This message was shared at the first gathering of both SVPFC and FCCSJ in our collaboration called Urban Sanctuary on Sunday June 4th, 2017
I am grateful to be with you this morning on what the Christian Tradition calls Pentecost. It’s an occasion to recall this story of a scene when the Holy Spirit, an agent of the Divine, shows up with the “rush of a violent wind” and a wild mix of different symbols, languages, cultures, families and ideas were put together with one shared commitment- live out Jesus teachings of radical love… and these people from different communities could speak from their own perspective and be heard and they could share dreams together. They could imagine what might become together. The poetry from the Hebrew Prophet Joel sings out, “God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young people shall see visions, and your older ones shall dream dreams…”
I don’t know about you, but a place to dream feels especially sacred. A safe place to dream, to be welcomed and known and seen feels, literally out of this world and on some days, it feels life saving.
Growing up, every Sunday if we were in town, even if we had been up late for a high school basketball game the night before, my mom coaxed us to church. Some days, I welcomed it, most days my brother didn’t. For much of my life I thought she made it a priority to be there because she deemed it was what was best for us, her two young kids. Some of those years were really hard and we wouldn’t get far into the first hymn, before my mom would dig into her purse in search of her pack of tissues.
With time, I realized that our little church was a safe space for my mom to not just to be welcomed and known, but to be real. Through divorce and loss and grief, church was the one place where she could show up and cry. Along with her mascara, off would come her need to hold it all together. She wouldn’t stay too long in her deep lamentation, but there was something about showing up to that place, with those people, that allowed her to let go, to let her wounds spill out in tears.
I find that what I crave more and more in my life are these spaces where it is expressly invited to speak the truth and to show up as ourselves, spaces where it is safe to dream big, to be welcomed wide, to be known and seen, to speak in our own language and be heard. So I think that what the world needs most right now that a true urban sanctuary could offer is a space to hold what is real, a sacred space to honestly reflect back the truth of all of our lives. Church at its best isn’t about loving all of us as we are and leaving us where we are; it’s about loving us as we are and accompanying us to a place beyond where we are…right now.
Maybe you have heard it said that God loves you as you are, but loves you too much to let you stay that way. There is a way in which our time together should stir us a bit, should push us and deepen us, we even say it should agitate us to movement.
Maybe our call to be a radically inclusive church in this time, maybe our invitation to be an urban sanctuary is a chance to hold what is real for people, a sacred space of generous hearts, aimed at reflecting back who we are and what we are doing and also not letting any of us stay there.
Last week in a beautiful essay, Rebecca Solnit wrote, “Some of us are surrounded by destructive people who tell us we’re worthless when we’re endlessly valuable, that we’re stupid when we’re smart, that we’re failing even when we succeed. But the opposite of people who drag you down isn’t people who build you up and butter you up. It’s equals who are generous but keep you accountable, true mirrors who reflect back who you are and what you are doing…We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are will listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves.”
Church at its best isn’t about loving all of us as we are and leaving us where we are; it’s about loving us as we are and accompanying us to a place beyond where we are…right now. We keep each other honest. Bring your tears but don’t end with them. Bring your anger, but don’t stay with it. Bring your dreams, but don’t hide in them. Bring your free and valued self…but be ready to be loved into new forms. Be ready to be disrupted by truth and honesty, be ready for true mirrors reflecting back.
Christian Teachings have often focused on introducing the Holy as a Force that is aimed primarily at offering solace, at easing one’s personal discomfort. And yet as David Lose writes, “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter…the Greek Paraclete is translated as “Comforter” which reduces the work of the Holy Spirit to making us feel better.”
He goes on, “But Paraclete is a compound Greek word that literally means, “to come alongside another.” In this sense, the Paraclete can be an advocate – to come along side to defend and counsel – or comforter – to come along side to provide comfort and encouragement. But the one who comes along side might also do so to strengthen you for work, or to muster your courage, or to prompt or even provoke you to action.”
The Holy Spirit is an agitator.
Pentecost is a day for us to recount the story of the beginning of the wild idea of church, the idea that a group of people could be bound together across differences by something deeper. It is the idea that from a wild mix of different symbols, languages, cultures, families and ideas put together, people from different communities could speak from their own perspective and be heard and they could share dreams together. We can imagine what is not yet and be honest about who we are and what we are doing. We can be loved as we are…and we can also count on the something else: we are sure to be loved as we are, but often when the Spirit shows up, over time we are destined to be accompanied to a place beyond where we are… The Holy Spirit is an agitator…
The Holy Spirit is one who provokes action, who prompts us to movement, who doesn’t let us stay where we are. So maybe part of what we are meant to take away from this story in the book of Acts is that sometimes we have evidence that it is the Spirit because something within us has been stirred and sometimes we know it is the work of the Divine when Love has come alongside us and comforted us and then disrupted where we were in a way that brought us deeper. The Holy Spirit is an agitator…
As David Lose writes, “We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the answer to a problem, but what if the Spirit’s work is to create for us a new problem: that we have a story to tell, mercy to share, love to spread, and we just can’t rest until we’ve done so!”
I am grateful and honored and overwhelmed in a way with what I see unfolding among us and within us. It is the Spirit’s work that has created a new problem for us and it is the call of our lives. Let us dare to be and become a space to hold what is real, a sacred space to honestly reflect back the truth of all of our lives. Church at its best isn’t about loving all of us as we are and leaving us where we are; it’s about loving us as we are and accompanying us to a place beyond where we are…right now. Bring your free and valued self…but be ready to be loved into new forms. The Holy Spirit is an agitator.