“Fresh Winds of Spirit”
A meditation based on Acts 2:1-21
May 20, 2018
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
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Today is Pentecost…the Birthday of the Church! Think about your own birthdays. They often are mile-markers, moments to reflect, celebrate, dream. As with our own birthdays, this birthday of the Church is a time to look back over 2,000 years of the Christian story and to give thanks for what has brought us this far…That’s the “reflect part” of this birthday moment, and it is hopefully filled with gratitude.
Pentecost also gives us a moment to look around us, with deeper clarity, to celebrate what is… In fact, I’m going to ask you to stand up and do something a little different today; please stand, and holding the pews if you need to for support, turn slowly around, just pivot slowly in place all the way around and again; notice what your eyes see here in this moment; the colors of the windows; the sunlight streaming in; catch the eye of someone who is also turning to see; notice the smiles, the winking eyes, the familiar and unfamiliar faces of your sisters and brothers; see how good is this present moment, feel how loved you are here, notice what this church means to you. And in response to all this goodness, we say, “Thank you, God!” You may be seated.
That, by the way, was a little exercise in mindfulness…being fully present in this present moment. When life gets a little harried, you can take a pause, stand or sit, pivot around in place, notice what your eyes see and give thanks to God for it. It only takes a moment, and it can really change your attitude. Birthdays are moments like that, aren’t they? Pauses, when we are surrounded by love and allow ourselves to be filled with gratitude. But reflecting on the past and celebrating the present are not the only parts of birthdays.
Like our own birthdays, Pentecost is also a time to look forward and to dream of what will be. What sort of church are we becoming? Not only here in Chula Vista, but in the bigger picture of the nation and the world. To help us with that today, I’d like to tell you a story of another church. It is a true story, one that is ongoing. This is the story of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. I share with you, in their own words, from their current website:
“In 1946, Army Chaplain Gordon Cosby came home from WWII convinced that the Gospel message was more than platitudes and rules. His call was to form a church to take seriously the teachings of Jesus. Seven men and women responded immediately. In 1950, with 19 members, they bought an old brown-stone building at 2025 Massachusetts Ave. where the church had its headquarters and a worship service until 2008, when Gordon retired from preaching. In the 1960s, following the March on Selma, learning about the dire situation for children at Junior Village in DC., and a growing awareness of the poverty around the newly established Potter’s House in the Adams Morgan neighborhood (in DC), members of the church felt a strong call to be in community with the poor and disenfranchised people of DC. Many of the ministries were formed in the 1970s and 1980s to respond to this call. In 1976, with 120 core members, the church intentionally divided into 6 (now 8) worshiping communities, each with its own call, leadership, and cluster of mission groups. The various ministries of Church of the Saviour have come out of these mission groups which are formed when two or more people are called to address a specific concern. Many of these missions have become independent 501(c) (3) nonprofits with separate boards and staff in order to broaden their base of service. We estimate that the collective budgets of these independent ministries now total over $4 million.”
For those visual learners, like myself (!), imagine a bicycle wheel. The hub is Jesus and his call to each person to be engaged in his ministries. That’s the hub—the call of Jesus—and that’s the call that Gordon Cosby heard when he returned home from WWII. That’s the same call hundreds of people in Washington, DC have heard over these past 72 years. They’ve answered that call and, together with Spirit, formed and re-formed The Church of the Saviour into a sort of bicycle wheel. From their responding to Spirit’s call, the spokes of that imaginary wheel have emerged. One of their ministries is for homeless, another for advocacy in the nation’s capital, another for retreats and sacred silence, yet another for worship that embraces all genders and sexual orientations, yet another that works with newly-released prisoners to help them orient to life outside the cell. All told, there are ten scattered yet connected ministries that currently form The Church of the Saviour. Each of these ministries sprung forth from the same call of Jesus to be engaged in his work.
Looking deeper at what sustains The Church of the Saviour, they describe four basic tenets. So let’s erase that image of a bicycle wheel and now think about a chair with four legs. Having visited there personally several years ago, and having read about and watched them from a distance for over a decade, I would call these four tenets the four legs of the chair upon which sits all of the ministries of Jesus through The Church of the Saviour…each one of the legs is necessary to the full functioning and the grace-filled effectiveness of these various ministries. The four legs are:
- “Call.” In their own words, they say, “We believe that everyone is called to do something in our world by using God’s gifts to us. It is the church community’s job to help individuals find their calls and nurture them into being.”
