Presence of the Spirit
Pentecost. It is the longest ‘season’ of the Christian calendar (lasting around 34 weeks) running through Thanksgiving up to the season of Advent. Today, the first day of Pentecost commemorates the event of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples. In that Scripture text we read about the Disciples speaking in tongues, where everyone of different cultures and languages could understand the speaker in their own language. It was a miraculous event!
One of the underlying messages from that story is that through the Holy Spirit , God speaks in such a way that we are all able to understand. There isn’t a right or wrong way that the Spirit communicates. The Spirit speaks to each individual in the way that they need to hear.
Let’s try an experiment. When I use the word ‘Father’, what is the first assumption that comes to mind? Next weekend we celebrate Father’s Day. How do you define Father? The worldwide Church typically references God as ‘Father’. And when Scripture was written, it was probably intended that we would understand Father to be a safe, supportive, and loving teacher. But if we reference God as Father to someone who was abused or abandoned by an irresponsible dad, will they hear our message in the same way?
We cannot assume that the things we say to people outside of our tradition, our circle of friends and families, or even within our congregation is being heard the way we intend it to be heard. Words don’t have to be said in a foreign language to be misinterpreted! For some here today, email is a modern and new communication option. But for others sitting in the pews, email is already antiquated and something from the past.
There is a saying, “Time waits for no one.” It is similar with God. While He will not leave anyone no matter their age and traditions, He also guides, provides for, and protects today’s generation in their/our environment. We are not separate from that environment. It reminds me of a gentleman in the community who is in his early 90’s. I remember him saying, ‘Everyone talks about the good old days. Well they can have the good old days. I’d prefer to have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and tractors.”
Why is it that we are so quick to transition from ‘tradition’ in our day-to-day lives but grasp it with white knuckles in church? Would we prefer shovels to snow-blowers? Horse and buggies to cars? Newspapers to tvs? Open-heart surgery to shorter life expectancy? What is it about worship that makes us want to hold onto the past?
Putting our practices and teachings of the past into place today is important. History is not something to be discarded. Hopefully we learn from history and prevent making similar mistakes in the future. But that doesn’t mean reliving history or getting stuck living in the past. It means following God’s call to live in the present, walking courageously into the unknown, trusting that the Spirit is with us. Are there blessings and curses in today’s technology and ideology? Yes. And were there blessings and curses from times of the past? Yes.
Jesus stood in front of the fearful Disciples as they sat locked in a room hiding from Jewish authorities. There he blew over them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave them courage to move forward with the living Jesus instead of being stuck in the fear of a dead Jesus. Their message and ours, is not to force people into worshiping God in the ways of the past. The message is about a Jesus who lives in 2014 and guides us in our paths today through this moving Spirit.
Worship is not simply a ritual, it is an experience with the living God. It includes tradition such as the Lord’s Prayer, a sermon, and the Lord’s Supper (where the living Jesus is present). But those rituals, those traditions, can be done in practices that connect to 2014. Jesus is not stuck on the cross. Jesus message of love and forgiveness is one that transcends time and space. Though we all may have our preferences of styles, whether traditional to contemporary, neither is right vs. wrong. They are all used to worship God, they are all holy, they are just different.
Through the Holy Spirit we are called and sent into our communities and the world. The Holy Spirit joins us in the present and the future. That means we have no choice but to change. Each one of you are church and are called to neighbors, families, and friends with Christ’s message, stretching comfort zones of traditions, trusting that the Spirit will guide us when we are uncomfortable and afraid. After all it is God in whom we put our trust, not our traditions. And it is the promise of a living Jesus that we are loved today, no matter our past, and that he forgives us today and tomorrow when we will fall short.
May the Spirit inspire you, encourage you, and guide your steps in the present and into the unknown, trusting in His faithfulness. Amen.