May 27, 2007

Gathered by the Spirit

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Pentecost Sunday
Genesis 11:1-9 & Acts 2:1-21

If you happened to walk past a particular courtyard near Columbia Seminary a year and a half ago on a crisp autumn day, you would not have believed your eyes.

Twelve adults were spinning, around and around and around – spinning like little children do when they’re pretending they’re tops or helicopters or just trying to make themselves dizzy.

Twelve seminary students were spinning and spinning and spinning, faster and faster and faster as they enacted and lived into the story of Pentecost.

And I, along with most of the other students in the class, eventually fell to the ground dizzy and a little out of sorts. The Holy Spirit had just descended upon us and overwhelmed us and left us amazed and astonished and perplexed, and a little out of breath.

At least that’s what the professor of this course was aiming for when she designed this particular day of class. Some way of conveying what it might have been like on that day years ago. What it might have been like to be a disciple on that first day of Pentecost.

Picture it: Gathered together in the upper room of a house, trying to figure out what to do. Their leader Jesus had been crucified, had risen from the dead and appeared to them, and then hung around for fifty days. Just recently Christ had ascended into heaven.

So far, they had replaced the delinquent disciple Judas with Matthias. That order of business had been taken care of. But what to do next, now that Jesus had ascended in a cloud?

Perhaps they were brainstorming plans of action. Perhaps they were debating the merits of going back to fishing. Perhaps they were sitting silently in the room, just looking at one another, without a clue as to what to do next.

Regardless, the Holy Spirit caught them by surprise. Coming with wind and fire and tongues. Filling them up and giving them the ability to speak other languages.

And in that whirlwind moment, the Holy Spirit – the mysterious, forceful, powerful, dizzying Spirit – gathered them together as disciples and bestowed upon them the power of God.

And it would look and sound to others like they were drunk and out of their minds. But the movement was not haphazard and crazy. It brought disciples together. Gathered them into a group that would go forward and become the leaders on The Way and live the great stories of the early church in the book of Acts.

Because it was the Holy Spirit’s doing.

It’s the exact opposite of what we heard in the first scripture lesson from Genesis.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, the people of God start off gathered together – gathered together by their one language with all the same words and nuances; gathered together by a common purpose.

They are going to build for themselves a city with a tower that will reach to the heavens. The people are gathered together by their hubris, by their own need to make a name for themselves and accomplish something great.

And the Lord knows this gathering could become troublesome. So the Lord confuses the language of all the people and scatters them over all the face of the earth. This gathering was not the work of the Holy Spirit. This gathering had been about individuals and their (literal) climb to the top.

And so the Lord puts the kibosh on it. Stops it before it gets too far and people think they can live their lives and do anything they please without paying any attention to the Lord.

Because that’s not the way. The way, as we see in Acts, is simply about being gathered in by the Holy Spirit to worship the Lord and then letting the Holy Spirit move in and through and amongst those gathered.

For the Holy Spirit does still dwell and move among us. The Holy Spirit was not a one hit wonder as some may believe. The Holy Spirit calls out, gathers in, and sends out individuals and churches still.

Here are two places I’ve seen it happen:

It was March of my senior year of college. I chose to spend my spring break traveling to Jamaica with twenty-four other Hope students. We spent ten days working at the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf, or CCCD.

CCCD is a boarding school for children who are deaf. It is a response to the high per capita population of people who are deaf in Jamaica.

We spent the early part of our days working at the school to build new classrooms and repair security walls. But we finished our work by 3pm each day so we could play and interact with the children when they got out of class.

And though we had a unique language barrier to work through,
we laughed and played and worshipped together.
I learned to play Duck, Duck, Goose without speaking
and to play volleyball and communicate with team members who could not hear.

And I was able to attempt one-on-one conversations with some of the older students. Though my sign language background is limited, I had the most wonderful conversation with one girl in particular.

She got excited because I knew some sign and her fingers started flying. I had to tell her to slow down many times so I could catch what she was saying, but I enjoyed that conversation so much.

