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Flight Patterns Of The Spirit: Strong, Sustainable, Connected Church

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The theme of annual meeting this year is Flight Patterns of the Spirit: Strong, Sustainable, Connected Church. This theme picks up on the Starling conversations of the spring, in which members of many Central Pacific Conference churches came together for discussion and sharing of experiences and ideas. Like a murmuration of birds, the spirit is a moving thing. She is dynamic. So her church must be also. We don’t speak of the Spirit often enough probably. She is the work and movement of God in the world. The spirit comes, the wind or breath of God, the dove beating its wings, to renew life in creation. She is tregeneration, outpouring, what theologian Jorgen Moltmann called the power and life of the whole creation.

The spirit is prophetic, for she is with us in creating peace, justice, and liberation. The spirit acts, in helping us make decisions as a church, in helping us to create God’s beloved community. She is wisdom and life and movement. She is creative power. She is a long list of adjectives and images, all of them wild and whirling and fierce. She is fire, she is wind, she is the breath of God- in each of us. Her fruits include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and discernment. She came to Jesus when he was baptized, drove him into the desert and cared for him there, then came to his church at Pentecost to be with us, inspire us, guide us, and even to pester us when needed. She flew to the post resurrection followers of Christ like a “mighty rushing wind” and filled them with power to experience sacred community in a new and spiritually electric way. This isn’t just theology- this is science. The nature of the universe is change. Everything we have taken as static and unchanging is moving on multiple levels. The solar system is swirling. The universe expanding. We ourselves are made of cells and particles with move and bump around. The more we learn, the more we know that the nature of creation and of all life is change. This means (like it or not) things change around us. Everything is becoming. Everything is alive. Alan Watts “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” That metaphor of the flight of birds makes sense. It moves. Each individual is a part, full of life. Many beating hearts, travelling together. And they have to keep flying, or they fall. Pentecost is not just a day that we church people celebrate, maybe with birthday cake, wearing red and singing lots of spirit songs. Pentecost is a movement. It is our calling. Pentecost taught us that we are the church, and the spirit is with us. The spirit came, and Jesus’ people were no longer just a bunch of scared and traumatized disciples, hiding in a room, following a leader who wasn’t even there. They were the church. The people of God. Empowered. Emboldened. On fire. And not one of them said. This isn’t how we always do things. And not one person said- if you want to join us, you have to learn our language and our songs and how we do things. It was called to be a new thing: the Church. As such, it was- and we are God’s plan for the healing and redemption of the world.

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In our own personal spiritual growth, we should never be satisfied. There is never a point at which we can say we have arrived. We are done. We are satisfied with the status quo. There is never a point at which we can say that we have reached our own full measure of maturity in Christ. Sanctification is a process. What is true for us as individuals is also true for us as a community. We have not arrived. There is always a direction in which we need to be moving. If we are not growing and moving, we are backsliding. For things grow and move around us. Beyond us. The church is always going in some direction. Quetsion is whether it’s the direction the spirit calls us. How do we do this? By being intentional. Other organizations do this all the time. Who are we? Where are we going?

Decide or slide. A UCC line is that our faith is 2000 years old. Our thinking is not. The truth is that’s not always so. “Although churches seem the most natural space to perform spiritual awakening, the disconcerting reality is that many people in Western society see churches more as museums of religion than sacred stages that dramatize the movement of God’s spirit.” – Diana Butler Bass.

The UCC were the first to ordain an African American, a woman, and an out gay pastor. We’ve been prophetic. But we as a denomination and as a church and as individuals have more we can do…And to be the church we have to communicate like a church, like Christ’s people who are filled with love. The primary social responsibility of the church then is to embody the reality of God’s new creation and to invite those who are not filled with the spirit, to come and join this new way of being in and for the world—the way of peaceful unity. The way of life and creativity and newness. This is more than asking what we should do. It is asking and being open to questions like who does God call us to be? Where is the Holy Spirit leading us? The holy spirit is not one to say, you’re doing just fine. Don’t change a thing! Pentecost tells us to color outside the lines. That the Holy Spirit is ahead of us, but she is also with us. It takes deep listening, for where she leads, and confidence that though she pushes us out of our comfort zones, she is with us. Open hearts, open minds. Ready to discern and follow the spirit where she calls us. Think about our church community, our wider community, our present and our future. Pentecost is the day the church came out. Everyone had been huddled in a room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like fierce, rushing wind coming down from heaven, the extreme noise completely filled the house in which they were sitting. Something, which seemed to them as if they were tongues of fires, appeared to them. Each tongue of fire seemed to separate, coming to rest on the heads of each individual. They were all filled with the Spirit of God and each began to speak in another language as She enabled them.

The spirit came and they started to talk, to tell their stories to communicate and say this is who we are. God’s plan for us though is to be together and be alive in the spirit- open to new ideas, new ways of being, new ways of communicating. To do the work of the church, knowing that the spirit is in the world. Let’s fly with her. Strong. Sustainable. Connected. Amen. Response options: Ask a few congregation members to share their responses to question or as the congregation to turn to their neighbors and discuss: “As we discern as a church (grounded in God, connected Christ, led by the Spirit) how to more deeply and authentically share the truth of belovedness that God offers all, what might that look like?”

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