Wonderful music and inspiring stories; A simple question about shortness of breath; Conferences on worship and the theology of the Holy Spirit; A man on fire and what we live for; Wind, breath, spirit and connectedness to the earth and the very air we breathe; Isn’t this all the work of the Holy Spirit today?
We give thanks for singing strings and beautiful voices on this Day of Pentecost for the second time under pandemic restrictions, sick and tired of not being able to sing and speak and be as a body together. But doing what we can with this worship online, in music from here to you, singing I pray where you are, connected this way, dry and weary bones and hearts, but by grace one body together, that lives! Like so many other communities of faith. This has to be the work of the Spirit!
Stories of in-fleshed and in-spirited dry bones that live! Rushing wind and dancing fire and good news spoken in every language so that everyone hears and understands God’s Spirit poured out on everyone, inviting all to call on God to be freed. Jesus’ parting words to his friends that though he will leave them, the Advocate/Counsellor/Comforter will be present to lead them and everyone into all truth, to testify to God’s love for the world. On this Day of Pentecost, in conflicts and suffering from the Holy Land to this land, humans struggling to find a common language and humanity, a way of mercy, justice and peace for all people, weary of warring madness, homeless and hungry, addicted and broken, grieving and lifeless; these stories return us to God’s truth, God’s hope, together. And inspire us to live! This has to be the work of the Holy Spirit, everyday!
Have you experienced shortness of breath? As part of a larger Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, I was asked recently to take part in a Covid-19 antibody research study; to which I agreed. On the day prior to a lab appointment I went through an extensive interview that included the regular questions about Covid-19 symptoms and potential exposure, and more. At the lab some of those questions were repeated, one of them, have you experienced shortness of breath. My simple answer is no. But the question causes me to pause, knowing times in this pandemic, when behind a mask, when hearing and seeing the suffering, the sadness, the grief compounded, my breathing is short. Not like those who have suffered from this illness and who have required breathing assistance with oxygen and even a ventilator. And sadly, and tragically, the many thousands in this country and millions across the world who could not breathe again. Catching my and our collective breath, wanting and waiting and working for everyone to be able to breathe, individually and together. Recognizing this is both a physical and mental challenge, a social and political, a local and global, an ecological and spiritual challenge together. And sensing winds of change, like quietly celebrating each vaccine as a step towards being able to breathe a little more, praying for wider and equitable distribution of the vaccines across the world, so that everyone may soon breathe more freely together as diverse communities, nations, a planet and all its creatures. This has to be the work of the Holy Spirit including in and through us together.
For the past several months as part of my role in worship with the National church, I have been working with others on the 2021 National Worship Conference of the ELCIC and the Anglican Church of Canada. It was originally scheduled for 2020 in Ottawa but was postponed because of the pandemic. For the same reason, the conference this year for the first time ever will be entirely online. It is scheduled for July 6-7, and to do a little advertising, is open to anyone who is interested, and you can find more information on the ELCIC website, or at worship.ca or nationalworshipconference.org. The theme has changed, recognizing the significant shift in worship and community all people of faith have experienced across the world. The theme is well chosen, I think, “Disruption and Grace.” It recognizes a spectrum of disruption in worship and community and in our individual and collective lives, from inconvenience and adjustment to extremes of upheaval and loss together with the structural and systemic injustices the pandemic has exposed. And it also acknowledges grace in the midst and through that disruption, not as simple fix or false hope, but real connection, compassion, caring, and community together that we see and trust as signs of God’s grace present by God’s Spirit. The subtheme is “Learning Edges in Liminal Times,” reflecting the opportunities to learn, including with and from those who live at the edges, in the continuing uncertainty and fluid movement of this pandemic time and after. Disruption and grace and its learning edges. This has to be the work of the Spirit, including working on us and this world.
Christopher McDonald of this congregation was one of the young theologians who attended a Lutheran Word Federation gathering in Addis Ababa at the end of 2019. The theme of that conference was, “We believe in the Holy Spirit; Global Perspectives on Lutheran Identities.” In Bible Studies, presentations and papers of the conference, one of which was presented by Christopher exploring “the spirituality of children in order to draw attention to the corporate nature of worship. In an age when sedentary, isolated lifestyles are creating crises of embodied community, the liturgy provides the location for a spirituality that unites our bodies, minds, and souls. Through a case study of his ministry among children, (Christopher) makes the case for liturgical singing, movement, and communing as the location for a holistic, coordinated formation of a corporate sense of self that liberates us for community.” A central theme of the conference was the gifts of the Spirit poured out upon every person to serve the needs of the community and God’s world. Every person, not some, not the ordained alone, but every one of you, filled with the Holy Spirit, and called into a baptismal vocation with unique gifts, working together to discern and share those gifts in response to the often-ordinary needs of the people and communities of which we are a part. Christopher connected this work of the Spirit in this pandemic time to this community and the ongoing phone calls being made to others, especially those more isolated during this pandemic, and the lifegiving support it is to those called, but also to those calling. This is but one sign of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in and through you! and everyone of us!
A last story. I confess being a formula one racing fan, acknowledging all the problems of obscene money spent on racing cars around the world and the moral and ecological dilemmas of this sport. On the final race of the shortened 2020 season, a young French Swiss driver, Romain Grosjean crashed on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix. His car made contact with another car and slid into a barrier at about 200 kms per hour, shockingly severing the car in half and immediately bursting into flames. In an agonizing two minutes and forty-three seconds, all that can be seen is the one half of the car behind the barrier in flames, and emergency personnel attempting to put out the fire. But at two minutes and forty-four seconds you see Grosjean’s helmet appear out of the flames, climbing onto the barrier, and with the help of an emergency Doctor his jumping over the barrier and away from the wreckage, his racing suit and especially his hands smoldering, shaking his hands, one racing shoe off, limping but insisting on walking with them to the awaiting ambulance. In the harrowing story told by Grosjean in an article and in the Netflix series, “Drive to Survive,” he says he went though a series of unsuccessful attempts to get out of the car, and almost relaxed accepting that he would not survive. But then thinking of his children, he said to himself, “No, they will not lose their Dad today,” and he found a way to extract himself from the car, through the flames to those reaching out to help him. It was a heart wrenching scene and story, titled “Man on Fire” in the Netflix series, but so good to see him alive, with minor burns and injuries, so happy to be with his spouse and children, to be alive. Was this all the work of the Spirit? The word miracle was used over and over. But always we think of those who do not survive, this or any type of life threatening and life-taking circumstance. The connection for me is in Grosjean’s desire to live – for his children, and to speak of treasuring life everyday after. I believe this is the fire and work of the Spirit in all of us. And particularly for the sake of the children, those who come after us and our care for them and this our only home, not only now, for us, but for the future, for others. Wind, fire, breath, they are intimately connected to each of us and the earth. They are all expressions of God’s Spirit at work in and through us and others and this world. And in that Spirit is our life! and our and this world’s hope. Blessed Day of Pentecost. Celebrate this Day of the Spirit, today and always, and the Holy Spirit’s working in you and this world to give life! Let it be so…