Monday, May 24, 2010

Listening to the Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, 2010

In their own languages they heard them speaking about God’s deeds of power:
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia;
Iraqis, Iranians, Israelis; and residents of Iowa;
Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, and followers of Ron Paul;
Geezers and teenagers, spinsters and spinners; teachers and learners; criminals and saints…

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"

What does this mean?

A young woman I’ll call Sally hadn’t seen her mother since she was 16 years old, not since the night when her mom came home from a bar with a big hairy man named Griz. It was the middle of the night and it was a school night too; Sally was up late doing her homework when they stumbled into the house; she came into the kitchen to check on her mom and there was this guy Griz, who looked like some kind of Hell’s Angel; they were both drunk and carrying on, drinking cheap vodka out of a bottle right there in the kitchen, hanging all over each other; and when Sally turned to go this guy Gris made a lewd remark about Sally’s backside and made a grab for her - right there in front of her mother; and instead of getting mad and standing up for her daughter, Sally’s mom laughed as if it were the funniest thing in the world.

Well, that was it; that did it; that was the last straw; never again, she said; 16 years growing up with that alcoholic irresponsible abusive woman – no more, she said, and so she called up her boyfriend Mark and drove away in his car and she never looked back.

And for ten years she didn’t even see her mom; not even when she graduated from high school; not even when her mom joined AA and got sober and called her to make amends; not even five years later when her mom, still sober, got re-married. Sally didn’t even go to the wedding.

By then Sally herself was drinking pretty heavily.

And hating herself for it. And blaming her mom for it. She had tried so hard to get free of her mom – hadn’t even seen her in ten years – but she was still caught up in her.

And then one night she woke up out of a dead sleep; a voice was calling to her – it was her mother’s voice, calling her name. She got up and started packing her bags for a trip; she didn’t even know where she was going. And then the phone rang; her mom was in the hospital.

Six hours later Sally had flown across the country to be with her.

When I walked into the hospital room they were holding hands and laughing and weeping as if nothing had ever come between them.

Sally’s mom said, “Fr. Matt, this is my daughter.” And all I could think was, “She sure is.”

Amazing things happen when we listen to the Spirit. But the truth of the matter is that all too often, the call from the hospital comes too late. We don’t hear the voice calling to us in the middle of the night; the alcoholic parent never gets sober; animosities and grudges and addictions and self-pitying judgments continue to define us.

I’ve seen the look on a man’s face, standing outside a hospital room, unable to even come in to say goodbye. It’s not a pretty sight.

The Spirit moves on her own accord. Sometimes she speaks very softly. And if we don’t let ourselves get quiet, we won’t hear her when she calls.

It takes courage to get quiet like that. Quiet enough to hear the soft, whispering voice; the voice that will change our lives.

The other day a man told me that over 20 years of drinking came to an end on the day he began to pray.

He said the hardest part about staying sober is not the rehab; it’s not going to all the meetings and having a sponsor and working the 12 steps. No, the hardest part about being sober is simply opening himself, every day, to the Spirit of God in prayer.

The spirit speaks to us in our personal lives; but the story of Pentecost is not just the story of individuals overcoming their personal demons. The story of Pentecost is really the story of the church.

The story of Pentecost is not about me, it’s about us; it’s not about you, it’s about us. All of us, residents of Judea and Cappadocia, Graton and Forestville, Kenwood and Glen Elyn; all of us, divided by language and by culture and age and station; all of us, liberals and conservatives and moderates; fervent believers and ardent skeptics and the simply confused; all of us – listening to the Spirit.

On Pentecost, the Spirit has us speaking to one another and listening to one another in a language we can all understand. Are we listening together?

In the ancient of days, when we were still living in the Bronze Age, we used to wonder why it was that we were so divided. Why is it that it’s so hard for us to get along? Why is it that we speak so many different languages; that we can’t even understand one another?

And we answered that question by telling the story of The Tower of Babel. It was our pride that made us want to build that great tower. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” we said; let us build a tower that reaches the heavens. And of course, this was threatening to God; and as punishment he divided us into different languages and cultures.

It’s hardly a satisfying explanation, for all sorts of reasons, is it? And so, in the Book of Acts, we changed that story; God is no longer the source of our division, God is the source of our unity; finally, everything that divides us has been overcome; finally, the Spirit of God is bringing us together; finally, there is the possibility of genuine understanding.

The Spirit of God helps us find our common language: those of us from Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Sebastopol, parts of Marin; Sonoma, Rome, some Cretans and Arabs, some Petalumans and citizens of Healdsburg.
In Sonoma County, we are whites and Latinos, rich and poor, Catholics and Jews and Protestants; old timers and newcomers. We all live here; but are we listening to one another? Are we honoring the Spirit of Pentecost?

Three years ago, our local historian Gaye LeBaron wrote this about Santa Rosa:

"There is a disconnect between the average Santa Rosan's perception of the town and reality. ... What we have are a lot of people, some old-timers, some fairly new residents, who never, ever intended to live in the fifth-largest city in any area. And, frightened by new crimes, stalled in old traffic, watching tall buildings rise, they're mad as hell! When you stop to think about it, this revelation explains a lot. We have spent decades wondering why we couldn't save the Carrillo Adobe or the Hoag House, why we can't have a plaza like Healdsburg's or Sonoma's, why we've never achieved a proper historical museum like all the other towns around, why it takes so long (20 years for ANYthing) to reach the simplest civic goal, why we have to hire an image consultant to tell us what we represent. It's because we have outgrown the hometown, small-town advantage. We've become a real city while we were busy complaining about our farm town."

Sounds like the Tower of Babel all over again: a confusion of tongues, making it impossible to complete an ambitious task.

So it sounds to me like maybe the Spirit of God – or Gaye LeBaron, anyway - is calling us to listen a little more closely to one another.

And that’s what we’ll be doing this Tuesday night, when over 800 of us – Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Jews – and us Episcopalians - will gather in one place to hear our stories.

This meeting is the culmination of many years of very careful work, getting members of nine different congregations to listen very carefully first to themselves, and then to one another. Now, finally, we are gathering in strength of numbers, to listen some more; to tell our stories of mutual concern and to listen for the Spirit of God.

We are invited to attend this meeting – and many of us are going, just to listen to our neighbors, and to seek that common language, that common understanding, which is the fruit of the Spirit of God.

The Day of Pentecost has arrived. The Spirit of God is calling. It might be a soft voice, whispering to us in the middle of the night. It might be a gentle, constant murmur deep inside our hearts, inviting us to reconcile with a friend or a relative; it might be the voice of an elderly neighbor, or the voice of a grandchild; the voice of a child speaking in Spanish. Or it might just be the voice of our own deepest longing – for a family that is reconciled, a community that knows its neighbors, and is kind; a world that is at peace.

My prayer is that, when the Spirit of God calls us, we will hear Her call, and find the courage to answer it. For in that, there is salvation.

May it be so, Amen.

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