Mark Edwards and Nassau Youth
May 31, 2020
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When my daughter was young, perhaps 5 or 6, and while she was still enamored with ballet, I took her to see The Nutcracker. In the opening scenes she leaned over and asked, “Why are there no words?” It is a great question. I don’t quite remember what I said at the time, but the answer I’ve come to is that words aren’t always necessary.
Sometimes there are acts that speak more clearly and more authentically than our words do. And, as anybody who has ever been in an argument knows, sometimes “silence is healing” as the ancient philosopher Heraclitus says in his final Fragment #130.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I started a home improvement project- I’m putting on a new roof, at least over some of the smaller sections of my home. Learning the language of roofing is, well, learning a new language. Rakes, pitch, gauge, flashing, gable cleats, z closure, and “J” channel are mostly new to me, certainly new in these ways. I’m learning to speak the language of roofing. I’ve got some wonderful help who is already fluent, but I’ve also got some helping hands who are newer than I am. Since this project has become something of a neighborhood spectacle, people are frequenting the street see the progress. One of our visitors is a new member of the neighborhood, a middle school boy who speaks very little English. But when he walks into the backyard and starts to pick up shingles and carry tools, we understand him quite well. He wants to be a part of the action. He wants to help. He wants to do something to build the community and care for a neighbor. Thank you Jose.
Much like learning the language of roofing is the Confirmation process. This past year a dozen students went through the Confirmation program and were approved by Session on Thursday night. This Sunday, today, was to be Confirmation Sunday. We’ve postponed it until this fall, when we hope to baptize the, pray for them, and confirm them, in person, at least in some form. Our confirmation program is aimed to let kids think critically about the faith they’ve grown up with. To learn some of the language of faith and to think about how they will define those terms, both in terms of their concepts and where they’ve seen them lived out. There are many gems from their statements of faith, statements in which they attempt to put into words what they believe and why. Yet, one of the things that stands out the most is how comfortable they feel being in this church where community is valued and acceptance takes precedence over words. While many of the students, like many of us, still have many questions, and so only have words of uncertainty, they find in this community actions, fellowship, healing, and comfort that goes beyond words.
Today is Pentecost Sunday and today’s text from Acts 2 is another Biblical epic. People from all nations, a small band of believers, a bold leader who speaks out, accusations of public drunkeness, and a divine spirit which, if you’ve read your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, does the opposite of the bizarrely improbably Babel Fish, which only caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation. As tensions mount and as the crowd gets frustrated, a translation happens that allows people to not only to understand words, but to repent, to be washed and cleansed, to have hope in God’s good promises, and to be welcomed to a community that produces awe, wonders, and signs. Sharing, giving, distributing, and the selling of their possessions is the result. This is not the first church, I believe, as taught by my friend Karl, that the first church is Christ on the cross, Jesus crucified with two thieves; God in unity with those who are broken by and dying of sin. But that first community is now growing and expanding and taking on new forms in new places with new people. Yes, words are a part of it. But acts are perhaps so much deeper. Again, as the ancient Heraclitus says, “For wisdom listen not to me, but to the Word” (Fragment #1).
Christ, as the Word of God, is God’s expression to us. God’s will and personality disclosed. God’s intentions unveiled. God’s providence manifested clearly. God’s love spoken. Spoken in words, but more deeply with acts and in deeds. Returning to the Confirmation class, it has been my goal, and I believe this is the goal of the church, to show how God in Christ teaches us the words to pray, the language of grace, and the acts of love that correspond with both. Our language of grace, then, should not be turned into a jargon, a dialect, or a code that is inaccessible to those around us. Our acts should not be off-putting, exclusivist, or barrier building. We see far too many such words and acts flying around the internet today. Sadly such words and acts of defense, of fear, of hate, and of self-superiority go much deeper than virtual codes. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn says in his epic analysis of human brokenness, the Gulag Archipelago, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political particies either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts” (Gulag Archipelago, p. 312).
May the Spirit break our hearts open so that we all are filled with grace, peace, love, faith, & hope. May we learn to speak a new language, that is not native to any of us. This new language is not the language of self, me, I, I want, my power, or my superiority. This new language is a language of service, of help towards others, of them. It is a language of peace, of prayer, of song, and of Christ. It is the language of Jose. May the Spirit come to us all. May the Spirit heal our rifts, our tensions, our hostilities, our miscommunications. The world has so many of them…
From failing to dialogue with each other in peace, to failing to understand the language of creation, from physical distance, to social distance, to emotional distance, to the chasms of distrust, dislike, pride. May the Spirit flow into our words and into our acts, such that God’s mercy and grace may be known. From a breath of fresh air, to the “I can’t breath” of Eric Garner and George Floyd, come Holy Spirit, come. “For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.” And sometimes, when there are no words, “may the Spirit intercede for us with sighs too deep for words.” Amen.