During that week and a half, we were gathered in by the Spirit despite our language differences – despite the fact that some of us knew a little sign language and some none at all, despite the fact that some of the children could read lips and others could not. We were gathered by the Spirit to be a community that laughed and worshipped together for those ten days.

A couple of summers ago, I was a part of another community infused by the Holy Spirit. I was spending a week at the Taizé community in the south of Burgundy, France. Taizé is an international, ecumenical community of brothers who have taken lifelong vows. Young adults from around the world travel there to become part of the community life for a week.

Visitors are housed in bunk rooms with others who speak the same language. The week that I visited, over 1,000 young adults were there, though it was a slow week. In this wide and varied group of individuals, only four people were from the United States and the other three were males. So I ended up living with seven other women for whom English was their second language, of many.

But despite cultural differences, we were gathered in by the rhythm of the day at Taize. Each person contributing to the community through chores and assignments in the morning; each person joining a Bible study group to learn and study together; each person given some free time.

Those things helped to structure our days, but worship was at the center of it all. Communal worship happens three times a day – 8am, 12 noon, and 8pm. At those times, everything else in the community stops as all are gathered together in worship by what could only be the Holy Spirit.

There would be silence – deep silence. And then, the service would begin. And the silence would be broken by a single voice that turned into a swelling of a multitude of voices singing praises to God, praises in Latin and English and Spanish and German and French and Italian.

The unfamiliar words were awkward in my mouth, but the worship was familiar – all being directed to the Lord who would move through the world in a mighty rushing wind, who would gather together such a diverse group of people to fill that place and in so doing, fill them with the Holy Spirit.

May we be gathered by that Holy Spirit this morning –
gathered as those who
struggle for justice,
work for peace,
take risks,
love God and neighbor,
and follow Christ’s example.

May we be gathered by the Holy Spirit as Lakeview Presbyterian Church;
gathered as the one body of Christ;
gathered together as the disciples on that first Pentecost –
amazed and astonished by the movement of the Holy Spirit.

May it be so. Amen.

May 24, 2007

A Life Outside of the Church

Finding and creating a life outside of the church has been really difficult during this yearlong internship. I joined the Y soon after I arrived. That was good for at least getting out of the house. This past spring I was dancing a bit with another local church's worship dance program. That brought me great joy and life.

But right now I'm really struggling with having any kind of life outside of the church. It's easy enough to forget about when things are good and really busy at the church and my work brings me deep gladness. But when things are hard at the church (as they are right now, with three staff resignations and their aftermath) I really need something else in my life. It also doesn't help that I'm now living with two church members until the end of my time here. They are fantastic people, but it makes it even more difficult to have something separate from the church.

And so I'm searching and praying for something else - an activity or group or class or anything that would give me something outside of the church.

May 21, 2007

Working in a Neighborhood Church

As I wade through the emails and memos that piled up while I was on vacation last week, four neighborhood children run past my window. They are laughing and screaming as they play hide and seek and celebrate the start of summer vacation.

Play travels to the courtyard, which is right next to the offices. I go outside and talk to the children, some of whom I know and others that I meet for the first time. After a short chat, I return to my office and get back to work. But being present in this neighborhood is work too. Because this church didn't leave when the neighborhood started changing.

I am reminded of that as the new lawn maintenance company comes and tours the grounds. The foreman is concerned about the area and makes jokes with the adminstrative assistant about safety and being robbed. She shurgs him off and says that robbery can happen anywhere.

I am reminded of my own doubts and fears about serving this church for the year and feeling safe when at the church alone. Those doubts and fears are gone now. And I smile and laugh as the children run past my window again.

May 19, 2007

(Not my) Graduation Day

The Columbia Theological Seminary class of 2007 graduated today. I went to the commencement ceremony. I watched the graduates walk across the stage, receive their diploma, and get their hood. I listened as they were declared masters of all things divine.

And I shed a few tears as everyone stood to clap and honor all of the graduates.

Because I could have been one of them.

I could have been one of them because my class graduated today. The class I started seminary with finished seminary today. So I could have been one of the MDiv graduates today.