- “Gifts.” Again, in their own words, “We believe that everyone has gifts and no one has all the gifts. The church community must help each person identify their gifts and help them find a place to use them. Gifts range from preaching to hospitality to organizational skills to humor. All gifts are welcome and needed.”
Now we go a bit deeper into what holds them up.
- “Inward/Outward Journey.” They describe this journey in this way: “Church of the Saviour ministries exist and are sustained because of a commitment to the inward/outward journey as an individual and as a called group. Daily Bible study, meditation and prayer are essential. Spiritual reports, weekly mission group meetings and working together make these mission groups the primary place where spiritual formation takes place.” I would add that the inward/outward journey is like the waves of the sea…sometimes receding, sometimes approaching. In the work of Jesus, balance between inward and outward is necessary to sustain our energies. Looking inward through prayer and study gives strength for us to act outwardly in avenues of service and mission. One complements the other. Each is strengthened by the work of the other. Inward, outward, like the waves. Reflection, action, reflection, action, like Jesus did in his own ministry. This is the inward/outward journey practiced by The Church of the Saviour.
- The fourth tenet or leg of that chair is “Community.” And this is what their website says about the necessity of community: “Each worshiping community has its own flavor of music, word and sacrament, but all celebrate the inward/outward journey together as we claim our piece of God’s unfolding creation story. We must have a group of people equally committed to the faith journey who will encourage and hold us accountable. Although the missions may be hard, there is joy to be shared at the core.”
Call, Gifts, Inward/Outward Journey, Community… these are the four legs of the chair that holds The Church of the Saviour. When I was honored to worship with them on a Sunday years ago, that joy they talk about was palpable. Their utter commitment to the call of Jesus was obvious just walking through the door. Pamphlets proclaimed various service-oriented events and individuals with hearty smiles engaged other worshipers in saying yes to act, to serve, to be present to the call of Jesus in their own lives. It was truly a celebration, and one I hope to never forget!
Now, you may ask, why am I taking so much valuable time to tell you about a scattered assembly of Christians that live and work almost 2700 miles from here? Because of what’s coming next…
Remember, a couple of weeks ago, when I shared with you about God’s every 500 year Rummage Sale? Scholars who are studying this, and mystics who are paying deep attention, and historians who are offering their best wisdom agree: yes, we are now in another every 500 years or so season in which God has a massive Rummage Sale in the world of spirituality. For a time, things appear chaotic with no end in sight. Yet, time after time, for the past 2,500 years of recorded human history, God has helped we humans create order from the seeming and teeming chaos. Just like in the Genesis creation story, God again breathes over the chaotic swirling darkness, and with a word here and a word there, new life springs to form. The experts who are noticing and remarking on this pattern agree on something else… something that I hope pulls you forward into your future. They agree that we Christians are now entering The Age of Spirit. While the Church of the Past was marked by the order of the Roman ways in which it was born, and then changed by the Protestant Reformation into the protesting and questioning Church it is today, the Church of the Future will be marked by Spirit’s movement and Spirit’s guidance; it will be marked by a commitment to listen for Spirit’s voice and be filled with Spirit’s breath. Welcome to the beginnings of what I hope you will give birth to right here: the Age of the Spirit!
Spirit’s work is seen most visibly, I think, in the past 72 years in The Church of the Saviour, which is why I shared with you today about them. Their intentional inward/outward journey has birthed ministries helping countless numbers of people and transforming lives through Spirit’s breath. As in the Pentecost story we read about today, the Age of Spirit is upon us again. You’ve noticed it; it’s apparent in the sparkle in your eyes when you turned around to see more clearly the goodness of this present moment.
One of the many ministries of The Church of the Saviour is a daily meditation sent via email, usually, a quote from some spiritual writer. Three days ago, just in time for this Pentecost, written by a man called Father Martin Laird, came this timely reminder. I share it with you now in closing:
“Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique…God is the ground of our being; the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent.”
My sisters and brothers in the faith, God is very present here, in this space and through you, God’s people. Claim that Divine presence, let Spirit’s breath strengthen you, allow yourselves to dream big—VERY BIG!—as you boldly follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and you will do well and you will be well. Happy Birthday, Church!
Amen and Blessed Be