This weekend marks an important celebration in the life of the Church. In Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the starting point of the Church. In fact for the past few weeks in the lectionary Gospels we have read of Jesus preparing the disciples for the coming of the Spirit, his Spirit. This Spirit, the Advocate, would teach them and remind them of the words of Christ. It would unify them in love for each other, offering an example to the world of God’s presence in Jesus and his disciples.
Our other Easter lectionary readings have been from the Acts of the Apostles and it presents a very different picture of the Holy Spirit. For Luke the Spirit is a spirit on the move. It is a spirit like that which drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face temptation and self-reflection. In Acts the Holy Spirit in constantly drawing the disciples out of their comfort zones, transforming them into Apostles in the process. The Holy Spirit is constantly redrawing the boundary lines of the Kingdom of God, expanding into further and further territory. Everyone is welcome, everyone is loved, whether they are Jew or Greek, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free.
What we do on Pentecost, though, is not just remembering the past. Pentecost is also a time to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church today. The same Spirit that reminded, taught and came alongside the early disciples is still doing the same for us today. The Spirit draws us back, again and again, to the Gospels and what they reveal to us about Jesus. In a changing landscape, where our old maps no longer apply, the voice of Jesus in the Gospels is our compass to help us find our way forward.
The Holy Spirit of Acts is alive in us as well. The Spirit irks, irritates, pokes and prods. The Spirit calls us to draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. The Holy Spirit leads us to love and truth, even when we would rather not go. As Richard Rohr says. “Yes, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Oftentimes the Holy Spirit is the great “uncomforter”.
We have experienced these two elements of the Spirit in our recent conversation on Human Sexuality and Marriage Equality. Here’s a recap of what we talked about:
- The Bible: We all use the bible to varying degrees, some often and others only in the context of worship. Our understanding of the bible has changed over time. We are much more comfortable with multiple meaning in scripture.
- Change and Diversity: Change can often be difficult, especially in the church. Change within the Anglican tradition is complicated, with decisions being shared between bishops, clergy and laity, at both the national church and diocesan levels. The Anglican Church has changed dramatically over the years, for example: the ordination of women, allowing divorce and remarriage, and Confirmation as a gateway to communion. Change most often comes from the ‘grassroots’ up to higher levels of leadership.
- Human Sexuality: It is hard to define human sexuality but it is an intimate part of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. Human sexuality is complex, especially in our more liberal, Western culture. The church is only just beginning to find its way through the contemporary reality and complexity of human sexuality. The conversation, not a debate, needs to continue.
- Marriage and family: Our understanding of marriage and family has changed over the years. No longer do we define marriage and family as husband and wife, with 2.2 kids and a white picket fence. There are blended families, single parent families, same sex couple with children, multi-generational families, and families with couples choosing not to be married or to have children. Our understanding of marriage and family though still centers on love, trust, commitment and mutual respect. In the church marriage centred on the sacramentality of love as a vehicle of God’s grace, a covenant before God between people who love each other. The example of Christian marriage comes from the relationship between Christ and the church, one of self-giving and loving service. In our discussion we saw no reason as to why all of this could not apply to same sex couples in the church.
We also acknowledged that the way forward will not be easy and we may not get the result we desire from General Synod, and that there are likely those in our own diocesan family who do not share our views on marriage equality. We articulated a need to continue to pray for those who disagree with us and to love and accept them as part of our Christian family too. We acknowledged our own LGBT brothers and sisters at St. Mark’s and the very real hurt and exclusion that they feel. We hurt with them because we are a family. We know that further discussion is necessary as we seek to respond to whatever happens at General Synod and in our own diocese.
We are all left with the question: where is the Holy Spirit leading us? That same Spirit that teaches and reminds us of Jesus’ love and acceptance is still calling us to follow Jesus. The same wild Spirit that knocks down barriers, drawing the circle wider and wider, is still beckoning us deeper and deeper into the love that God has for all of God’s children, regardless of race, gender, class, or sexuality. Are we willing to listen to the uncomfortable call of the Holy Spirit?