Libby posed the question on Twitter:
why do you like pentecost? apart from the red shoes?
It took me a couple of tries to get my response into 140 characters, and the closest I could get was this – I love the reminder that God is out of control, and that’s there’s potential for the church to be out of control.
The follow-up question was even harder to answer –
what do you think could happen if the church were a little more willing to be out of control?
In my mind, I imagined the three or four congregations I’ve spent the most time in the past few years. I tried to imagine what might happen if the Spirit blew open the doors and physically made herself present in the sanctuary. What would it look like if we really meant it when we asked God to be present and the Spirit to illuminate and empower us? I mean, in a moment of corporate vulnerability, if our enough hearts were open and receptive… what would it look like for worship to be out of our control?
I think it would be louder. People whose voices have been silenced or muffled by decency and order might find themselves singing with gusto, speaking the liturgy with renewed vigor and passion, agreeing vocally with the prayers others raise.
It would be authentic- engaging hearts and minds, evoking pathos and ethos.
It would be life-giving and life-changing. Preachers who proclaim the Word each week might find themselves overflowing with messages that challenge, encourage and move people to act on what God has called and gifted them to.
And if people are open to hearing and taking up the challenge, well, they might just take the missio Dei as their mission statement. I can imagine healing and reconciliation of relationships, ministry happening in homes, classrooms, gyms and workplaces, and people finding themselves in prayer at moments they least expect it.
The thing is, this isn’t a lot of change. There are congregations for whom this is the way things are. Or at least pieces of it. But I think there are a lot of communities that have lowered expectations for themselves, their worship and even for the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Not that worship isn’t beautiful and heartfelt- far from it. But we’ve become accustomed to the safety of the known and expected.
If there is anything we should learn – and long for – from the story of Pentecost, it is that God moves in ways designed to keep us off-balance. Not like a cat toying with a mouse or a petulant ruler mistreating his subjects. No- God knows that we need reminders that our comfort is secondary to the world’s needs. Our tight grasp on the things we think we understand about faith, life and God is just a form of denial and, quite frankly, rebellion. Letting go and trusting God allows our faith, life and churches to be out of control… in the best of all possible ways.