Saturday, May 26, 2012

...And Nothing's Been The Same!

I quote from's article, "How the Holy SpiritMoves Today . . . in 100 Words or Less," and mention the ministries of several friends and people I admire: Jay Bakker and Vince Anderson of Revolution NYC, Phil and Stephanie Shepherd of The Eucatastrophe, Aaron Reddin of The One, Inc., Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries, Terry Ramone Smith and Rebecca Cranford Smith of The Van Atlanta. I wholeheartedly both endorse their ministries, and encourage you to support them. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mean all of them...

Romans 8:22-27
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
"I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be,God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This is the Word of the Lord.

I need to mention at the outset (because there’s no real way to include this at the end) that I’ll be closing with a meditation, a poem by Callid Keefe-Perry, co-convener of the Emergent Cohort in Rochester, NY.

For the Jewish people in the first century AD, The Feast of Pentecost was, in part, a commemoration of the day that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments – the day that the Hebrews ceased being escaped slaves, following a pillar of cloud and flame, and became a cohesive people, dedicated to the worship of the one true and living God, guided by stringent communal and sacerdotal laws.

On that day when Moses came down from the mountain, nothing would ever be the same. From that moment the Hebrew people would go on to found a great nation, respected and feared for its valiant warriors and famous for its wise kings.

But by the first century AD, those glorious days gone. Judea was nothing more than a minor province of the Roman Empire, buckling under the weight of corrupt rulers, smothering under the burden of outrageous taxes. The great things God had done were legends, stories, memories, written in great scrolls that the priests read from, that the scribes debated over, that the children learned to read. They were holy scrolls, yes, the very Words of God… but when viewed in the harsh, biting reality of dusty, malnourished, thirsty, conquered and subservient Judea, they were just words.

Still and yet, the Jewish people stubbornly refused to give up hope. One could not be Jewish and not have hope. God had promised a Messiah, one who would re-establish David’s throne and return Israel to its former glory. The day would come when, once again, the yoke would be broken, and the glory of God would return to God’s people.

As the years rolled by, a person would pop up over there, claiming to be the Messiah, would gather up a band of followers, would end up getting himself killed, and the followers would scatter. Another would pop up over here, claim the same thing, gathering his own followers and meeting the same fate. Then the process would repeat itself. Theudas was one name, and Judas the Galilean another, according to Gamaleil, a teacher quoted in the Book of Acts.

There had been another one recently, another fellow from Galilee; he had shown real promise, some said, but in the end he had died just like the rest of them. And through it all, Judea stubbornly clung to the memory of its past glory, stubbornly went on with life, stubbornly went on with the feast of Pentecost, packing pilgrims into Jerusalem from all across the globe to once again remember the day that Moses came down the mountain with the tablets of stone.

None of them really had a clue what was going on in that little two-story house right over there.

Not quite two months ago, you see, in the big room on the second floor, the people who had followed that most recent claimant to the title of Messiah, the Galilean fellow, the one who had gotten crucified, had seen, spoken with, and touched that Galilean. Seen, spoken with, and touched him… because he had risen from the dead! And not more than ten days ago, they had watched as that same crucified-and-risen Galilean ascended into the clouds to sit at the right hand of God.

And even now, if you listened real hard, you could begin to hear a noise – the sound of rushing wind.

Many centuries before, the Hebrew people, the former slave nation, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, and watched as God descended from Heaven, with smoke thunder, fire and the sound of a trumpet. Moses climbed the mountain and disappeared into the smoke, and received the Law of God.

When the Law was delivered, Moses came down from the mountain, and while it wouldn’t be an entirely accurate statement, it could be inferred that, as the smoke and fire lifted from the mountaintop, God went back up to heaven. ‘Way up there somewhere… and as the years passed, God seemed to become ever more distant, ever farther removed, more and more out of reach, except through the rituals, sacrifices, and instruments of worship.

But on that Pentecost day, in the upper room in that house in Jerusalem, God came down, with the sound of a rushing, mighty wind, with tongues of flame and a message in all languages for all people, and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God stayed. And nothing would ever be the same.

