Rector's Rhetoric - June 2014
Last Sunday I spoke to the issue of receiving power via the Holy Spirit. Parishioners often get very quiet in the Episcopal Church when we mention the activities of the Spirit. It seemed that way in my sermon, anyway. The first question that comes to mind is “the power to do what?” Some people have been interested in, and have joined the Episcopal Church, because of Holy Ghost experiences from their childhood churches that have left them uncomfortable with the word power. It conjures for them hot, sweaty summer nights under the tent, raucous preaching, speaking in tongues, and generally being out of control. Upon entering the Episcopal Church with its stately stained-glass and tasteful appointments and meticulously structured worship, they conclude that this is a safer environment. You’ve probably heard that old joke, “During the sermon, the rector spoke of ‘Jesus being the savior of the world,” to which a visitor whole-heartedly responded, ’Alleluia!’ A little later in the sermon, the rector claimed ‘Jesus to be the light of the world,’ to which the visitor responded, ’Praise the Lord, and amen!’ Obviously distressed over this uncomfortable development, an usher went up to the man and said, ’Sir, you’ll have to be a little more quiet.” The man said, “I can’t help it, I’ve got the Holy Spirit,” to which the usher responded, “Well, sir, I can assure you that you didn’t get it here.” OK, that’s a joke a little worn around the edges, and only true in the sense that as Episcopalians we’re not given over to excessive celebration every time the preacher says something we like, but we still believe the Holy Spirit alive and operative in the Episcopal Church, and that the empowerment we receive, the primary purpose of such power, is to witness. And just like the word “charismatic,” the word, witness, also conjures up images that are less than comfortable. We think of Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons canvassing our neighborhoods on Saturday morning, and not knowing exactly how to respond to their questions even though we may be firm in our faith and devoted church-goers. What we realize through those exchanges is that talking about our faith isn’t always that easy. But then, nothing truly important and intimate ever is. Which is why we need power. In our Sunday school class we talked about the difficulty and reluctance, to articulate our faith, and I ap-preciated the simplicity of what was contributed to that conversation, that “Jesus is someone that I now know to be with me, and even more importantly, in looking back on my life I discover that he always has been. And I worship in the kind of church that has helped me see that more clearly and believe that it’s true.” That is a powerful statement. It is simple, heart-felt, and easy to remember. But in witnessing to our faith, the situation may call for other words that are just as heart-felt and simple, our words, not some-one else’s. Which is why we need power, why we need the Holy Spirit. If you’ve ever longed for the courage to speak or have the right words to say at the right time, whether it be in response to a question about our church, someone’s God-forsaken cry for help, or what to say when someone criticizes who we are as followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit can help. The Spirit can calm us so that we respond pastorally and not defensively, give us the words that others most need to hear. I can’t always promise that they’ll flow as smoothly as a George Herbert poem, but I believe they’ll be the right words. Of course, practice can help. We have conversations in Christian formation groups all the time about what we believe and how we might share that with others. So practice your faith. Do good works. Listen for that still small voice. And come, Holy Spirit, come.