Monday Matters (May 29, 2023)


The Collect for the Feast of Pentecost

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Come, Holy Spirit

When Jesus had his after-hours meeting with Nicodemus (Maybe the original Nick at Nite), he talked about the Spirit. Jesus said: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (John 3:8,9).

If Nicodemus, seasoned religious expert, sounds confused, is there hope for the rest of us? He gives us all permission to recognize that the movement of the Spirit is mysterious, often difficult to pin down, and really hard to predict. So we come to know the Spirit based on the effect the Spirit has, or perhaps as St. Paul puts it, we know the Spirit by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23). But how does that all happen?

The collect we heard in church yesterday (above) reminds us that all is grace. The collect tells us that the Spirit comes to us as a gift, one that is unexpectedly expansive, probably more expansive than we might expect or even want. It is human nature to want to know who is in and who is out. We want to limit the influence of the Spirit so we can explain that influence, and perhaps control the movement of the Spirit.

But the Day of Pentecost as described in the Acts of the Apostles was anything but controlled. Holy chaos broke out, in a reversal of the Tower of Babel. The good news was mysteriously proclaimed in languages of those gathered in Jerusalem. It was like a rapid spreading fire. It was like the blast of a mighty wind. It was not the frozen chosen. I can imagine that members of the religious establishment were thinking: “Wait a minute. We’ve always known how things work. We’ve known who is to be included. We need religion to be predictable.” And of course, I can imagine hearing those six words most dreaded by clergy: “We’ve never done it this way.” Maybe not unlike the parishioner who couldn’t understand why her rector talked about reaching out in the community and practicing evangelism. She said: “In this town, everyone who ought to be Episcopalian already is.”

So when we pray “Come, Holy Spirit”, or when in the eucharist we pray for the Holy Spirit to bless gifts of bread and wine, or when we echo the psalm which asks “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51), we’d best be ready to fasten our seat belts. We’d best be ready for the circle to widen, to broaden our vision of who can be moved by God’s Holy Spirit, to get a surprising vision of holiness.

Yesterday’s collect tells us that the work of the Spirit is for every race and nation. These days, we could really use that kind of work. On a global, national, ecclesiastical, personal level, we contend with great energy around division, about defining self by excluding someone else. We build walls to decide who is in and who is out, imagining that they solve anything. Religious folks consider that they have a corner on the truth. We are made to fear the other.

We need the gift of the work of the Spirit. As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, pray for the Spirit to come with surprising effect in your life and in your community. Pray for the power of the Spirit to knock down walls the divide us from each other. Pray for the fire of the Spirit to burn away resentments and the pride that fuels resentments. Pray for the wind of the Spirit to breathe new life into relationships that have gotten stuck or stale, our relationship with neighbors, maybe our relationship with God. Pray that your own circle be widened to extend the love of God in some new way, maybe in some way you hadn’t even expected. What might that look like in your week?

-Jay Sidebotham

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