Considering the fourth gospel of Luke, the roots of our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the continued work of justice set in front of us...
by Pastor Stephen Yorba Patten
"The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm ... Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy in the most piteous accents, while others were shouting vociferously. While witnessing these scenes, a peculiarly strange sensation, such as I had never felt before, came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lip quivered, and I felt as though I must fall to the ground. A strange supernatural power seemed to pervade the entire mass of mind there collected. At one time I saw at least 500, swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens. I fled for the woods and wished I had stayed at home."
This taken from a description of Cain Ridge in 1801, one of the great revivals of the Second Great Awakening. And, as did the ancient Israelites, those at Cane Ridge met God in the wilderness, an uncivilized encampment of 30,000, listening to Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist preachers froth at the mouth for days. A vibrant faith was formed, one that was less intellectual (almost anti intellectual) and emotionally driven. A faith deeply inspired by the Holy Spirit and its unexpected lure. It was a spontaneous, untame, emotional, risky, raw, and authentic faith! Women swooned, men howled, and others rolled in the dirt speaking in strange tongues. Sounding like something straight out of the first century church on that day of Pentecost...
"Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
As much as we may want to make sense of these experiences, I would rather lift up and celebrate that which we have no earthly explanation for. Given the Pentecostal roots of my upbringing, my theology lends itself to the raw and authentic movement of God's spirit. For all the words we produce in seminary and the volumes more we dole out on Sunday mornings, the movement of the Holy Spirit is damn near impossible to contain therein. The Spirit is often at work in places far beyond what we traditionally deem to be the parameters of Church.
In fact, we know that the Church began in small villages like Nazareth, the wildness of the Jordan River valley, on mountain tops, in fishing boats, during storms on the Sea of Galilee, in thatched roof homes, in upper rooms, on islands, on desolate roads, and inside prisons.
Just think of your own lives, and the journey that has brought you to where you are today. The many awakenings that have spoken to you, moved and shaped you. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is often unexplainable, unpredictable, unexpected, almost unreal, unable to be intellectualized, raw, authentic, sometimes chaotic, scary, and emotional. The work of the Holy Spirit is a risky venture, one that the church often avoids for a more civilized, safe, secure, and mature theology.
Think of the risk Jesus took in venturing out to be baptized at the Jordan River by John who had turned his back on the dignified faith of his father to lead a band of apocalyptic radicals; the lunatic fringe. And then to be lured, by that same Spirit even farther out into the wilderness, to confront the devil and perhaps his own reluctance towards what God was calling him to. Jesus' raw, unpredictable, risky venture of living into the lure of the Holy Spirit. And then, according to Luke chapter 4, to walk into his hometown synagogue and boldly chose a scripture reading from the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming a kingdom born of Justice.
Dr. King warned us, "The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century." Or the 21st century for that matter.
There is much talk about the church having lost its authenticity, having become irrelevant among younger generations, that the church is dying. There is even more talk about what the new church should look like, and what is needed for revival. Frankly speaking, the church needs to get over itself, stop admiring itself in the mirror, it needs to get outside of itself; the church needs to breathe again...I mean that ancient breath of God's Spirit, the Ruach, the Pneuma, the Spiritus. The Church needs to breath again. The church needs to venture out into wild places again, and be baptized again in the Spirit, spend some time in the desert, face its complacency, its doubts, its limitations and allow itself to reconnect with the raw, wild, authentic Spirit of God again. As Dr. King declares, "The church needs to recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church." Then the church will awaken in new and wonderful ways. And the sign that will follow such a Holy Spirit awakening? A radical thirst to do justice.
At UrbanMission, we are experimenting with this. What we are doing at UrbanMission is not rocket science, it's not some secret recipe that we learned from the book of some New Church guru. Here's what I think we have done at UrbanMission. We have decided to trust and follow the lure of the Holy Spirit. And she has led us down a rabbit hole that, I would say, none of us know for sure where it will eventually take us. But, if I might speak for the rest of us, so far, it has taken us to some of the most raw, authentic, beautiful, and unexplainable places that I, frankly, have ever encountered. To places where we find ourselves neck deep in the work of radical justice; preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
This is the sign of a healthy and Spirit-filled church, IMHO, it is a church that shucks its pride, dares to dream, takes risks, speaks truth, and does justice.
If it is a living, breathing, justice oriented church we long for, then we must give in to the lure of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our communities, willing to follower wherever it leads. Knowing that it will eventually lure us to the edges of our comfortability, challenge us to expand our notion of Church, leading beyond the norm, out into the wild places, where only the unexplainable and unimaginable things of God occur.
Pastor Stephen Patten
From the Mountain is a 'cyber sanctuary' where sermons and other musings are posted for the general consumption of a larger community. Feel free to reflect on them as you wish. You are welcome to leave comments below with thoughts, insights, and/or questions.