Every time I Feel The Spirit
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was that awkward feeling that I was out of place. It was the end of my first year of seminary and I did not know what to do with myself in this environment. I treated it a lot like a college experience to tell you the truth. Yet, that is not a secret to my friends, professors and family. I had not been a Presbyterian for very long and quite frankly did not know if I really wanted to be one in the first place. Yet, here I was studying to be a minister in that denomination. All I knew was that I felt that God was hassling me, prodding me and irritating me. As a matter of fact God is still doing that. I could not let God go, heaven knows I tried, and in the end I am pretty convinced that it was God who was actually holding on tightly to me through some pretty scary spiritual years.
Presbyterians are Calvinistic weirdoes in our society. They are buttoned down, older, educated, upper middle class, white people. I was close to a religious anarchist in a denomination that has a 300-page constitution called The Book of Order. I had to think systematically about theology, rationally about ethics, seriously about church polity and orderly about church worship. All this, plus Calvinists do not believe in free will! What was a holiness kid was raised on tent evangelists to do?
So, we went to one of the staple Presbyterian Churches in Austin. A 500 member, respectable church called Westminster in an area of town called Tarrytown. This coincidently was down the street from the liberal United Methodist Church that George and Laura Bush had a membership in. I liked it because my boss went there and many of the people whom I thought were cool. Plus, the woman minister really got the children to participate in worship. I liked that.
Well my first Pentecost I was not disappointed. The choir sang lushly and the sermon was memorable. After the service my boss, a confirmed bachelor, approached a group of us from the seminary that were talking in a pew.
“Hey, would ya’ll like to come back to my place for Pentecost Bloody Mary’s, and lunch?” he said.
I burst into laughter, I had never heard of something so absurd, but all of us poor students quickly agreed.
“I make the first Bloody Mary, and you are responsible for the rest,” our host announced as he came in with a tray of perfectly presented drinks.
“Let’s raise a glass for all those who have come before us in the church and made us what we are today.” He said and we all said a hearty “Amen.”
Every Pentecost I remember that day; I remember it because that room was filled with people who made me who I am today. There is my wife who has so strongly reminded me of what it means to be loved and have mercy. There was Cindy who was a young Whitworth college grad, a budding military chaplain and another employee of John, our host. I thought she was a bit conservative, but I loved talking with her at work. She is not that conservative, at least not anymore. There was John, my boss, who gave me the black robe that I still sometimes wear to preach in. There was another John, an openly gay man who eventually left the Presbyterian Church because they couldn’t accept him. He is now he Pastor of the church at Yale, our loss. There was Martha a Native American teacher. She is now a pastor of a Kiowa church in Phoenix and has helped fashion one of the most important documents in my denominations history. Then there was Mindy. I would have never finished the ordination process if it wasn’t for Mindy’s example, but that is for another sermon. She was a very out lesbian woman whom many of us adored. She died of breast cancer right after accepting her first church.
That room of different people reminds me that the church’s earliest origins are filled with the greatest ethnic, social, economic, geographic, sexual orientation, class and sex diversity in the history of human society.
These around you are the saints. Even though I have quit drinking many years now, I think that there was more than just liquor spirits in that room, it was filled with the Holy Spirit. Every Pentecost since I have raised a glass and said, “Let’s raise a glass for all those who have come before us in the church and made us what we are today.” That is what I ask of you this morning. Pentecost is a celebration of life, our life, the life-giving Spirit that pulses amongst us and the life that came before us to make us this unique community that we are today. You have been blessed by the Spirit, it is witnessed daily through the love and respect that many have brought to make your life the gift of grace that it is today. That is something to toast.
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