Sermon: Dear Holy Spirit…

Grace and peace to you in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

February, 2015:

Dear Holy Spirit,

Holy crap, I’m so excited that I’m shaking!  I just got a phone call from Bishop Mauney, who told me I’ve been assigned to the Virginia Synod.  We had a great conversation about 5 or 6 prospective parishes, and I just feel so strongly that you’re in this process, and I’m so stoked about a couple of these churches.  I can’t wait for a first interview.   Thank you, thank you, for putting me in such a great synod.  Can’t wait to see where you lead!

Love,
Victoria

 

March, 2015.

Dear Holy Spirit,

I’m on my way to my second interview with that one church—you know the one I mean!  I am so excited.  I know.  I sound like a broken record.  But I really sense some amazing possibilities here.  Just be with me and the call committee as we meet, will you?  Thanks.

Love,
Victoria.

Dear Holy Spirit,

This call committee is so cool!  I’m starting to feel like I might have a call by the time I graduate.  Which, by the way, would be really great.  Just saying.

Love,
Victoria

 

April, 2015.

Dear Holy Spirit,

Ok, so that didn’t work out like I hoped.  I Google-stalked the woman they’re actually moving forward with, though, and she seems really amazing, so clearly you’re guiding that congregation, and I’m going to trust that your guiding me too.  Bishop Mauney tells me that there’s another congregation that might want to speak with me.  What’s that thing about closing a door and opening a window?

Love,
Victoria

 

June, 2015.

Dear Holy Spirit,

What the freak?  I’m pretty sure that you and I both know that that congregation was a terrible fit for me, and I for them.  What are you doing?

Love, but not like right now,
Victoria

 

Dear Holy Spirit,

I hope you know that I was just upset when we last spoke.  It’s not personal.  I know you have more things going on than my call process.  I’m just freaking out a little.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I graduated, like, a month ago, and I have no call prospects on the horizon, just a lot of “bad-timing” or “bad-match” emails from every single one of those five or six parishes Bishop Mauney told me about in February.  I just got some interim work in Lower Susquehanna, which is great, but also reminds me of how far I am from finding a call. You have a plan, right?  Right?

Love,
Victoria

 

July, 2015.

Dear Holy Spirit,

Thank you for Bishop Mauney.  Thanks for giving me a bishop who’s willing to let me consider churches in other synods.  Thanks for turning this dead end into a new possibility. Thank you thank you thank you.  Please help me not screw it up.

Love,
Victoria

 

August, 2015.

Dear Holy Spirit,

Ok, I have absolutely no idea what happened with that last interview.  Absolutely.  No.  Idea.  I’m going to try really hard to stop wondering, and just focus on the two new possibilities.

I kinda need your help here.  There’s the paperwork for the one congregation in Florida, and it sounds pretty interesting, and also, Florida!  But Sharron B. just emailed me about this one congregation in Lower Susquehanna, and she seems to think it might be a really good match.

Dear Spirit, of all the places I marked as places I would go on my paperwork, I never saw you picking the gosh-dang synod where I went to seminary, in the state I grew up in.  Like, really?  You could have sent me to Nebraska.  NEBRASKA.  Don’t you always need to send pastors to Nebraska?

On the other hand, it’s the first time a synod person has sat down and really laid out for me why they think I’d be a match for a congregation.  It was a long email.  She clearly really likes these people. And I like her.

Holy Spirit, the only thing I think I’ve learned through this process is that I have no idea what I’m doing.  I hope you’re in this somewhere.

Love,
Victoria

 

November 1st, 2015.
[The day of my call sermon and vote…which was YES.]

Dear Holy Spirit,

(Deep sigh of relief, wonder, and gratitude.)

Love,
Victoria

 

May 14, 2016

Dear Holy Spirit,

Today I sat down to write a sermon for tomorrow, which as you well know, is Pentecost Sunday, and I really wasn’t sure where to go with it.  I started thinking about you, and about how and whether we know that you’re at work in our lives, and Holy Spirit, I realized….I’m terribly qualified to testify to that.  I spent most of this past year totally unsure of where you were and how you were working.  In fact, most of our relationship felt like it was me posting prayers like letters, and really really hoping that you were catching them.  Here I am, almost six months into this call, and while I definitely feel like you led me here, I would be lying if I said that I was certain of it all the time.

And then, right in the middle of all of sermon draft number two or three, I found a blog post I wrote three years ago, called, “An Open Letter to the Holy Spirit.”  And this is what I wrote:

Dear Holy Spirit,

I know you have a lot going on with the Easter season just starting (Pentecost is just down the road!), but I was hoping we could have a little heart-to-heart, me and you, future-candidate-for-pastor-in-the-Church with the Mover-Shaker-Advocate-of-said-Church.  I mean, presumably, you will be involved in my upcoming first-call process, and it’s about this that I would like a word.

