Talking the Talk

Sermon for Sunday, May 27, 2012 ||  The Feast of Pentecost , Year B ||  Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 24-35, 37; John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15 ||

The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come to us at St Stephen’s. Come with winds of passion to enliven our minds; come with tongues of fire to ignite our hearts; breathe on us the wild breath of your life-giving Love, and then use us, Holy Spirit, as you will; and always to the glory of Christ’s name.
Amen.
 

While I was away this past month, I have to admit I did a little internet stalking of our Facebook page and our website.  It’s not that I was worried (or secretly hoping)  that St. Stephen’s would fall apart without me while I was gone.  Nor is it that I still suffer from the kind of “You missed it syndrome” that had me fearful in my younger days of missing out on the coolest concerts or the latest breaking news story.  It’s just that I couldn’t completely detach myself from this incredibly spirit-filled place that’s so much a part of me—nor, in all honesty, did I want to.

But in case you doubt for one minute that this place really is incredibly spirit-filled, let me point out that during the one month that I was gone, in addition to all the so-called “regular” ministries that go on here (which are actually quite exceptional compared to any other churches our size!) you all also: threw a work party to prepare for our first ever Vacation Bible School, had a Cinco de Mayo Potluck Dinner and Talent Show, hosted our second Old Fashioned Community Supper for the town of Cohasset, gathered in each other’s homes for another round of Dine With Nine fellowship dinners, confirmed 6 more members into the life of the Episcopal Church and started exploring our call to Christian Advocacy work.  All in one month!  Come, Holy Spirit, come—come, indeed!

It’s certainly not hard to see how the Holy Spirit has been answering our opening prayer since we began praying it at my first Pentecost here four years ago—and at just about every Vestry meeting since.  All it takes is a brief look through old issues of The Carillon, or a quick perusal of our annual reports, and it’s pretty clear looking backwards that our prayers for the Holy Spirit have not fallen on deaf ears. After all, a lot of great things have been happening around here that we couldn’t possibly have done on our own and for which we dare not take credit ourselves! The Holy Spirit has been urging and inspiring, energizing and empowering us, as we go about the business of being God’s people and doing Christ’s work.  So this being Pentecost, we might pause to wonder: What’s next?

I had a lot of time in my month away to reflect on this. With our minds enlivened and our hearts ignited by the Spirit’s life-giving love, how might the Holy Spirit “use us to the glory of Christ’s name” in the foreseeable future or in the next few years?  I don’t think it’s any coincidence—unless it’s a “holy coincidence” with a bit of the Spirit working behind the scenes—that in the brief week I’ve been back three different people in different contexts have expressed their sense that St. Stephen’s is on the threshold of something…something exciting…like God is doing something new here, and we’re about to enter into the next phase of our life together as Christians.  None of them claimed to know what this new phase might look like, but they each shared a definite feeling that, “Aslan is on the move,” that something is afoot here.  The Holy Spirit is at work using us, as our prayer says, as it will.

So our job, then, is to be mindful– to be prayerful and discerning. Not so we can figure out exactly where the Spirit is leading, make a detailed plan for getting there, and then pin down a date on our calendars like the control freaks that most of us are would like to do—but mindful, prayerful, and discerning so we’re being faithful to the Spirit’s guidance and receptive to its promptings, like the Jesus-followers most of us would like to be.

And that means striking a delicate balance between our critical need to plan ahead and our even more critical need to be open to God’s will, even when it’s not revealed quite as quickly or clearly as we might like. So it did my heart good when I began my exegesis on the gospel for today that the first thing I read was this suspiciously on-point bit of commentary at Working Preacher, the website of our friends at Luther Seminary with whom we’re collaborating on the Biblical Preaching Project.

The author is New Testament scholar Sharon Ringe, and I call it “suspiciously on point” because surely it is another “holy coincidence” that it applies to St. Stephen’s so perfectly.  First, Ringe explains how in the earliest Christian communities, Pentecost was marked by what she calls a “liminal moment”—an in-between time or time of transition. It was a time when they shifted their gaze from looking back at their memories of Jesus, to looking ahead towards that which they would trust to sustain their life in the future.  Then she writes—

“That same sense of being on the boundary between phases of life is a recurring feeling through the life of the church…At its heart is the experience of the Holy Spirit.”

Cool, huh?  Like those earliest Christian communities, we are on a threshold, at a liminal moment—at the boundary between phases of life in our church, and the Holy Spirit is at the very heart of the experience!  The Holy Spirit that enlivens our minds, sets our hearts on fire, fills us with strength and courage, and as my friend Frank Wade is fond of saying, always calls us beyond our comfort zone. So I’ve been wondering what it might mean for us to remain faithful to the Holy Spirit as we walk through this threshold, beyond our comfort zone, not knowing what’s on the other side?

If we’re attentive to our gospel lesson this morning, one possibility is that it might mean learning how to talk about our faith in new ways. John tells us:

Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes… he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.” 

Now hold off on your grunts and groans.  I know that the word “testify” scares the daylights out of most of us, but consider that it simply means  “to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something.” Maybe in this next phase of our life together the Holy Spirit will lead us into seeing, hearing and experiencing Jesus in new ways–through art or music, theatre or literature? Through service or prayer, friends or solitude? Maybe we’ll learn to talk about it, too…to bear witness to each other of what these experiences are like.

We already do so much in this parish with our actions that testifies to the power of God’s love. And yes, actions do speak louder than words.  What we do is surely more important than what we say.  But in a reversal of that old cliche, we’re pretty darned good at walking the walk. But talking the talk, not so much! Maybe, just maybe, we’re being called out of our comfort zone to talk the talk too!

In his article on Acts, Tom Long points out that what happens to the church when the Holy Spirit rushes into the upper room is that the church moves “from silence to language” and everyone speaks. They all speak different languages yet they all understand each other.

There are already pockets of faith-talk like this going on here and there at St Stephen’s.  The one that comes most immediately to mind is the Saturday morning Bible study, where folks have been meeting for years now to study scripture, debate theology, have some rather lively, spirit-filled arguments about what they believe and don’t believe, and be a part of each other’s lives.  They all speak different languages, but for the most part, at least, they understand each other.  I wonder what would happen if more of us were a part of a small group like this? Would the Holy Spirit show up for us too? What if we decided next Fall to spend the year together exploring Jesus and talking about it?

Some of us might want to study the latest scholarly and historical research on who Jesus was, what he really said and did, and why it matters. Others might want to look at how Jesus is portrayed in art, or poetry, music or film.  Still others might want to learn to pray with Jesus imaginatively, like St. Ignatius taught…or how to keep a spiritual journal…Or maybe it would be fun to organize a formal debate to argue for and against Jesus’ divinity: Was Jesus really the Son of God?  Does it matter to you?

There are all kinds of ways we could spend a year exploring who Jesus is for each of us, and becoming more comfortable talking to each other about itin the process. This is just one of my own hunches about where the Holy Spirit might be calling us next, and what might lie on the other side of this threshold we’re on.  What I really want, is to hear from you:  Where do you think we’re being called as a Parish? How might the Holy Spirit be calling us to something new that’s outside of our comfort zone as followers of Jesus?

This Pentecost, I invite you to pray for the gift of the Spirit, to think outside the box, and with our minds enlivened and you hearts ignited, to speak up! Please pray with me again,

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come to us at St Stephen’s. Come with winds of passion to enliven our minds; come with tongues of fire to ignite our hearts; breathe on us the wild breath of your life-giving Love; and then use us, Holy Spirit, as you will; and always to the glory of Christ’s name. Amen.

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