final court scene, Desmond was questioned by the prosecutor who said to him,“You must know the fundamental building block of our society is the family whose very model is the holy family Jesus, Mary and Joseph. How can you as a single father and as a dubious catholic possibly claim to bring up your children without a mother. There is absolutley no precedent for it in the religion in which you allegedly believe.”
To which Doyle responded, “There is, there is a precendent if you would like to call it. The fundamental building block is not the holy family, it is the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When my mother died my Father brought us up on his own with only the Holy Spirit to guide him. He used to say the Holy Spirit was love – I’ve worked hard to become a better person and I have filled myself up with the Holy Spirit so I could bring my kids up surrounded by love.”
Now I think Desmond Doyle or maybe the writer of the movie, it doesn’t really matter, has some darn good theology. The fundamental building block of our faith is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“So we have the perfect giving and receiving between two, that we call the relationship of Father and Son and the very name of that relationship, what is happening between the two of them is the Holy Spirit. It is mirrored in all of reality, it is called sexuality, everything starts with two and becomes three. And the Holy Spirit is the One inbetween them through whom they love perfectly and through whom all Creation was breathed into existence. It is through this never ending loving creative energy that all of life just keeps bursting forth as it has done for billions of years.
The biblical writers struggle with words and metaphors to describe the Spirit. But this life, this relationship between the Father and the Son is a momentum a flow. The writers come up with living water, fire and wind, all dynamic images and Jesus uses the word breath. They are all dynamic images of aliveness and of movement. And this is finally the way you can tell quite simply who is a person of the spirit. There is a kind of vitality to them; it doesn’t have anything to do with being perfect, just get rid of that. People of the spirit, there is something about them, the liveness of their eyes, their faces aren’t dead. Their gestures aren’t dead. You can tell you can’t kill them. They are going to keep trying they are going to keep reconciling, they are going to keep healing, they are going to keep overcoming the death. That’s precisely what it means to be a person of the spirit and it takes some training to see it.
A child of 3 or 4 can quite simply discern the presence of the spirit. They can see that person has life in them and that person doesn’t. They can see who has bright eyes and who has dead eyes, they can see where the momentum is still happening, where people are still reaching beyond themselves and out of themselves. That inner aliveness in God has been passed onto us. And the only real meaning of sin is any way that you stop that flow. By judgements, negativity, by hatred, any form of unforgiveness, so if you picture the energy of God going clockwise, this momentum is moving clockwise, any movement in you which is going anti clockwise, negativity in any form, hatred in any form, those are simply the names for the counter clockwise movement for all the ways you resist life. And it is always a form of resistance. In being there is no resistance. Being simply says yes. When we participate in the life of God and the Spirit we don’t get offended and hurt as we do when we resist the flow. You don’t have to enjoy this momentum, you don’t have to allow it you can fight it, you can judge it you can resist it. In pure being there is no resistance. Hell is precisely to refuse to be spoken through. As the Father sounds through the Son and Son sounds through the Spirit and the Spirit sounds through persons those ones in relationship. The word person means to be in relationship with.”
Desmond Doyle took on the Supreme Court of Ireland and the Catholic Church to get his children back motivated and empowered with love. This love he said was the Holy Spirit who breathed and energised him to keep up the fight in face of overwhelming odds. When the law was changed thousands of children left the institutions and returned home to their loved ones.
Through the risky gift of freedom which has become a curse the Father was separated from his earthling children, through laws and bad religion and human resistance. But the nature of God’s being, the mutual affirmation and deference between the Father and Son through the loving Spirit reverses this. The life and death of Jesus became the greatest act of mercy and reconciliation that has challenged the laws and defeated religion and overcomes our resistance. The way is opened for their children to go home.
As individuals and a community we have a choice to say yes to the Spirit or resist the love, to be transformed through our wounds or to doggedly hang onto our hurts and failures and irritations. Love mellows us, transforms our anger and frustrations into Spirit energy to move outside ourselves and to right the wrongs, to bring life for others unable to fight for themselves. It gives us the strength to say yes to God, and yes to life in the flow of the Spirit, which can also mean saying “no” to people and situations that call for tough love. No – no more, enough is enough!
Saying yes to the Spirit for us here tonight could impact the future of this fledging community at South Yarra Community Baptist Church– like the frightened disciples locked in the upper room. Can we unlock the padlocks that chain us to our fears, fears of failure, getting it wrong, saying no, being intimidated, trusting ourselves, fears of not having enough, of not being acknowledged, revealing the real person and many more. The covenant, if it was effective, could help us unlock some of these fears. Can we work through the difficulties of the covenant and say yes to God and yes to each other? Can we really be accountable to one another and offer grace and a shoulder to lean upon and sometimes a loving kick up the pants? Can we gather up the little children in our midst who know the Spirit instinctively and nurture them in love? Can we move outside ourselves to the lonely, the lost, the wounded the ones trying to find home that we brush shoulders with every single day? God is the invader and aggressor and our task is simply to be present to the Spirit’s life and love blowing where she wills. “Like eager children crying, “Daddy! Mummy!” we come running to God, and with loving arms, God’s Spirit gathers us up, demonstrating clearly to whom we belong. And since we are children of God, we are actually on the same footing as Christ. With him we will inherit all that has been kept in trust for God’s children.” Rom 8:16