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Belmont, CA 94002
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Pentecostal Fire in Action


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
May 15, 2016

Pentecost is my favorite Christian holiday! It hasn’t been taken over by our consumer society. There is no Santa Clause or Christmas lights, no Easter bunny or colored eggs, just the wild wonderful celebration of the fire of the Spirit! And it’s the official birthday of the Church so we get to eat birthday cake!
        
Luke tells the story we didn’t hear this morning in Acts 2. He chose the Jewish Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, the harvest festival, celebrated fifty days after the second day of Passover and commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai to celebrate the birthday of the church. For Luke the Spirit replaced the Law. But our reading from the Gospel According to John this morning implies a quieter inspiration of the Spirit. Instead of tongues of flame and a multitude of voices speaking in the languages of many people, we are reminded of the Law of Love and are promised the Advocate who will teach us all that Jesus has said to us. We are surrounded by and filled with God’s peace! “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubles, and do not let them be afraid.”

How do you experience the Spirit of God in your life? To say that God is always with you is easy, and true; but most of us don’t remember that all the time, and too often we spend half our time trying to figure out what we mean by God.

We come to church, most of us, to be reminded, to experience the beauty, the music, the silence, the story. When we leave this place, how much of all that stays with you throughout the week?

Is it ideas or beliefs you are fed by? Probably not. We are a non-creedal church, which means we do not ask you to believe a particular creed or idea about who/what God is. Religion, in any form, may give you a foundation upon which to build, but true transformation requires more than a belief system. How do you live your faith? Especially in the hard times, when people die, or you experience serious health challenges, or people you love are suffering, or the world seems to be falling apart and fear is marketed daily on the evening news? How do you access that “peace that passes all understanding”

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) God may meet you in the whirlwind like God spoke to Job, but for most of us God comes to us in silence. God comes to us as God came to Elijah on Mount Horeb (I Kings 19:11-13): “The angel of the Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

“Sheer silence!” Contemplative Prayer has been around since the beginning. Jesus spent time alone with God. He was often called away from prayer to heal and to teach but he returned to his solitude daily.

Progressive Christianity has focused a great deal on the justice challenges of our faith. Doing the work of the church can burn us out if we do not draw deeply from the well of God’s living waters. We need action but we also need contemplation.

Whatever way we imagine the Spirit, it is always with us. We can call the spirit Fire, as in energy and passion, or water that runs deep, or wind that whispers or moves us, but all are symbols for the mystery beyond words. We need to move beyond words to discover and be in touch with the guidance of that Spirit that can renew, inspire, challenge and transform our lives.

Celebration of the Spirit in our midst is not enough. We need to develop the discipline to begin to practice listening, making time to move beyond our ego monologue, observing the chatter that fills our brains, returning again and again to the silence of presence.

Whatever we believe about God, it is not enough. We need to develop a deep relationship with Spirit. We need to get to know the difference between our small self, our old ego defenses, and our True Self that is God’s creation, united with God.
Patterns will reveal themselves if we make time to notice. The more we get to know our ego defenses, the judgments, the personality that serves us in the wider world, the more we can move beyond them to our true selves, the spirit that is within us that is One with the Oneness of God.

There are many ways to begin a practice: We can practice Centering Prayer, which asks us to simply sit in silence while returning to a sacred word or phrase. Or we can use Lectio Divina, a practice of reading scripture slowly, repetitively, listening for God’s gentle nudge in a word or a phrase. We can use Welcoming Prayer which is a practice of sitting and welcoming whatever comes with acceptance and forgiveness, and letting it go as we return our minds to the stillness of God’s presence. But we can also do  Yoga, Tai Chi, and other meditative movement. We can wander or sit in nature, although finding time to do this daily may be a challenge. And we can simply focus on our breathing wherever we are.

We have plenty of excuses that prevent you from discovering our True Self. Would you say that you don’t have enough time? As a single parent that was my go-to excuse. In full-time ministry it continued to work for me until I realized I needed to listen and refill my cup if I hoped to speak wisely or well.

Are you uncomfortable with silence? I have been practicing now for over two years, and it still sometimes feels like all I do is go over my “To Do” list in my head or revisit old conversations during the 20 minutes I set aside each morning. But I see changes within me for all that. I observe my own inner monologues and justifications more easily now. I am less reactive.

Are you just too tired? Sometimes I’ll sit down to pray and nearly fall over. Sometimes I really am too tired. Sometimes when I go to bed I simply practice remembering to breathe, to say Hi to God, to repeat a simple word or phrase until I fall asleep.

You can practice a simple mantra wherever you are (bathrooms are always good): “Be still and know that God is God…. Let go and let God…Breathe and remember that God loves you!”

You are a child of God and meant to live a full and transformative life. I came across these words from Jim Carey, of all people, this week that both inspired and challenged me. They reminded me of why it is so important that we find and honor the True Self God has created us to be:

“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory. Our eyes are not viewers they’re also projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script and the working title is, I’ll never be enough! You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future but all there will ever be is what is happening here. And the decisions we make in this moment that are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never dare to ask the universe for it. How would you serve the world? What do they need that your talent can provide? That’s all you have to figure out. You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love! Relax and dream up a good life!”

You may need to listen to that still small voice to discover what your dream really is! May it be so! Amen.