Wednesday, May 14, 2008

God Present - the feast of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost, 2008

The Rev. Linda Campbell

Last Sunday, we celebrated the end of Easter tide with the Feast of the Ascension. The focus of the gospel was on Jesus’ departure. This was the great hand-off of ministry from our Lord to us. Now, the hands and feet and heart of Christ – are our hands and feet and heart. Take a minute to look at your hands. Feel your feet – solid on the floor. Listen to your heart beat. Now your breath. There is a presence here – larger than you and me. Breathing you. Filling your heart. Blessing your hands. Christ has no other hands than yours. No other feet than yours. No other heart than yours.

Tag. You’re it.

But wait – wait a minute. You and I are very ordinary. Even those of us with Ph.D.’s, or lots of experience in the world, are not up to the challenges of the ministry of Christ.

Jesus knew that. When he handed off the ministry of healing the world to his disciples – the first thing he told them to do was to wait and to pray. To gather in small groups. Pray. Wait for the Spirit which will teach you, remind you, encourage you, and guide you.

"I will not leave you orphaned." Remember? Today – in this Feast of Pentecost our awareness shifts to God present with us in Holy Spirit.

The early church marked that gift as inspiration. As fire. As language – diverse, multi-cultural, untamed. The early church experienced Holy Spirit as the breath of ever-new life. They experience a burning desire for ongoing relationship with a living present God.

That gift of Holy Spirit keeps us – you and me - lively. It keeps us moving. That gift of Holy Spirit bears us into new territory and challenges that we would not ordinarily be on the look out for, or even want in our lives!

Yesterday, Deacon Barbara, Archdeacon Kathleen, Peter Doleman, Patricia Elmore and I were your representatives to the specially called Convention for the Diocese. The Beloved Community visioning process has resulted in an agenda for this Diocese which is truly exciting – and a lot of which is happening here at St. Alban’s in very tiny, beginning stages. Church vitality through fresh expressions of the gospel and outreach, small groups, and collaboration between congregations are keys to much of what emerging in this Diocese – and it is what is emerging here – in a number of ways.

Small groups are at the heart of how we are beginning to live together, work together and discern where God is moving among us. Small groups are not one more program of this church. They are the direction we are moving in – so that whenever we meet together – for whatever reason, we have the intention and consciousness that God is very present, guiding, leading, and connecting us with each other. The normal niceties – how are you? I’m fine. How are you? These are exchanged for more substantial and nourishing connection – when the question – how are you, is asked in the context of scripture and prayer and laughter and active listening – something else happens – and it’s contagious and restful. And the amazing thing is that real business decisions get made in shorter amount of time, and with greater accuracy. If you don’t sit on a committee where much of the small groups are happening at this time – you are seriously missing out! This is not committee work in the same way that you remember committee work. One of the members of the small group that focuses on Christian education said, at the meeting, how thankful he was for this space of respite, renewal and connection.

Other fresh expressions are arising as well. The knitting circle. The 5 PM service – which is a growing emerging community of renewal following the way of Jesus. The Godly Play sign hanging over the courtyard proclaims a new kind of language! Godly Play spoken here …. I wonder – and I’m sure you wonder – whatever could that mean? A You tube library of videos on church life, mission and outreach is being produced – and is beginning to get subscribers outside of this immediate congregation. A video / pod cast series on Greek New Testament word study is in the works. A two day training on active listening in being a pastoral presence for others has brought new energy into pastoral care for each other. Taking soup to someone who is ill, sitting on a park bench with someone who is recovering, sharing a cup of tea and conversation, singing Evensong, arranging flowers so that worship can be enriched – all of these foundational aspects of church life that is energized by Holy Spirit continue to deepen and grow.

Jesus breathed on them – “Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me – so I send you.” The world, into which we are sent, with the warm breath of Jesus imparting Holy Spirit to us, is continually changing. This is not something to be afraid of – or to recoil from. God is in the world. Out in the world. While Patricia and Peter and Barbara and Kathleen and I were at the Convention, Bobbi and some of the youth were finding God in the world, by taking BART into San Francisco, and interacting with homeless, and others. At the Episcopal Charities Canon Kip Senior Center, homeless seniors were available to talk with the teens about their lives and how they make it day to day with God’s help and the help of the Christian community. On BART, and at Dolores Park, they had the opportunity to see how the Spirit moves in the world, often undercover of the kindness of strangers.

And that’s the truth. We are not alone – nor can we be Christ’s hands and feet and heart alone. As our Presiding Bishop Shori recently said, “We cannot engage the fullness of God's mission alone, nor know the fullness of God's reality alone. Together as members of the Body of Christ, we can begin to try. And the Spirit, burning fire, inspiring breath, and speaking in many tongues, is present in that Body, empowering and emboldening and strengthening our work. Thanks be to God who continually makes us new.”*

One final note. Yesterday, at the Convention, we had the chance to be introduced to the new Assistant Bishop and Multi-cultural officer for our Diocese: Stephen Charleston, a member of the Choctaw nation and the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School. He and his wife, Suzanne, who is a poet, will make their home in San Francisco, and help to move us into the new era of mission and ministry. He introduced himself by saying, “I am a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Are you?”

In the name of this Jesus of Nazareth, may the strong wind of the Holy Spirit lift us up and carry us forward. Amen.

*Pentecost Letter 2008, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori