Note: These words were first shared in the Forum handout on Pentecost (06/12/2011); I have just updated them for posting. -Dan
It was early May 2007 when the Rev. Dr. Roger Douglas became the Interim Rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, CA. In his first Sunday with us he introduced me to the phrase “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” We used it that day as a concluding remark to the lessons appointed for Sunday worship. We responded, then, as now, “Thanks be to God.”
As with all change, I was not quite sure I wanted to go where he was leading, or do what he was asking (and that’s only on the superficial level of the words in worship— I hadn’t even reached the deeper level of meaning). The words were chosen in 1988 by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia as the customary conclusion to the Sunday lessons. Its usage has moved slowly through the church. Nineteen years and an ocean later the People of God in New Zealand became my teacher. Who could have known?
I have learned much since 2007 and know there is much more to learn. Here is a progress report about my learning from those “innocent” words “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” Here is a brief indication about why I have chosen this name for the Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s.
First, grow quiet; be attentive, so that you can hear. Hear what? Hear how?
Hear: hear with your ears, of course, but hear especially with your heart; yes, hear the words, hear the story, it’s a start, but hear also what is not spoken aloud, only whispered into your heart by the Spirit.
Hear: hear with a deep trust, a heartfelt trust, that these words, though spoken long ago, are indeed spoken by the Spirit for all ages and generations, they are immediate, they are for the moment, they are narrative for your story, not just “their” long ago story.
Hear: hear these ancient words in the chances and changes of your life and the world as it is today.
Hear: hear the words and the stories and wisdom rediscovering that, above all, the truth is that God will do more of the same, now, in your life and in our life together; moreover, in days still to come God will continue to do the same. It is important that we hear clearly so that we can speak truly and plainly to generations just beginning to hear the Spirit.
Hear: hear the Holy Spirit fire crackling in these words; these words are meant to set your heart on fire, for, these are no ordinary words, they are “Holy Spirit words,” hear them well.
Hear: hear what is being said to “the Church,” that is, to all of us gathered; hear by speaking and listening to each other in prayer, in song, in taking communion, in going back into the world “rejoicing in the power of the Spirit,” while loving and serving the Lord (in his people).
This is a beginning report. I’m still learning what it means to hear what the Spirit is saying.
One final comment: I am convinced that the Spirit can most clearly be heard in community. Thank you for helping me to hear what the Spirit is saying in this Sunday Morning Forum.
The Charter For Lifelong Christian Formation: Why we gather together in person and online