Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
So says Walt Whitman… and the Apple Corporation. While I must admit I am a bit skeptical that Apple’s new tablet will play a crucial role in the answer to Whitman’s existential musings, their ad does leave us with an interesting question… The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. “What will your verse be?”
In our reading from Acts we catch up with the disciples now apostles after the resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension to the heavenly realm. Perhaps experiencing a bit of whiplash they are hopeful but a bit puzzled. Jesus had died, but is now risen and they are his witnesses! Great! Now what… How are they supposed to witness anyway? What is to be their verse? So they return to Jerusalem… and now they wait. They are all dressed up and have no place to go. They sit around asking each other… “So… now what?” They don’t have much time to contemplate this before a blast of wind and tongues of fire fill the house. They are suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in every language of the known world, Parthian, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, even some in the Arab and Roman tongues. Each of them speaking to a gathering crowd, a crowd that hears about God’s deeds of power; God’s work in this world, God’s powerful play… they hear it each in their own language and vernacular. By the power of the Spirit the apostles are able to speak in many languages and spread the good news to those present that day and eventually all across the Roman world.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get another glimpse of what the Spirit is like. It’s more than some Holy Rosetta Stone for obscure languages. To be sure language and the work of translation is a crucial one but it is not the only work that there is. Instead, the Spirit manifests itself and it’s power is made known in different ways and gifts found in various people. To some are given wisdom, to others knowledge, to another faith, to another healing, and yet another prophecy Paul says. He goes on to say that each of these Spirit filled people are a member of one body. Yet where there is unity there is not uniformity. Each person functions as a hand or foot, eye or nose, lung or kidney. Each of them different but each of them part of one unit functioning together for the benefit of the whole. Through each member, each part’s unique work, God’s deeds of power are retold and reimagined in the world to which the one unified body is called. Each member contributing to the powerful play upon the world’s stage. It is God’s play, but we are given, we are blessed, with a precious verse.
And so we arrive again at our question. What will your verse be? It is by no means an easy question. It is a question that is asked of us early and often as we grow and develop and usually takes the form of a more familiar question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We spend our lives pondering that question and have many false starts and dead ends along the way. I know in my own life as a former student of natural resources the answer to this question is not one easily discerned. And despite its narrow frame we know that it is more than question of occupation or career, it is a question of identity. The question is really, “who are you?”. Author and Pastor Rob Bell wonders: “How much of our pain comes from not knowing how to answer that question?” How much of our brokenness and capacity to hurt others comes from our own insecurity and uncertainty? The powerful play goes on, and we may contribute a verse… What will your verse be? Yet a deeper, more fundamental question lingers… Who are you?
You are God’s child. You belong to God in whom, and through whom you live and breathe and have your being. You are here, you exist and have identity, an identity grounded in God’s love and care. You the faithless, are made faithful by the power of the Spirit, given gifts and called into one body, the body of Christ. You are one of many members each proclaiming God’s deeds of power; power that come to us through weakness, through the cross, through resurrection and new life.
We each have our own gifts, our own purpose to discern. Yet we do not do so alone. We discern, test and hone our gifts in the context of community. Just as it is with a limb or organ, one’s true purpose cannot be known until it is integrated into the whole, into the body, and so we live and learn and grow together, as one.
Most importantly, we have God’s Spirit that fills us with these gifts, who encourages us from within the community and sometimes from without. It is God’s Spirit who strengthens us for our journey of discernment. It is the Spirit who speaks words of encouragement and hope through the scriptures, who helps you to hear that the body and blood, the bread and wine are truly “for you”, and it is the Spirit, who helps us to understand, if only in part, that in baptism we were claimed by God, a God that will not forsake us, and will not let us go. It is the Spirit who reminds us that though we may not fully understand who we are becoming, we know to whom we belong.
And so God’s powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? What is it that you will write? What is it that you will do? And you the congregation of Central Lutheran Church what will you have to say? How will your words and prose take shape in God’s powerful play? Will it come in engaging the issues of homelessness or human trafficking? Will it come in being a place of refuge for a new wave of immigrants? Or will the verse take shape as we journey forward on paths as yet untrodden?
We like the apostles find ourselves in the wake of the resurrection, we find ourselves not at the end but at the beginning, at the trailhead of a path into that which is yet unknown… Yet, we need not fear, though our path is uncertain, our identity is not. We belong to God. We are a part of Christ’s body. We are redeemed and have been given new life. It is then from this, this identity as God’s child, this core of our being, that our verse is written, that through our own unique experiences and gifts, as people, and as a congregation, that through all this the words come together and the prose begins to take shape. And so child of God, member of Christ’s body, heir to life and salvation, the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? Amen.