Sunday, May 13, 2012

Riding the Wave of the Spirit

A year ago today at about this time, I graduated from Seminary and I had no idea who Matt and Carson were. But the Spirit was at work and today one year later, I can say that I’m ordained so that I can baptize my neighbors-Lyle and Dexter- because the flow of the Spirit brought us together in this place. During the Sundays of Easter we’ve begun each week with Thanksgiving for Baptism. As our worship has begun, we’ve turned and faced the font where for us, God has spoken. We’ve watched the water flow and we’ve let the words pour over us. Let’s go back to those words and let them soak in- recall and give thanks for God’s work in the Spirit poured out in water and the word.

If we listen we hear beautiful, stirring language that recalls God in great water stories- “ in the beginning the Spirit moved over the waters” and created, bringing order out of chaos and sprouting forth new life in abundance. “God spared Noah and his family” from being swept away by raging water. God commanded the waters to stand back! And delivered the people out of captivity and into freedom. These are Cecil B De Mille epic movie images.

We’ve also been giving thanks for the gift of baptism for us- through which we share in Jesus’ death on the cross, but also in salvation, cleansing and new life. As you listen to the words, can you hear God’s love splashing forth everywhere, as we listen to the water pouring out of the pitcher? I really hope so.

Yet, I must confess to you that as captivating as this can be most weeks, as I am holding the very full pitcher, I’m keenly aware that water is just about to burst forth and it just might splash everywhere. Especially today as I’m feeling a little jet lagged and the pitcher is heavier than I remembered. It’s the same feeling perhaps you’ve had holding a pitcher of ice water, when you’re sure the ice will all jam up, and you just know that then the water will fly, not just out of the spout. But over and around it. Splashing everywhere!

It's seems to be on the verge of being reckless and messy. A little chaotic and out of control. There are moments when the thought going through my head is what if I can’t hold back the water? What if it really does go everywhere?

This is the dilemma that we hear of in the early church in our lesson from the Book of Acts- what if this CAN’T be contained? The verses we hear are part of an ongoing saga that’s been unfolding ever since the moment the risen Jesus appears to the disciples and breathes the Spirit into their midst. Then Saul has a dramatic conversion as the result of a vision, and Peter has a dream that leads him to a place he never imagined. And each finds himself in a place where he comes to realize that God’s point is not about asking them to hold back the water, or “protect” the Spirit. In fact, they’re being challenged to get out of the way of the flow.

While these verses seem to show us mere moments in the flow of time, they were dramatic changes that probably felt nothing like the orderly progression of the development of faith. They probably felt much more like trying to ride a giant wave.

I don’t know if you have ever tried to ride the waves, but in my younger days at the shore, I did. And I learned it’s tricky business. If you fight the flow, it ends up badly, and you find yourself stranded, or pounded into the sand, wondering what went wrong. But if you hit it right, it’s an amazing ride. It’s exhilarating though short, and the best moments come when it’s obvious you’re just letting it happen.  Whenever I listen to people talk about Spirit-led moments in their lives, it sounds like this. Moments where in spite of our limits, or biases or fears, the Spirit enables us to see God and takes over our lives. This is what the imagery of the roaring wind, the rushing breath and the all consuming fire intend to depict- power and presence beyond our grasp.

Even so, no matter how often we hear these stories, our natural inclination tends to be more like Peter and Saul and to fight the flow. And maybe even grimace when we hear that the pouring out of the Spirit is not according to our dispensing instructions. The pouring out of the Spirit isn’t like using an eyedropper and selectively parsing out here and there as we wish. It really is that giant out of control wave. One that will toss us around whenever we too say things like “ anyone but THEM!” And God’s real answer to the question of whether anyone can hold back the water is NO!
To proclaim we believe in the power and presence of such a Spirit means we are challenged to trust that the same God who created order out of chaos also offers the way and the hope we need to live in spite of the tension. It’s found in Jesus’ words- “Abide in me.” The vision and the dream of these words is a wonderful new relationship, yet one that is seen most fully when we lay aside our lives as we envision them- for a love as all encompassing as the Spirit. “Abiding with” is deeper than just putting up with- it’s swimming in the same water with those whose lives look nothing like the life we want to abide in. The only way we can do it is by that same Spirit.

As we’re again reminded of this all encompassing love for us and an equally broad call to mission, the best place to become is empowered is in remembering with thanksgiving the work of the Spirit in us, and the power of that Spirit continually poured out over us. Perhaps I’m biased, but for me the clearest image of this comes by seeing the Spirit as a mothering influence. Part cheerleader, part nurturer, part comforter. Part “get off your butt and clean up this mess I’m tired of living in.” Add a dash of “you did what?!”

But then add the phrase that I’ve said more than once as a Mom- “not everything can be fixed, but there is nothing that can’t be forgiven.” Because everyday I am swept away by how much I love you. “I’ll help get you there.”
This is how I envision the Spirit and what I remember when I give thanks for baptism.  And I believe that God uses the love of mothers and others to show us this- in times that kind of love has swept over us; times we’ve abided things for those we love; and times when the Spirit has enabled us to set aside the “Me” for a deeper love together in Christ.

That same love must flow forth beyond us,
as the Spirit continues to move in us and through us.

Today the Spirit pours, or perhaps better, gushes forth, not only in our memory but as we pour the water and word over Lyle and Dexter in baptism. It’s a day for which the Spirit has been at work. Today it’s more than a dream or a vision, it’s a loving reality. As we hear God say- I chose you. And God has chosen each of us and chooses all people. Words that lead to the water. Water that speaks of the Word.

May we celebrate this day! And continue to ride where the Spirit is flowing. It’s the ride of our lives. It may sometimes be chaotic, uncontrolled or even messy. But as one of my classmates has said- we take the ride. And then one day it hits us- we wake up and see- that the Spirit has poured all our waves together and we’re really all awash in God’s giant sea.

Then our joy will be complete.