Dear Holy Spirit, I’m scared of my first call.  I keep hearing stories about the parishes in this Body of Christ that have me seriously concerned about why the heck you called me to be a pastor in the first place.  The parishes that have meltdowns over the issue of homosexuality.  The parishes that still won’t welcome women preachers.  The parishes where you can’t talk about the beautiful aspects of Islam to the youth without sending their parents into a tizzy.  The parishes that have secret letter-writing campaigns to undermine or oust their pastors.

Holy Spirit, as you well know, I’m called to the ELCA, a church that is shrinking, a church with a lot of anxiety over numbers (people and finances), and by all accounts, I should be worried about all that.  But I’m not.  I’m not worried about getting called to a dying church.  But I’m really worried about getting called to a dying church where there are no signs of the resurrection.

So, Wisdom, here’s the deal: let’s have an “ask and you shall receive” moment and get it all out there.  Here’s where my hopes and dreams meet your tokens of the resurrection.  Let’s make this happen.  Sophia, send me to a first call where:

  • The congregation takes this whole “priesthood of all believers” thing to heart.  Dear Holy Spirit, please do not let my arrival at my parish be the occasion for everyone who’s contributing to the life of the church to say, “Finally, the pastor’s here!  Time to take a step back!”
  • A congregation who preaches on real issues.  Let’s talk about money!  (Jesus did!)  Let’s talk about issues that affect women!  (Jesus did!)  Let’s talk about green ministry!  Let’s talk about the marginalization of the poor!  Let’s talk about our complicity in systemic sin!  Let my first call be a place that sees faith as a place of real engagement with the world instead of a panacea for all the problems we pretend not to have.
  • A congregation who understands the phrase “constructive criticism.”  Holy Spirit, send me to a place where the members of my parish care deeply enough about our ministry to be honest with me about what they feel I could do better, and just as honest about what I am doing well.  May their feedback be for the building up of our mutual ministry.  And give me a heart to receive their words with humility and grace.
  • A congregation who sees themselves as blessed.  Send me to a place that sees that their call to be church comes not from the demand of tradition, but from God.  Send me to a place that sees themselves, not as strapped for time/money/volunteers/members, but as living into an abundance provided by a loving God who creates and blesses.  Send me to a place that embraces their mission to proclaim the gospel, not to keep it to themselves.  Send me to a church that forgives the mistakes of humanity and rejoices in repentance and reconciliation.  Send me to a place that doesn’t see me not as a threat to the way things are, but that graces my mistakes and rejoices in my gifts, and are eager to share theirs.

Holy Spirit, I reeled as I read that blog post as I realized that that’s exactly where you’ve sent me.  I mean, they’re not perfect—which is perfect, actually, because neither am I—but oh my gosh, I’m not quite six months into my ministry here, and I recognize this place as the place that I was afraid to even ask for three years ago.  A place I wasn’t even sure existed.  And here it is.  And here I am.

Dear Holy Spirit, I keep thinking about Paul’s words in Romans, where he says that we haven’t been given a spirit of fear, but one of adoption.

Following you during this past year hasn’t been fear-free.  I struggled with what seemed like unanswered prayers.  I doubted that ministry was my calling.  I was afraid of a lot of things.  But you kept me rooted in Christ.  You kept me rooted in resurrection.  You kept reminding me who it is that’s adopted me.  You kept drawing me, even though I didn’t understand how or why, to the place where I am, to the people who are here.  Well-played, Holy Spirit.  Well-played.

I’m reading all these prayers to you as a sermon for them today, and I wish—as I almost never do—that the sermon was twice as long, so that I could hear what their prayers have been too.  So that we could celebrate how you have been moving in our midst this past year, even when we were uncertain or scared.  So we could name how you adopted us into God’s love through Christ, and made, and are making, and will make that love alive in this place.

So maybe next year, nudge me to work on this sermon sooner than Saturday afternoon, and we’ll see if we can make that happen.  I can’t wait to see what we’ll be writing about.  Lead the way.

Love,
Victoria

2320766_065d6bec
A stained glass window at Holy Spirit Church Centre, Teleman Square, Greenwich, Great Britain.  By John Salmon.  Licensed for reuse.

 

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One Reply to “Sermon: Dear Holy Spirit…”

  1. Thank you, Victoria. So you! Took me far longer to truly know/accept the fact that the Holy Spirit was there from the beginning.

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