On Thursday night I watched some of the finals of the national spelling bee. I always feel like a geek when I watch that, but I am fascinated by the focus those young people have on hearing the words to spell. They were able to spell based on pronunciation, based on etymology and language, but it all came down to their ability to convert what they heard into letters in our particular English alphabet. I am most impressed when those words don’t even come from the English language.
Hearing well and listening well is so very important for us. I am always mindful of my diction and delivery when I am speaking in public. It is very important to me that my words are heard clearly, if people can clearly hear what I say, I’m most of the way there to people understanding what I say.
This Feast of Pentecost that we celebrate is the occasion at which the story tells us that the Holy Spirit came from Heaven like the rush of a violent wind and tongues like fire appeared among them. In John’s gospel we learn that Jesus has asked the father to give the Advocate to be with us forever. An advocate is one who speaks on behalf of another. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is the one who speaks on our behalf and speaks on God’s behalf to us, in a language we are able to understand.
Language, words and sounds crafted into ideas that may be shared between and among humans, is the way we concieve of our God, it is the way we imagine the world and the universe around us. Language is amazing; it is how we know we are human. We use the language of poetry and metaphor to try to experience reality, the language of prose to describe our reality, technical language to teach our reality to others. It is why we describe God as author; God has spoken the Word and has authored our lives and our salvation. In acknowledging the wonder of language, we must also acknowledge how woefully inadequate language is to communicate with God. We try so hard to use the proper words, we try so hard to use symbol and sign, but we fail miserably in our attempt.
It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to communicate with God and to hear one another. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to hear one another in the language of our land, in the language of our life, in the language of our heart. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to hear one another at all, and to hear God at all.
At the first Pentecost, when each heard the other speaking in their native language, those gathered were amazed and astonished. They were amazed and astonished by the presence of the Spirit. I am amazed and astonished by the presence of the Holy Spirit today.
How do we know the presence of the Holy Spirit? How do we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit? Why are we so frightened by that when it happens?
I believe we know the presence of the Holy Spirit and we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit when we really hear one another, when we really hear God, not just with our minds and our intellect, but when we hear with our hearts, when we hear with our spirits, and when we speak with our hearts and our spirits. I think that is frightening for many because it is so intimate, it is so real, and it is so truthful. Often, the truth is hard and scary to hear.
I experience the presence of the Holy Spirit at times if deep connection of spirit and truth in corporate prayer. Sometimes that is in the beautiful language of our prayer book sometimes that is in the spontaneous language of people gathered lifting to God all that blesses us and all that concerns us. I experience the presence of the Spirit in music and song, in rushing wind and water, in quiet contemplation, and often in good conversation.
We count on the Spirit showing up when we gather together as Church. We bid the Spirits presence especially when as a church we need to be led, when we need to make decisions together. When we elected our bishop recently, we called on the Spirit to lead our deliberations, to guide us, to give us wisdom and to help us choose. Our Church meets in General Convention this summer. General Convention is 10 days in July in Anaheim. General Convention happens every three years; it is the time when the business of the church happens. It also is very much a family reunion. We will worship together, we will pray together, eat together, play together, as well as do the business of the church. Now it seems odd to some to talk about the presence of the Spirit in this session. But I believe that it is only the presence of the Spirit that makes it possible for us to even begin to do the business of the church. When we meet together we must listen to each other, not just to the words, but also to the heart and the spirit.
We come to General Convention from many physical locations; we come from the plains, the mountains, the desert. Not unlike those who gathered at that first Pentecost. We come to the gathering from many theological locations, some orthodox, some traditional, some progressive. We come to the gathering from various liturgical customs, some high church, meaning great emphasis on ceremony and ritual, some low church, and many in the places in between. However, none of this changes our common commitment to the centrality of Jesus Christ and the lordship of God our creator in our communal lives and in our personal lives. But it does demand that we call upon the Holy Spirit to be in our midst so that we may listen to one another with our hearts as well as our ears, so that we may be in the presence of God with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, as the one who speaks on our behalf.
I remember the last time we met in General Convention, Bishop Steven Charleston, bishop and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge Mass asked a question. He asked us what will be our witness in the world, what will be the language we use to speak God’s love and reconciliation to the world. I do believe that continues to be the question we must ask ourselves in General Convention, in the Diocese of South Dakota, and right here at St. Andrew’s. What is our witness? What do we represent in the world? Do we and how do we take the reconciling love of Jesus into the world? Is our witness the unconditional love of God through the grace of Jesus Christ, is it to hope, not fear, is our witness to mission, is our witness to reconciliation? What do we show the world as we gather together and as we are sent out into the world?
So I ask you to pray. Include our General convention in your prayers as you include the Diocese of South Dakota and as you include St. Andrew’s. Pray for the very same that happened at that first Pentecost. Pray that each hears the other in their own language, that each hears the other speak their own truth, that each hear the other speak about God’s deeds of power.
The Holy Spirit is moving in this place. The Holy Spirit points the way for us. The Holy Spirit calls us to be voices for God’s abundant and amazing love, and calls us to bring that reconciling love into the world.
Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
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