Pentecost is one of my favorite holidays of the year, and even more so now that this building celebrates its birthday on the same holiday. Happy 102nd birthday, Athabasca United!
It’s the day we reflect on the third, most mysterious and most elusive member of the Trinity, the Spirit. It’s not a comfortable topic for some, surprisingly enough. We squirm and wonder if we have to start rolling on the floor or speak in tongues. As a person who has been in the United Church since I was a child, there’s no way I want to talk in words that even I can’t understand. And it’s easy for me to get puffed up with pride that I’m not like those people, you know, the ones who let their religious experience get all emotional, loud and demonstrative. I’ve got enough British and Scottish strict Presbyterian and stiff upper lip to shy away from such a display.
Spirit is dangerous, it is spontaneous, and it is impulsive. We’re not always comfortable with it, and for good reason. There are times when too much spontaneity can get us into trouble. There are times when an impulse can lead us into dangerous situations. Sometimes our ideas or urges can be problematic to say the least. If I indulged in chocolate every time I had a craving, I would be heading for serious trouble with my health. A little self-discipline can be important in such a situation!
Someone once suggested that you can tell which of the three aspects of the Trinity a congregation feels most comfortable with. A congregation that is most comfortable with God, will have an intellectual understanding of their religion and their faith community will be filled with discussion groups and book studies. A congregation that focusses on Jesus will talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus that is intimate and emotional, and they will want to know if you are saved.
A congregation that puts the Spirit central to their faith will be comfortable with speaking in tongues and healings, and their worship will be very active and participatory. I saw a preacher in one of those congregations act out Jonathan’s sneaking up on the Philistines and he actually got down on his hands and knees and snuck across the stage. All three groups tend to think that they are better than the others, and that they really ‘get’ the message of what it means to be a Christian.
Maybe it’s time to remember that we are all works in progress, groaning inwardly some of us, and outwardly too. Maybe it’s time to remember that we are waiting with patience for things that we can’t quite explain, but that is what living in hope is all about. Maybe it’s time to wonder if there are times that we can celebrate the spontaneity of the Spirit, but with the wisdom of God and the compassion of Jesus. Maybe it’s time to learn from each other and people from many different Christian traditions to try to heal our understanding of what it means to be Christian in a world where many people fear that idea of being a faith-filled people, being religious. Maybe it’s time to explore being spiritual, and claiming that part of our faith.
I do believe that we can be pilgrims on a journey, doing our best to practise hope and patience and love with each other, remembering that we are none of us perfect, and that we can all encourage each other and learn from each other. When we come together in that way, we find God’s healing presence is with us in ways we least expect. God is still speaking to us, is still healing us, and is still creating us.
Some might think that the United Church is not a denomination that honors the Spirit much, but if you happen to go to Conference next week in Slave Lake, you might be surprised.
When Jean and I go as your delegates to Conference, the understanding of is that we will be touched by the Spirit and discern what is needed for the many choices that we face.
Our Song of Faith says this about the Spirit:
We sing of God the Spirit, who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation, animating all energy and matter and moving in the human heart.
We sing of God the Spirit, faithful and untameable, who is active in the world.
The Spirit challenges us to celebrate the holy not only in what is familiar, but also in that which seems foreign.
We sing of the Spirit, who speaks our prayers of deepest longing and enfolds our concerns and confessions, transforming us and the world.
We offer worship as an outpouring of gratitude and awe and a practice of opening ourselves to God’s still, small voice of comfort, to God’s rushing whirlwind of challenge.
Through word, music, art, and sacrament, in community and in solitude, God changes our lives, our relationships, and our world.
The church has not always lived up to its vision.
It requires the Spirit to reorient it, helping it to live an emerging faith while honouring tradition, challenging it to live by grace rather than entitlement, for we are called to be a blessing to the earth.
Grateful for God’s loving action, we cannot keep from singing.