22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds

Sermons

Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

04 June, 2017 Acts Chapter 2 Pentecost By Rev Dr Christopher Page

 

Introduction
I think it was in the year 2001 that the modern composer Philip Glass composed a musical work for the City of Melbourne’s Grand Pipe Organ.  It was to commemorate the completion of the refurbishment of the organ as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations.

The concert was a world premiere and specially commissioned for the occasion. Glass collaborated with didgeridoo player Mark Atkins, and wrote a 25-minute musical work featuring a combination of indigenous and non-indigenous performers: Calvin Bowman (pipe organ), Mark Atkins (didgeridoo), Ron Murray (didgeridoo and clapsticks) and indigenous elder Joy Murphy Wandin as the narrator.

To me it seemed that the purpose of the work was to bring together the most ancient wind instrument we have with the most complex wind instrument we have today and to experience almost a sense of travelling through time.

Wind and breath are experiences that are common to everyone.  We all know how to breathe… pray God, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.  And we all have experienced the wind.  Whether it’s a winter gale or a summer breeze, we know what it is.  We can feel it and to some degree describe it; although that isn’t always the easiest thing to do. 

Pentecost Wind and Weeks
Once again the Biblical poet-storyteller employs images that are very familiar to us and those in the ancient world in order to take us out beyond the common experience of the wind and the breath.  So often the Biblical narrative uses the most common elements of our daily lives and with inspiration and imagination encourages us to see a world beyond the world; to hear words beyond these spoken words and to breathe more deeply than the shallowness of our usual breathing.

Today is, in the Christian calendar, the Day of Pentecost.  Like many Christian celebrations,it finds its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Pentecost is the Greek word that means 50 days.  It is 50 days after the Passover and we know that the earlier Christians celebrated Easter at the time of the Jewish Passover; and so they formed and re-formed themselves and their new traditions so that they would incorporate the power of this new spirit. From the Jewish Holy Day called חגהשבועות, chag ha-Shavuot or the feast of weeks, celebrated as a harvest festival, comes the festival of wind and fire – Pentecost.

Like the celebration of Pentecost, Christian faith was born out of the Jewish religion of its day.  As time and place would have it, the early practices, thoughts and dogmas evolved and changed.  There have been many periods in history where Christians tried to distance themselves from their Jewish roots.  But in essence we cannot be fully what we are to be unless we recognise that our faith is rooted in this Jewish past; we stand on the shoulders of others, for which we should be forever grateful.  But our faith is also nurtured and nourished by the time and place in which we live and energised by the elements and the stuff of the earth that surrounds us.

Pentecost Words
I said before that the didgeridoo was the most primitive wind instrument that we have.  Of course that is only partly true: the human voice precedes all mechanical instruments and was the first “instrument” to be heard on this planet. What may have begun with a grunt and a groan has continued to develop and evolve into diverse and complex sounds; so diverse that we ended up with language groups that cannot understand each other.

The writer of the book of Genesis gives a mythic answer to this dilemma of so many languages through the story of the Tower of Babel:

And the people said, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach up to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.  And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built.

And the Lord said, behold, the people are one, and they have one language; and now nothing will restrain them from whatever they imagine they can do.  Let us go down, and confound their language, that they may not understand each other's speech.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they stopped building their city. So it was called Babel; because the Lord confounded the language of all the people: and so the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth. ~Genesis 11:4–9

It does seem a strange story in the evolution of human speech. But it’s most probably making a theological point about the human capacity for arrogance, conceit and hubris. 

Some scholars have seen this Day of Pentecost as a “spiritual” correction to the Babel story:

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem and at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?...

The story is best understood – if it can ever be truly understood - as that sense of words beyond words. This story at the beginning of the Book of Acts strongly indicates the universal nature of this emerging Christian faith.  The Christian Way will not be geographically, racially, culturally or linguistically bound to one place, one race or one time.

I think what the writer wants to communicate is that they each heard the core of Jesus’s message in their own culture and language.  This was not a primitive form of Esperanto – a universal and common language – they heard words beyond words.  They touched that moment of insight and what some of us might call the mystical experience.  And I don’t mean by that, that they fell into a trance; or experienced the ecstatic. But rather that they “got it!”  Perhaps it was an Aha! moment; an insight where words fell away and the truth and essence to which the words pointed became clear and sharp.

But what I really want to finish with this morning is that the stuff from which these extra-ordinary experiences come is from the ordinary stuff of the earth.  It is the wind that we can feel on our face every day.  Or the breath that enters and leaves our lungs so often without measure or thought.  It is the fire that we use to warm ourselves and the words that flow so easily from our lips.  These familiar and commonplace elements become for us the vehicles of change, transcendence and transformation when they are encountered through awareness and an openness to the sacredness of all things.  

Mindful
by Mary Oliver
Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.  It was what I was born for — to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world — to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.

Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful or the very extravagant — but rather of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these — the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean's shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?

 

(from Why I Wake Early Beacon Press, 2005.)

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