I was asked a question the other day by a woman who didn’t grow up as a Christian but came to Christianity as an adult. Her question sprang forth from a sincere confusion about Christianity and the state of the church. The earnestness with which she asked broke my heart, particularly as a leader in the church. “Why,” she wondered, “if the church is what it is, if the church has done all of the extraordinary things that it has done, why are we losing ground? Why don’t more people see what I see?”
“Look at us,” she continued, “look at our network and our net worth. Look at our buildings and the majesty of our history. Look at our people! and that coupled with the message of Jesus…Why is there still such complacency and apathy? Why, isn’t the Episcopal church all over this country thriving? Why aren’t we on fire?”
Fire ignited the church into being through the power of the Holy Spirit 2000 years ago. 2000 years ago, a mighty wind shook the five-ton stones of the Temple in Jerusalem…a wind, not an earthquake but a wind, came and rocked the city…a wind like the wind that blew over the deep before God created the heavens and the earth.
In Hebrew the wind is known as Ruach; in Greek the Paraclete; to us the Holy Spirit, and it is no less present today than when it licked the head of the disciples with dancing flames of fire 2000 years ago. That fire danced upon their heads, and then into their hearts, and up out of their eyes; and suddenly they could see, they could see the contours of the Kingdom of God, they could see what God had in mind when God created the heavens and the earth, and when God created you and me. They had vision, and they dreamed dreams, they prophesied about what the world should look like when everyone realizes that this is God’s world, and the currency that makes it work is a thing called love.
When I was a kid, I played on a select hockey team in Rochester, MN. Once a year we’d go up to Thunder Bay, Canada for a tournament; and we’d see those boys from Canada show up at the rink looking like 14-year-old man boys…they were huge, with beards, drinking coffee. I am sure they drove up in their own trucks. No one was checking birth certificates back then.
But we’d go in the locker room and Denny Vaskey, the youngest player on our team, who was always fired up, would shout: “Look guys, we can take those boys. They got nothing on us. We can beat them and we can beat them bad.”
And we’d listen to music…mostly Queen: We are the Champions, My Friend, and we’d slap each other on the backs and smack each other’s shin-pads with our sticks, and storm out onto the rink, and play our hearts out and they’d beat the crap out of us. But we were fearless. And we never gave up. And we always had hope, and we always had heart and vision for what victory would look like. We dreamed of it, and we spoke of it, and we sought it with every fiber of our beings. We worked out together in the off-season, and we supported one another, and each year we’d go back to Canada…and get the crap beat out of us by the sons of miners and loggers.
Why did we keep going back? We had vision, we dreamed dreams, we spoke often and honestly and sincerely about victory. Why did we keep going back? Because we loved the game and we loved each other, and love drives out all fear! We were fired up! We are made, you and me, to be fired up.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “Matter (that is this body) is spirit that moves slow enough to be seen. We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.
We are spiritual beings on a human journey; and someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, humankind will discover fire!”
When I look into eyes on fire I see opals; I see deep pools of water; I see black onyx; I see supernovas blasting across the universe. Look into eyes that are fired up and you will see what the Psalmist saw: “that the eyes are the windows of the soul” (Ps 30:17). In the Book of Revelation the author writes: “The children of God have eyes that are flames of fire” (Rev 1:14 and 2:18).
If you want to see the soul of a person, look into their eyes; If you want to see the speed of their spirit, trapped in the languidity of their body, look into their eyes.
God has made that so much easier to do in this time of COVID-19, with the mask of plague draped over faces our eyes fall upon eyes. No longer are there pasted on smiles to distract; no longer unmuffled words to distract from what the eyes are really saying
We see only the eyes. The eyes, the embers of the soul, are highlighted today as they have never been before. We see the eyes floating above masks, and many eyes dodge and divert and are dull because they have visions and dreams that are too small. They speak of things that are too small: like their lives and their dreams and their children and their politics. Their eyes signal no knowledge of the purposeful arch of the Kingdom of God woven into the very fabric of creation.
They are governed by fear…even when they go to church, which is why, maybe, the church is floundering, because we have traded in the vision of the Kingdom of God for our smaller dreams of personal privilege and political necessity; of institutional power and maintaining the status quo.
And yet, the fire of the Holy Spirit flickers in the corner of the catacombs of our soul waiting for us to return, to own the arch of God’s vision, and to dream the dreams, and speak the reality of what God has done, and of what God is doing, and of what God will do.
You were made for one reason and one reason alone, to partner in the plan of God. You were made to labor in the field of God’s dreams.That is God’s vision for you, as spoken through Jesus Christ, and spread over all the world by the Holy Spirit.
Today is the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church. As we sit, separated from one another, God has given us this moment, this time I call the Great Timeout, to search the catacombs of our souls for the burning embers of the Holy Spirit that once danced as flames of fire upon the heads of the disciples, and then moved into their hearts, and up out of their eyes; so, they could see the contours of the Kingdom of God; so, they could see what God had in mind when God created the heavens and the earth, and when God created you and me. We are made like the disciples to see with eyes of fire.
And what do we see with these eyes of fire from the parapets of Epiphany? I’ll tell you what I see…I see small communities, guilds, if you will, filled with people fired up to support their common charism. I see them supporting one another spiritually, as they seek to reveal more and more God’s purpose for creation.
I see a guild of healthcare workers connected to reveal love through healing. I see a guild of lawyers connected to reveal love through justice. I see a guild of scholars connected to reveal love through learning. I see a guild of musicians connected to reveal love through composition and performance. I see a guild of administrators connected to reveal love through sound policies. I see a guild of business people connected to reveal love through profits and markets. I see a guild of communicators connected to reveal love through the fiberoptic cables that crisscross this globe. I see a guild of caretakers connected to reveal love through service to the oldest and the youngest amongst us. I see a guild of frontline workers connected to reveal love through the mechanisms that keep society moving. I see a guild of spiritual athletes connected to reveal love through pray and worship and fasting and romping across ancient pilgrim paths. I see Epiphany as a guild of people fired up to reveal the love of God.
And so, I wonder…are you fired up? Are you willing to run at the speed of the Holy Spirit? Are you a spiritual being living a human life, or a human being destined for death? When you look in the mirror what do you see? Do you see opals and onyx and supernovas dancing across the sky, or do you see dull flat discs staring back at you? And how we answer those questions individually, is what gives us the answer collectively to my friend’s question: “Why is the Episcopal church, writ large, losing ground?” The answer is in our eyes.
We are a church of 900 souls. We have the cumulative intellectual capital and financial resources to master winds, and waves, and tides, and gravity, and if we choose to, we can say “yes” to the energies of love, we can say “yes” to the patterns of the Kingdom of God, and, if we do, for the second time in the history of the world humans will discover fire!”