Surely the presence…
Kurt Aschermann, Lay Pastoral Leader February 4, 2019
Sometimes the presence of the Holy Spirit is more evident than other times. I mean, the Holy Spirit is always with us, but sometimes, some days, you can feel the presence of something special, of a more sacred way, if you will. Sunday February 4th, fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, was one of those days at Christ Church .
It started with our priest Gail Epes. Her presence–never mind the Holy Spirit–is calming, spiritual, strong. When Gail celebrates you feel as if Jesus just simply tapped her harder than the rest of us and said to her ‘go and make disciples…’ for that is surely what she does when she celebrates with us. When she follows our tradition of addressing each of us by name as she places the bread in our hands and looks us in the eye, and says ‘George, this is the body of Christ,’ you know He is there, you feel the special nourishment that only comes from the Eucharist. And we affirm it when we look back at Gail and respond, Amen.
It included the music. The Ecumenical Choir was glorious. With blended voices, under the direction of Betty Hutchison, ‘Seek and You Shall Find’ made us all stop and listen. We listened to the music. And we listened to what Christ Church exists for: the presence of Jesus in every heart and mind and body of every person in the room. The music reminded us that this Jesus Way that we are seeking to understand, is often presented to us in a simple melody.
This presence was manifested in our response to my challenge to donate 100 books for children who don’t have any. One person asked me during the week, “How do you know you can get that many books from so small a congregation?” I responded “Done deal; we’ll have way more than 100.” And, of course, as usual, CCL responded. Why? Because somebody (in this case a bunch of kids without books at home and a great organization that would get them to them) needed us. As I said – done deal. (Final count after just two weeks was 538.)
The presence of the Holy Spirit was with me too during the service. You all know I don’t write out my Messages. And, as I have told some, I swear it is true that sometime during the week my message comes to me; just shows up in my brain and writes itself. Oh, we may joke that it is God providing the message. But it isn’t a joke to me. It’s a fact.
The main body of my message was a simple one to construct. I knew I wanted to remind us that the last four weeks taken as a whole could be seen as a path for us, too. Jesus’ baptism, the start of his ministry, can be a reminder to us that we can renew our baptismal promises as often as we want, and start our own ministry over and over if we want. The key is to be reminded we ALL have a ministry.
The wedding at Cana, the first miracle, helped us realize we all do miracles every day. Heck, we were witnessing one that very morning when 200 books showed up in response to a request for 100! Did I hear someone say that wasn’t a miracle? I beg to differ. It was a beautiful miracle.
And then in week three of the four, Jesus announcing to his friends and the people that ‘I am who God says I am’ turns for us into a reaffirmation of being who God says WE are…that our intentionally saying to God and others ‘I am who you say I am’ helps us along the way, this Jesus Way.
Finally in the fourth week after Epiphany we read that Jesus was driven out of town. Almost off a cliff! Some of this rage because he refused to perform bigger miracles than healing people (think about that for a moment) and the people of his home town felt cheated, but mostly it is because he said ‘I am the way, and that way is love,’ and he said, ‘I am who God says I am. ’ For this reason, they sought to literally kill him, to run him over the side of a cliff…
So, what does this all mean for us? Well, you see, when we, like Jesus, do these things-renew the baptismal covenant of our ministry, continue to do miracles, and continue to say we are who God intended us to be – we change the world. And when we change the world–really change the world grounded in love–what happens?
People are going to want to throw us off the cliff.
I believe this is what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry means when he asks us to be part of the Jesus Movement. A movement is more than just a fraternity, a group of people that have something in common. A movement changes things; a movement changes the world. And a movement is often driven out of town and almost off the cliff.
While I had my notes ready to preach, it wasn’t until Sunday morning that it occurred to me-so I could add it to my notes for the message-that what Jesus wants of us is to be cliff dwellers. He calls us to welcome the discomfort that comes from following him. After all, we are here, we exist, to change the world, to say to the world we aren’t what YOU say we are. We are what HE says we are.
But nothing left us with the presence more that Sunday than when we sang the Christ Church anthem, the song sung every single week, communion and Morning Prayer alike: ‘Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place…’ When Betty struck the chords for Surely the Presence and I looked out at all the faces with their eyes closed singing the words they know by heart, many with tears streaming down their face, I lost it. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t see. I can’t see now as I write this.
After the service Gail told me she had the same feeling. She was so overwhelmed by the presence of the spirit in the church she worried she would not be able to say the final blessing. When is the last time you saw a priest so overwhelmed with the presence of the Holy Spirit that she almost couldn’t continue?
Surely the presence of the Lord was in that place…
Christ Church has become a place where Jesus resides in us as community and in each of us individually in a more powerful way than any of us thought possible. And we are beginning to bring our message to more people who we know benefit from being with others who seek to understand His call and respond to it. (That Sunday we had 42 people…double what we had a year ago at this time.)
Let us each dedicate ourselves to seeking this presence every day, all day, in everything we do. Let us follow, as Bishop Curry encourages us, the Way of Love.
Let us be cliff dwellers.
I love you all,