Peter’s message, shorter than any I have ever heard or preached, started a firestorm that, to this day, burns unabated. Three thousand that first day responded to God’s grace; in the months and years that followed, God continued to move in directions that no one could anticipate, and at a speed that very nearly left the Apostles in the dust. People who would never have been allowed in the Temple courts came joyfully into relationship with their Creator: eunuchs and slaves and women and Samaritans and even Gentiles!

And God still moves today. God in the Holy Spirit has not at any point gone back to heaven, up there, in the distance, removed and remote, no. The Holy Spirit is still active, still moving in directions no one can anticipate, and at a speed that leaves us breathless in its wake. Maybe the noise isn’t like the wind, and perhaps we don’t see many tongues of fire, but the Spirit still falls today.

The Holy Spirit falls across the globe, in countries where being a Christian will still get you imprisoned and killed, as well as in our own country, where in many areas it seems you can find a church on every corner. The Holy Spirit falls in cathedrals, and it falls in storefront churches. The Holy Spirit falls in suburban America and in the tent cities of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

God’s Spirit moves in traditional denominational circles, and in new and growing fellowships outside of traditional church models and boundaries. Places like Pete’s Candy Store, a bar in Brooklyn, where Jay Bakker and Vince Anderson’s “Revolution New York City” meets every Sunday afternoon. God’s Spirit still inspires and supports people like Phil and Stephanie Shepherd, who reach out to the marginalized and forgotten through their church, “The Eucatastrophe,” in Fort Worth, Texas, and Hugh Hollowell’s “Love Wins” ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Spirit moves and restores and heals in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, where Aaron Reddin heads a ministry called “The One,” operating a fleet of vans which deliver food and clothing and hope to Little Rock’s homeless population. The Spirit moves in Atlanta, Georgia, where Terry Ramone Smith and his wife Rebecca work to address the issues of homelessness with their own offshoot of Aaron’s ministry, “The Van Atlanta.”

The Holy Spirit still moves, still falls, still empowers, in ways we cannot recognize… but move and fall and empower it does.

The website challenged a variety of theologians, speakers, and writers to tell, in 100 words or less, how the Holy Spirit moves today. Their responses were both interesting and challenging. For example, Sam Hamilton-Poore, Adjunct Professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, wrote, “Closer to us than our own breath and breathing, the Risen Christ fills us with his own Spirit – quietly, intimately. With this breath, this power, we then go about the everyday, unspectacular, grubby work of forgiveness. Breathe, forgive; breathe, forgive; breathe, forgive. Although we often long for the dazzling or spectacular, we live in a time, a world, in need of people who breathe in, regularly, the quiet power and grace of Christ's Spirit – and people who, likewise, breathe out, regularly, the power and grace of forgiveness. Our world – so spectacularly broken and burning – needs people for whom reconciliation is as normal and natural as breathing.”

Author and speaker Brian McLaren wrote, “On the grass-roots level, there are tens of thousands of Christians who aren't waiting for denominational leaders to fix things. They're just getting on with it. They're doing it, living it, making it real in their lives, in their neighborhoods, through small groups and mission trips and so on. When you have leaders at the top working for needed change, and people at the grass roots doing the same, and when you're confident that the Holy Spirit is behind it all, eventually the tide will turn and a new day will come.”

God is still here, the Holy Spirit still active, alive, vibrant. All you and I have to do, on this Day of Pentecost and beyond, is listen for the sound, look for the flame, and act when the Spirit moves…

Join me in this closing Pentecost meditation:

“My God is in the next room,
cooking unseen feasts
and humming;
moments of ache before rain
when the whole June cloud
is ready to burst through
though no drop has yet fallen;
dandelion blades that insist
adamantly they must reside directly
in the middle of your neighbor's
blacktopped suburban driveway;
sights of the shadow of a bird flitting
by the sill near the bed of an aging Grace,
who can no longer move but counts herself
lucky because at least she can still see.
This is my God:
expectant and grinning
wild and near.”

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