Tumbling in the Sand
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” – Acts 10:44
Have you ever felt like you were a little behind the ball on something? Or maybe everything? I feel that way a lot—like I’m just running to keep up at all. It tends to make me feel a little anxious and a little out of control.
Obviously, it’s not always great to be this way: there are ways of planning and taking care of things so that one doesn’t get so far behind. At least, I’m pretty sure there are ways of doing that—I’m generally not well practised or versed in those particular arts—and, it always seems to me that most of my ministry consists of things that keep popping up that are most certainly more important than whatever I’d actually had planned… For the most part, I’m learning to come to terms with this; but, there are days when I just wish that for once I could be ahead of things.
I feel, though, in pretty good company as I read the story of Acts. Called the Acts of the Apostles, this letter might well be better named the Acts of the Spirit, because in this story of the early Church, the Spirit is constantly out ahead doing things and the apostles always seem to be running to catch up. They are often left amazed, bewildered, discombobulated as they are continually outpaced by the Spirit. Such is the case in this story in Acts, where this Roman household has the Spirit poured out on them even though they were Gentiles and not even really proselytes and certainly not baptized yet … but the Spirit doesn’t really care, apparently, and doesn’t wait around for Peter and his companions to figure out that these things aren’t barriers to God.
This is a relief to me for so many reasons. First of all, I’m in good company not knowing what is next and feeling kind of behind—Peter and Paul and Philip and Stephen and all the rest were not that different than me in this regard *phew*. And that point kind of applies to point number two, which is that God still works with the disciples even though they are a bit behind. Which probably means that God will work with me, even though I don’t have my act all together—of course, I may find what God is doing a little disconcerting, but that’s what God does, what’s new? And even better than that to me: God works beyond the limitations of the apostles. God is busy doing new things whether I keep up or not. God is not going to stop healing the world, reaching out in grace, causing new life to spring up, re-birthing the church again and again, just because I find myself behind or unsure or out of sorts or simply derailed. And all of this is really good news.
Now, can I take this a little further? You see, the whole Church is in a place of feeling behind the ball—completely unsure of what is coming, what the future will hold. Pastors are wondering about the future of full-time calls and if bivocational ministry is the future—and then they wonder about whether it’s fair to expect a professional, seminary educated clergy if that will be the reality of their ministries. Congregations are looking at declining membership and massive building structures, wondering what in the world they will do with them. Many mainline denominations are shrinking and the Catholic church is hemorrhaging members—particularly in this country. No one is immune from the growing dis-interest/disdain for “organized religion.” Or really, organizations in general are pretty suspect these days.
And we’re all in a process of trying to figure out what is ahead for the Church. What will its future be? Model after model of ways to “grow the church” are being tried and, for the most part, not doing much. Though, mission-starts around the country are doing some pretty awesome things with their incredible (often small, but not always) communities. Book after book is being written: Diana Butler-Bass’ Christianity after Religion: The end of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening is a particularly popular one these days. The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle, The Underground Church by Robin Meyers, and Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg are three others that easily come to mind. There is article after article, blog after blog, conversation after conversation on the future of the Church and what it will look like.
And after a whole lot of reading, I’m still not sure that I have any great clarity on where we’re going. I know some things, some principles mostly, about reclaiming the core of our faith (Jesus, abundant life, grace, you know…) and letting go of the trappings. I know that we need to stop pretending we have answers and be willing to engage in questions. I know that we need to be willing to be broken and publicly repentant about our brokenness (and I mean this as a church as a whole: we as the church has many sins of commission and omission we need to be all about repenting for). I know that we need to be about clinging to grace.
But beyond that, I don’t really know. But, if we’re entering a time when the Church is in fact experiencing a re-emergence, a re-birth, it seems we might well be entering a time when we are like the early church—a time like the story told in Acts. People have certainly suggested as much many times before me. If that is the case, then maybe it’s okay not to know. Maybe it’s okay to trust that the Spirit is busy doing new things in and out of these communities that we call churches. Maybe our calling isn’t to figure out what will be, but rather to keep moving, keep following the Spirit as it leads today, keep being amazed at where God has already broken down the walls, and be willing to keep shrugging our shoulders and going: “Well, if the Spirit’s already done it, how can we not do it too?”