Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Theme: Pentecost Sunday
Worship begins at 10:30 and the coffee is hot at 10am, come early and gather in community. There will be coffee and conversation in the Marilyn Perkins - Memorial Hall after the service - have you seen the labyrinth yet?
The Tuesday study group will be wrapping up their current session this week with a video on community from the Animate 'Practices' series. Midweek communion is at 10:45 on Wednesday morning, and drop in for Tea with the Revs on Thursday at 2pm.
May 20, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice
Every year, around this time, we have a celebration of Pentecost Sunday. I have to say, a stranger to the Christian faith, or maybe even those of us who are not strangers, may find this whole thing a little weird.
Often, the church makes a big deal out of Pentecost. The story is read about “tongues of fire” and sounds like rushing wind. Often, the service is intergenerational, and we try to make the point of the coming of the Holy Spirit with pinwheels and whistles blowing and noisemakers and crepe paper thingies that we wave around. Occasionally, we have a birthday cake (sadly, not today), because the coming of the Holy Spirit is seen as the birthday of the Christian Church.
If I were to take a poll, I’ll bet that I’d find that most United Church people rarely talk about the Holy Spirit, except possibly for this one day a year. It’s like we have this gigantic birthday party, complete with sound makers and balloons, and then never allow the baby to grow up. We’ll have another party next year.
There are some churches that make a big deal about the personhood of the Holy Spirit – giving her (or him) equal time with God and Jesus. Generally, the United Church is not one of them. “God in three persons – blessed Trinity,” we might sing, but that “Spirit” part is still a little weird for many people.
Oh, we do talk about the Spirit – “send your Spirit upon us and what we do” is a line from communion. After our scripture, we say, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.” And sometimes we talk about the Spirit of Life or the Spirit of Love; but our descriptions are as nebulous as the Spirit we seek to describe.
But how do you describe the indescribable? How do you explain the unexplainable?
How do you explain how a disheartened group of people, at their traditional meeting 50 days after the Jewish celebration of Passover – the Day of Pentecost - suddenly encounter an invisible force takes control of everyone in that room? How do you explain, except maybe to say that it was LOUD, so loud – like a freight train bearing down – and the light changed and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing…lights flashing all over the place and then coming to rest on each person.
This is terrifying!
I remember, once, having a family meal out at our acreage – a little patch of scrubby prairie on which an old, retired trailer sits and serves as what we call the “cabin.” It was a sunny, blustery day, but as often happens in those prairie summers, the clouds billowed and a thunderstorm threatened. This particular one came with winds that sent us scampering to the cabin. The wind shook us and the walls creaked and we thought there was a real possibility that the whole thing might be blown over.
We cowered inside. It was terrifying.
We survived, and the cabin survived. But there are so many wind storms and grass fires, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least to visit it one weekend and find a smoldering pile of rubble.
These descriptions of what happened on that first Pentecost day, the language that Peter uses in his sermon….Wind, Fire, Blood…honestly, how did we ever think this was birthday party material?
These are DANGER words.
Oh, that we would have a day like that.
Recently, at a clergy gathering, minister and congregational renewal specialist Russ Daye spoke on that passage from the Book of Revelation where a letter is being written to the angels of various churches. We won’t go into that, now, but the angels kind of represent the heart and soul and essence of each particular church. Russ pretended he was writing to the angel of the United Church of Canada. Here’s a little bit of the message.
“To the Angel of the United Church of Canada: You are still too comfortable. You are neither able to feel the heat of your own renewal, nor the cold of your death.
“What would it take to bring you to your knees?”
Oh, for a day like the Day of Pentecost, again.
A DANGER day.
A day of fire and wind and an inexplicable, palpable, visible presence of the fiery breath of God that would be terrifying – that would propel a too-comfortable people into the street to connect with people whose language they don’t even speak.
Oh, for that day.
But, Beloved, we have already had that day. The presence of God, as promised, is with us.
You know this. You have had spiritual experiences that you cannot understand. You have been propelled to talk to someone, and made connections that you didn’t seem possible. You have felt the presence of the Holy One – yes, in the stars and the sunsets – but in that chill where the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you know you are not alone.
A few years ago, I took a group of young people to walk a labyrinth that had been carved into the grass on someone’s property. Everyone is invited to write down what their experience was like, and one young man wrote, “It felt like someone was walking along with me.”
Yes, you know it. You know the presence of God, and maybe you might call that experience the Holy Spirit, or simply the Presence of God, but it’s real.
But what is it about churches and organizations and people that makes them want to cage up anything that is unpredictable, and file off the prickly parts and put up a wind fence and douse the fire.
What is it about the church that sings sweet songs about the Holy Spirit, has a yearly birthday party, and then puts her, like a little bird, back into her cage?
“What would it take to bring you to your knees?”
The church may have tried, tried, tried, to cage up the power of the Holy Spirit, but, beloved, that is not possible. We may have built wonderful, beautiful, stained-glass cages, but they have only served to keep the people inside, sometimes afraid, sometimes cowering, lest the winds blow us off our feet and our structures to the ground.
What would it take to bring you to your knees?
To propel you into the street to speak the languages or learn to communicate with the outsider, the newcomer, the original people?
What would it take, to roust the church from its comfort and realize that the place of comfort is not where we’re being called, but the place of uncertainty, at the margins, is?
What would it take, to bring the church to its knees?
I heard a story, from someone who had heard a story, and it may not have happened exactly this way, but I know it’s true.
The year was 1988, the General Council of the United Church of Canada. The court was considering two motions. One: That all people, regardless of sexual orientation, would be eligible to become members of the United Church of Canada; and, Two: That all members of the United Church are eligible to discern their call to ordered ministry.
I’m not sure if it happened this way, but a person who says she can see auras – halos of light around people – reported that the lights around everyone were bright, bright red.
Flames. Wind. Danger.
Something was born, for sure, but it was not the kind of birthday party and balloons kind of birth. More of a dragon in Game of Thrones kind of birth. A birth out of fire.
Today, in a world that pretty much ignores church, and sees it as irrelevant, we pray – Come, Holy Spirit. Spirit of blood and fire and danger… roust us from complacency and comfort. Propel us into the streets to share a word of hope to those who are hungry, who are thirsty, who are DYING to hear it.
Shake us out of these comfortable pews.
What would it take?
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