Hear what the Spirit is saying; A Reflection

Note: These words were first shared in the Forum handout on Pentecost (06/12/2011); I have 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

A Proper 10 Art for Readings 7/10/2011

VAN GOGH, Vincent
Click to open The Vincent van Gogh Gallery Artist Biography

Sower, The (after Millet)
Oil on canvas
80.8 x 66.0 cm.
Saint-Rémy: Late October, 1889
Click here to open The Vincent van Gogh Gallery display page. Click Next Painting to see seven additional Van Gogh treatments of the Sower.

Click here and scroll down for thumbnails of all eight Van Gogh Sowers.

A challenge to “step up”

In the Sunday Morning Forum we share different ways that we, singly and collectively, have become doers of the word. We recognize God is calling us to be better witnesses of God’s love as we serve. We look for encouragement and inspiration by sharing resources and stories. Here is an inspiring story and a challenging question for each of us who take seriously the Great Commandment and who seek to imitate Christ by serving others as Christ did.

 

A YouTube video prepared by Children’s Defense Fund

Let us know how you are “Steppin’ up,” leave a comment. Share how you are an advocate, for the love of God and neighbor, for those who are the most vulnerable.

For further reflection

  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

And, we respond, “I will with God’s help.” (Baptismal Covenant used in the Episcopal Church)

Isaac and Rebekah: Just a love story?

Genesis 24 fits into the book of Genesis as a whole considering central questions such as whether God’s promise of progeny, land and protection will be realized. In the matriarchal and patriarchal narratives that make up the narrative cycles in the book of Genesis, it is evident that throughout each generation, God’s faithfulness has to be discovered anew. In Genesis 24, it is Isaac who discovers that God was not only faithful to Abraham, but that God’s faithfulness extends to a new generation as well.

The topic of Genesis 24 is the question many young men and women ask when they come of age, and that is where do I get a wife or husband? In the case of Genesis 24 this question is all the more pressing as Isaac needs a wife so that God’s promise of progeny may be fulfilled. In Genesis 25:20 it is said that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, in any age, and particularly in that time, quite a late stage to be a bachelor.

This drawn-out account of finding Isaac a wife in the end turns into a love story, when the narrative has a happy ending.  In verse 67 it is said that Isaac married Rebekah, taking her to his mother’s old tent, and thereby instating her as the new matriarch of the clan. Moreover, the events of Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage are nicely joined together when his marriage to Rebekah is said to comfort Isaac after the death of his mother. And most significantly, Isaac is said to love Rebekah — one of the few instances in the Hebrew Bible in which love language is used to describe the relationship between a man and a woman.

So on one level, the account of Isaac finding a wife has a quite secular topic and outcome, suggesting something of the ordinary cycles of life and death that form the backdrop of many of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs. However, this ordinary story of finding a wife for a sworn bachelor, which takes human experience seriously, is given a religious flavour as the theme of God’s blessing and guidance is introduced as a central part of the narrative.

Julianna Claassens, Associate Professor of Old Testament
University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
http://tinyurl.com/3n38h29 (click “Alt. 1st Reading” tab)

I believe you will enjoy reading Professor Claassens essay on our Sunday reading from Genesis. Among the questions that come to mind for our consideration:

  • What do you believe about God becoming involved in such human endeavors as “the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one’s soul mate?”

Clearly we live in a very different time, place, and culture than Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah; in this ancient story, what do you learn:

  • • About being human? About God?
  • • About prayer? About what to expect when you pray?

How is this your story (not just the story of Isaac and Rebekah, long ago and far away)?

Please continue the conversation begun on Sunday morning by leaving a comment.

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me

Jesus said “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:40

This verse is important because it explains the nature of the apostolic office on the legal principle governing a Jewish emissary: “A man’s agent is like himself.” It deepens the religious basis of the apostolate by deriving it ultimately from God himself in a cascading succession mediated by Jesus, who is himself the apostle of the Father.  New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC)

In the Outline of the Faith in our Book of Common Prayer we tell the world and each other what we believe about ministry and ministers (and you will find the basis of these expressions in the scriptures we use, like the verses in the Gospel this Sunday):

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church

The Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 855

In the light of our Gospel reading today and what we say about ourselves:

  • • The mission of the church is presented in terms of relationship, not dogma; as a church we are to restore “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
  • • This mission is pursued as a community, not as independent contractors;
  • • However, since the Church is composed of various individuals, “all its members” are responsible for ministry so that the Church can carry out its mission (of building and restoring relationships);
  • • Lay persons (by far the majority of members in the Church) are ministers (in fact, lay persons are the first-named ministers);
  • • “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ….” Here, a further commentary on Matthew 10:40 may be quite instructive

Expanding on the notion that we are “to represent Christ,” (whether a lay person or ordained) each of us is not just an ambassador, but “like [Jesus] himself.”

“Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus said, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). The disciple, wherever she or he might be, actually “embodies” Jesus as a Kingdom-bearer.

Jesus was big on the concept of “agentry.” That is, he believed strongly that the disciple who went out in his name was not just a “representative,” but, in fact, an extension of his own being and authority. In other words, when the world encountered a disciple of Jesus, they were encountering Jesus himself.

To borrow from the well-known passage—and to amend it slightly—we, the agents of Christ, are “the way, the truth, and the life” to the world. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health … until death do us part. Jesus is judged through us, by how the faith flowers or fades in us.
“Postscript” in Synthesis, June 29, 2008

This raises some intriguing questions for us. Assuming that the statement about embodying Jesus wherever we might be is a true statement (and biblically sound), and accepting that we are ministers restoring all people to unity with God and each other:

  • What gifts of Christ do you “embody” as you minister? (Remember: lay persons “bear witness to [Christ] wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them,”)
  • Do you “feel” like “an extension of [Christ’s] own being and authority”?
  • How are you working to be a better “extension” of Christ’s being and authority?
  • When “the world” encounters you what do they learn about Jesus (since you “embody” and have been given the authority of Jesus as you go into the world)?

It is humbling to understand that we have been invited by God “maker of all that is, seen and unseen” to know Jesus Christ. It is exciting to understand that we have accepted this invitation. It is humbling to understand that Jesus, the Son of God, has chosen us and sent us out. It is a challenge to our creativity and discipline to live up to and into this ministry. It is necessary to come together often to confess that we have not lived up to our end of the covenant, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness and be fed to go back into the world to be the disciple that Christ knows us to be.

Believe that God has indeed “gifted” you for this ministry.

Believe that God has “graced” you in ways known and yet to be discovered so that you may “embody” him (God’s love, the Good News) in the 21st century places you live and work and play in.

Believe that you make a difference as God’s beloved child.

A Proper 9 Art for Readings 7/3/2011

POUSSIN, Nicolas
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography

Rebecca at the Well
c. 1648
Oil on canvas, 118 x 199 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page.
 Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

Care for the environment: care for our children

On Sunday, June 19, 2011 we heard that we were given stewardship of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28) We participated in reciting Psalm 8. Our way is clear. Are we willing to follow the Way?

[Ecumenical News International, Nairobi, Kenya] The church must be clear about the need to care for the environment, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in Nairobi June 23 while addressing a symposium discussing the mission of the church in the 21st century. “Caring for the environment is caring for our children, our grandchildren, and caring for the generosity God has given us,” he said.

Read the News Release: Episcopal News Service – WORLD REPORT.

What is the Spirit saying to us (in concrete, practical terms)? Leave a comment.