I was surfing YouTube the other day and found Benedict Cumberbatch discussing an embarrassing moment on some British talk show. He had done the narration on a documentary about the kinds of creatures found in South America. Somehow it had been released before the producers had listened to Benedict’s voice, and the public had the experience of listening to this very smart and very famous actor pronounce the name of cute little black and white birds that waddle on the ice, can’t fly at all, but can swim up to 15 miles an hour. What do you call them? Well, poor Benedict pronounced them peng- uins, with a soft g. Most words we learn first by hearing them, but sometimes we learn a word by reading it first. I remember wondering why I never heard people talking about eating horse doo vers when they were in every magazine. It wasn’t until I was in university that I heard that they were hors d'oeuvres.
Our words can be used to communicate ideas and to clarify what we are thinking, but they can also lead to confusion. We can use our words to mislead and hurt, sometimes without thinking. Our words can have so many meanings too. Let’s do an experiment with words. Stand up, if you are able to, and put out your right hand. Now pull it back in. now put your right hand in again and shake it all about. Put your hands up in the air and turn around, now clap three times. Put your left hand in, take your left hand out, put your left hand in and shake it all about…
Doing the hokey pokey is a lot about words and a lot about faith and trust. If I had told people that they were going to do the hokey pokey in church, some would have stayed in bed. Some would have said, no way, that’s too hokey. Some would have said, wow, I can’t wait. Hokey is a word that means corny or trite or silly, and the hokey pokey is certainly a dance that can feel silly or trite, but did you know that hokey pokey is slang for hocus pocus, and this dance is over 200 years old? Wow! If we called it the hocus pocus dance instead of the hokey pokey, it would give us a totally different opinion of it. Our words can shape our experiences, and the experiences others have.
Peter and the disciples were transformed into joyful, dancing leaders whose words built up those who heard them. Their words inspired everyone around them. The people watching wanted to scoff and shame them and tell them to sit down, act their age and not be embarrassing in public.
But the Spirit, the inspiration, the breath of God, filled their hearts with so much joy that they were transformed into brave, bold speakers whose words were meant to help us become brave, bold speakers too, speakers who build each other up with words of love, compassion, healing and courage. Our words are the tools we use, and we can either shame or build up the people around us with those words. I can’t explain how Peter and his friends were transformed from a group cowering in a room wondering who would be crucified next into brave bold dancers, but it was no hokey pokey or hocus pocus. It was God encouraging and inspiring them. That encouragement and inspiration keeps happening here and now. Sometimes it can be as gentle as a breeze, or as fierce as a hurricane, as surprising as a flicker showing up at our birdfeeder, a hummingbird singing in our ear, or a bee eating our honey. It can be as real as the hug we get from a friend or as nebulous as a dream that we wake up from one morning that encourages us to phone a friend or write a postcard. At the wedding in Australia, they played a song called “Perfect”, and wouldn’t you know it but the instant we get back into Edmonton, get into our car and turn on the radio for the drive back to Athabasca, the first song we heard was that song. God wants to sing it to us. “You look perfect to me”. Words of love and encouragement that we need to hear in our hearts that just as we are, we are beloved children of God and when we come together as a community ready to wait and listen for the spirit, we become not just any community, but God’s beloved community, that God will inspire and encourage with words and sighs and breath and love and hope. We are not alone, in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God.