Catching God’s Breath

You know it when you hear it.

It’s something often indefinable – the quality of a speech, or sermon, that catches the heart, the imagination, the hopes of you.

I’ve seen clips and heard recordings of Rev. Dr Martin Luther King and been overwhelmed by his passion and imagery, but also by the integrity of his topic: the lives of people all around him.

When I heard the Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, speak about forgiving the man who shot her, I didn’t notice her accent or her age, I was captured by her hope and the truth of her.

There are those, who by the sheer gifts of their oratory, catch you and move you to a new place, whether, or not, you are willing; Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” at the Berlin Wall; Noel Pearson’s eulogy at Gough Whitlam’s funeral; the closing words of Hillary Clinton’s concession in November, as she challenged young girls not give up hope.

There are others, not orators, whose passion pressgangs you into their story. As I write this, I am thinking especially of Anthony Foster, who died in the last week, whose passionate, gracious, just anger enabled him to speak on behalf of so many victims of the church’s sexual abuse.

You know it when you hear it.

The stories of the scriptures are filled with people who didn’t believe they “had it”. Their age, or speech impediments, or (lack of) qualifications, or character flaws, or employment history disqualified them from proclaiming the purposes of the living God.

God will have none of it – then and now. Everyone is able for the purposes of God.

Pentecost is a time when fisher folk and zealots, reformed tax collectors and apprentice disciples, women and men, are enabled to proclaim, so that everyone can hear the intentions of God.

It’s not only oratory, or crafting language. It’s where the words lead us. Malala’s  forgiveness, Kennedy’s solidarity, Pearson’s “this old man”, Clinton’s resilience and Dr King’s vision are all crafted from hope that the story before them and placed in their hands is not the only tale to tell. There is more.

The cross cultural gathering at the first Pentecost discovered that the death and resurrection of Jesus was an act of re-creation; God’s Spirit was reshaping the whole world, its history and its future. The iron fist of Rome would no longer beat their lives into subservience and their future into dust.

You know it when you hear it.

We can endure struggles, even injustice, when we know the larger story. We can find courage to confront what is wrong in our families, community and world with the hope of being both loved and forgiven. We can speak, when others are silenced, because the living God has been whispering in our hearts since they first began to beat.

We can sing of our hope, because it is found in Jesus, crucified and risen, and not first in us.

Not for most of us the fancy speeches, the crafted sermons. For most us, the tale of forgiveness, the wonder-filled story of being loved, and the hope of a God who is with us, who awaits us, and whose love can never be extinguished.

Happy Birthday, Church!



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