Sunday, June 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Church!

Because the Holy Spirit is your life. That's why we say it: it's the Spirit of the living God that you receive today as life.

What a gift. What a mess.

At the moment of your birth, dear Church, the preacher got mistaken for the disorderly, drunken uncle. Unfortunate, but understandable. It happens. Peter. There was smoke and fire, and, before it's done, the moon will turn to blood, the sun go out, the prophet says.  

Happy birthday. Make a wish.

There were lots of people there that day. The crowds were thick and hot with sweat, what with all the fire and all. And the friends of Jesus on whom the fire fell spoke languages they didn't speak - the lingua francas of the crowds - people from all over. Most everyone involved thought long and hard about painting over their fears of the mess with facades of disinterested curiosity. Amusement. Hoping to God they could get out of the spotlight and be reduced, somehow, to spectator status.

It was so much like life: mess and smoke and broken people from all over, threat of blood, and the wrong but profoundly ordinary certainty that we won't be understood.

The muck and chaos of the day threatened to overwhelm the day, but it didn't.

John Paul II, descended from that first disreputable-seeming preacher, observed one time that the chaos of the tongues that day was for the end of understanding. "Each one understood." So, he said, teachers perhaps embody best the spirit of the Pentecost: unglamorously translating truth into a language familiar to us, teachers help us understand.

It doesn't have to be fancy. Or scary. While seemingly okay with fancy, we Episcopalians frighten easily at the prospect of things like speaking in tongues. At its heart, though, the miracle was about understanding - about the Gospel made known in its simplicity, such that each one understood.

I pray that the lives of we inheritors of Pentecost continue to move simply and toward understanding. God's love letters to the world, our lives, read in simplicity and love - that is, accessible to others through the generous, sometimes messy, and cruciform love of Jesus.

Not as a counter, then, but as a compliment to the disheveled, frightening mess that was the fiery backdrop for your birth, I delight to share with you what Paul will call the Spirit's fruit, a wondrous gift, for your birthday, dearest Church:

"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-25).

Happy birthday! And many, many more.

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