Some days at church are like this: The day is already good, even wonderful – and then it gets better.
Some days at church are like this: I didn’t even know how much I needed to hear someone to say this, from the pulpit, even after all this time.
Our class is always good, wonderful, because everyone is involved and asks questions and cares about the material and loves each other and even when some of us talk too much (sorry!) the others forgive us, and we feel like we have learned something. But today felt like a particularly good day, for some reason.
And the worship service is wonderful any time this hymn [lyrics here] is part of it:
This hardly ever happens at our church, don’t know why, maybe because it is unfamiliar for the congregation, but this morning our music director played variations on it on the organ (!Yay special treat for the organ lovers!) as the prelude, and I recognized it right away from another choir life and ended up crying (tears of joy!) because it is THAT WONDERFUL.
[It should have been a clue, probably, when I was already crying through the prelude.]
But all the music was wonderful today. One of those days.
As was the children’s message, which unpacked the hymn “Fall on Me” – “melt me, mold me, fill me, use me” – our pastor thought maybe this could be the image of a candle – wax, melted, molded, filled with the fuel to be light, able to be used to celebrate, or to go into dark places with that light … the work of the Holy Spirit in us …
[Although I admit, I sat there thinking about glass, since glass and glass collecting and glass blowing and loving glass has been one of the themes of our family life for the past 25 years or so … glass that can be utilitarian or beautiful or both at once … glass that could be made into a hurricane lamp or a lantern or a chalice … which of course made me think of that poem by Christina Rossetti … “A Better Resurrection” …]
But then came the sermon, which was on Acts 11:1-18, Peter’s explanation of everything that happened in Acts chapter 10 – his vision, his hospitality to the messengers from Cornelius, his mission to Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, Peter saying one of the really good lines of the Bible, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47). Baptism, the way God claims us as God’s people.
Because, as our pastor said: in chapter 11, something different is going on than is going on in chapter 10.
In chapter 11, Peter is telling his story to The Church.
And The Church is changing. Because of that.
The church is changing because of Peter’s complex response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This response of paying attention, and following that leading into what might have been a difficult or even questionable place, and seeing what happened, and then telling that story to the church, and in that process the critics, who had challenged what Peter had done in chapter 10 – not OK, Peter, not kosher, man, not righteous or holy, dude – were silenced (Acts 11:18), in the face of what the Holy Spirit called Peter to do, and what the Holy Spirit did with that.
This is the story, our pastor said, of how the church comes to embrace “resurrection thinking.” The story of the church reformed and always being reformed. Of how the church is reformed and always being reformed.
It’s an important story. It’s an important story for the church.
It’s an important story for this church – this particular congregation.
Because it’s the story of why our being a More Light church matters. We’re a church that says LGBTQ lives matter – that God has claimed these lives, as they are – that lesbians and gays and bisexuals and transpeople and queer people are people to whom God has said YES! (a one-word prayer of affirmation) – that affirmation is what the More Light designation and commitment means. God has said “Yes!” because “God loved them in the first place.”
He said: we know by now grace is important for him. It’s what drew him to this congregation in the first place. And it’s what is calling him away, now, to a different place, to the deep south, where it will be important to articulate different messages – still following the leading of the Holy Spirit, still responding to resurrection thinking, and carrying the news of that resurrection thinking.
He said: maybe we have already heard that Acts story, he has heard it a number of times, he has heard these connections made a number of times. But he has not heard it from this congregation. And he thinks that this is our story, and that it is powerful for people to be able to say “this is who we are, this is what we are doing, this is why we are doing it, we know why we are doing it from a scriptural perspective” – and that we are led by the Holy Spirit to offer this story, our story, to the world.
I was unexpectedly unprepared for the effect this had on me.
When it came time to recite the creed, which this week was the portion of the Brief Statement that affirms our faith in the Holy Spirit …
We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
IN GRATITUDE TO GOD, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Because it’s not as if I hadn’t heard those words before, or believed them, or believed them wholeheartedly, or believed they were meant for me. I had, all that. But today, they were all that … more. They were all that more.
Like another member said, across the table in the fellowship hall afterwards, “Seven decades. Seven decades to hear that word, in church … I’m glad I lived to see this day.” Thank you, God.
Thank you, God.