Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people

Category: Monthly Reflection

HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO GOD’S PEOPLE

On Sunday I went to the Cathedral in Asheville, North Carolina for the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. During my Sabbatical I have been worshipping with different groups but on this day I needed to be “home” in the Episcopal Church with its strong liturgical tradition. And Pentecost is my favorite feast day. It is the day on which early followers of Jesus experienced the life changing event Jesus promised, something so amazing that Luke struggles to find words to describe it. The best he can do is to say that fire and rushing wind filled the place of refuge where the rag tag group of Jesus followers gathered and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4.  This transformative event led them beyond the safety of closed doors into the world, where Jesus had so recently been crucified, with a message of inclusivity and welcome that went beyond religious and political traditions.

So begins the story of the church, the community of God’s people who take seriously the great commission of the risen Christ related in Matthew’s Gospel: “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19. Scared people, filled with the Spirit of God, become bold sharers of the good news and are energized to communicate their faith in languages they never knew. Many generations of Christian commentators remind us that Luke tells this story some forty or so years after the event. No doubt the story had been refined as it was retold and became part of the oral tradition of the church, but the truth is this pattern of fear, lostness and endings is something most of us are familiar with in our own lives and in the church. We are also blessed to know the life-giving, dynamic and awesome fullness of the Spirit of God both personally and within our faith communities.

Pentecost is my favorite feast because it speaks to today when wonderful new movements are emerging among us all propelled by the same Spirit. Instead of whining that the church as we have known it is dying we are invited to ask ourselves to “hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” What is the Spirit telling us as Celtic Christian spirituality is drawing many into a worship that honors the earth and is known for its inclusive celebration of all living things finned, feathered, and four-legged as well as the plants and rocks that share our planet? What about the increase of small groups where intimate sharing of faith journeys is possible and seekers are not seated in straight rows on hard pews? Some churches are sponsoring a network of house churches whose members meet on a weeknight for conversation and worship but remain connected to the “Anchor church” for Sunday service. The Spirit is blowing through our tired churches and who knows what will happen next. There is today a movement known as the Emergent or Emerging Church and it seems we are poised on the edge a fresh Pentecost. Jesus did not tell the disciples to stay in their places of worship but to go into the entire world with good news. I know of one church which meets in a bar, another in a disused feed barn. Thousands of Christians in South Vietnam rise hours before the work day begins in order to praise and worship in charismatic joy and in dorm rooms many who call themselves spiritual not religious are discovering the Christ-path.

During April of this year I hosted Anthony Sutton, a Methodist pastor from South Africa, during his time of Sabbatical. He preached at Calvary Episcopal Church reminding us that we can never be satisfied with our outreach efforts for there are always more ways to live the Gospel. Some of our pilgrimage groups have been to Anthony’s churches, one of which is in a Township where the poorest of the poor live in shacks. Unemployment is more than 80% and even those who have jobs receive minimal compensation. Yet there is energy for new outreach, cottage industries are being created, nursing sisters donate their time and the people smile! The Spirit is alive and well in the world; we just need to be aware and responsive to the gospel imperative to serve.

Liz Canham – May 20 2013