That could have been me in the cap, gown and hood today, but I don't know that it should have been. My yearlong internship is proving to be invaluable in terms of practical experience. And so I will graduate next year, with my other class.

May 18, 2007

Highlights from vacation

  • being welcomed back to campus by lots of fresh flowers from friends
  • sitting in the pew on Sunday
  • watching a friend's dance recital (& the most adorable little kids ever)
  • reading for pleasure on the quad in the sun
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • good convos about call and the church and working in the church and discernment
  • playing Sequence
  • visiting The Chocolate Bar
  • picnic on the quad
  • watching friends learn to play cricket
  • sleeping in & just relaxing

May 12, 2007

And it's here ...

Vacation starts today! Yippee!

I'm in the airport (and really excited about the free wireless).

I'm trying to figure out how to leave all the work stuff of the week here - resignations and resulting tension, conflict, and drama at the church - and enjoy myself and recharge. But my heart aches for what the church is going through and I don't know how to cut that off. Seeing friends and spending time with non-internship church people will be good.

May 08, 2007

I can only take so much

The week so far:
  • organist resigned effective immediately by letter on Sunday morning
  • choir director resigned in person on Monday
  • emergency personnel committee meeting this afternoon

  • house I am living in does not have A/C
  • I was supposed to move to condo on the beach this afternoon, but that fell through unexpectedly on Sunday evening
  • therefore I live with the windows open ... but that means I woke up to a house that smells like a campfire because the wind has brought the smoke and ash from the Georgia wildfires down to Florida
When will it be Saturday?

Vacation cannot get here soon enough!

May 05, 2007

"Playing at Worship"

Last Sunday was Youth Celebration Sunday. The church’s after-school tutoring program and elementary youth group had ended the previous Thursday and Friday, respectively. In worship on Sunday, we recognized these programs – the children who had participated in them, the adults who had led them, and the volunteers who had helped make them possible.

I planned worship and preached. I had the children participate in worship. They were the greeters at the door. They helped to usher. One child led the call to worship. During the offertory, the children offered a worship dance I had taught them over the year. It was a lot of work, but in the end I think things went well.

On Monday, I met with my Supervised Ministry Committee. (We meet monthly to discuss my internship and the work I am doing.) This month we were discussing the youth program. I had helped with it all year. Part of the discussion included a chance for comments on the youth celebration worship service.

A retired minister who sits on my committee said: “If I had known that it was going to be Youth Celebration Sunday, I wouldn’t have come to church. I don’t like those Sundays. It’s just kids ‘playing at worship.’”

I was slightly upset by the comment that night, but conversation moved away from the worship service. However, as I have continued to reflect on the comment, I am more upset and disheartened by the response.

I believe it was not just children “playing at worship” on Sunday. I believe it was children participating in and leading actual worship; I believe it was an opportunity for the children to learn about worship; I believe it was children being given a space to use their gifts in worship too.

Because if children don’t get these opportunities, chances are they might start to think the church doesn’t care if they are there or not. And we wonder why we’re missing so many 18-35 year olds in our churches today …

I can still remember my confirmation Sunday. The confirmation class planned and led the whole service, including the sermon. I was one of four young people who preached on my statement of faith that day. I am so grateful for that experience and support from my church, for that implicit statement of “you matter as a child of God and as a member of this congregation.”

And then, of course, the Presbyterian in me can’t help but point out a few citations from the Book of Order:

• W-1.1001: “… in worship the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the world.”

• W-1.4003: “In Jesus Christ, the Church is a royal priesthood in which worship is the work of everyoneno one shall be excluded from participation or leadership in public worship in the Lord’s house on the grounds of race, color, class, age, sex, or handicapping condition.”

• W-3.1003: “… the order for worship should provide for and encourage the participation of all.”

• W-3.1004: “Children bring special gifts to worship and grow in faith through their regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation. Those responsible for planning and leading the participation of children in worship should consider the children’s level of understanding and ability to respond … regular programs of the church should not prevent children’s full participation with the whole congregation in worship.”

Alright, that’s the end of my somewhat coherent rant.