31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 30, 2015
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“To walk behind such a being was like tracking a sunbeam. Light seemed to radiate through her and then reflect her presence in multiple places at once. Her nature was rather ethereal, full of dynamic shades and hues of color and motion. No wonder so many people are a little unnerved at relating to her, Mack thought. She obviously is not a being who is predictable.” (The Shack, W. Paul Young, pg 130)
In his novel, The Shack, Paul Young’s description of the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman who radiates and refracts light is surprising. Surprising because we don’t often picture the Spirit as anything other than, well, a spirit.
His description is untraditional, and at the same time exactly right because the Holy Spirit is challenging to pin down. The Spirit is unpredictable. The Bible and our hymnal describe the Spirit as water, as fire, as wind, as creativity. These books of our faith describe the Holy Spirit as one constantly changing and on the move.
And that is exactly why we, as humans, are so inclined to avoid the Holy Spirit. Most of us do not like change. We go to great lengths to avoid change. We are looking for a rock to cling to, a place of shelter in the midst of the storms of life where we can stop and take a breath. We do not intentionally seek out change and innovation.
In one of my past churches, every week, we sang hymn #259 as our sung response. “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”
I’ve sung that hymn hundreds of times, and on a few occasions, I wondered, “Do we mean it? Do we really mean it?” What would actually happen if God’s Spirit melted, molded, filled, and used us? Do we really want to be changed by the Holy Spirit?
On vacation this past July, my family had the opportunity to go to a water park in Williamsburg, VA. I’ve been to water parks before, and I was looking forward to the lazy river ride. A lazy river is a river-like water ride where the water is 2-3ft deep and there is a slow current that floats you around the meandering circle in an inner tube. A couple of times around the lazy river was exactly what I needed from vacation this year, but this water park in Virginia did not have a lazy river. They had a ride called the Hubba, Hubba, Highway. Like a lazy river, the water was only a few feet deep; it flowed in a circular course, but there were no tubes, and the current was anything but slow and leisurely.
The current in the Hubba Hubba Highway propelled us forward, sometimes forcing us to float under fountains and into the path of water cannons. You could stand up in the water. You could resist the persistent current, but I didn’t. I had been looking forward to the lazy river however I found myself bubbling over with laughter as the current pushed us around and around the Hubba Hubba Highway.
We sing “Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness.” (Spirit #249) but do we really mean it? Do we really want the Spirit to blow through our lives and stir things up?
In his essay, “Church 3.0”, Rev. John Dorhauer, our United Church of Christ President and General Minister, writes, “I am a bureaucrat. I am a bureaucrat in a model of church fully invested in and supported by institutional loyalty, authorization, and oversight. My model of the church, however, is dying.” (Blue Yarn blog, February 14, 2014)
Rev. Dorhauer goes on to say that the church as we know it, the church of the Reformation, Church 2.0, has had a good 500 year run however “the need for church 2.0 as a model is going to decrease dramatically, and those who invest in the infrastructure that supports it are going to close a lot of their franchises – i.e. churches.”
And then he goes on to say that he used to be concerned about that. He not only cares about the church, he draws his income from the church, but John Dorhauer is not concerned about church 2.0 any longer. He’s “not interested in keeping something alive after it has outlived its capacity to serve the purpose for which is was birthed in the first place.”
The death of the institution does not concern him, what concerns him is the possible disappearance of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that one is loved, a good news that has the “profound capacity to change the world and the lives that occupy it.”
Unsettling to hear that the president and general minister of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, does not care if the institution of the church lives or dies. Inspiring to hear that what he cares about is sharing the good news of Jesus’ unconditional and inclusive love.
John Dorhauer does not know what Church 3.0, the church of the future, is going to look like. This summer I met someone who said, no one knows what Church 3.0 is going to look like. We are only now figuring out what Church 2.1 and Church 2.2 look like.
What is clear to me though is that if we, as the church, are going to live, if we are going to fulfill our purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, sharing the good news of God’s love, then we need to be open to the Holy Spirit. If the church is going to thrive, we need to be open to the One who is changeable, unpredictable, always on the move, and always trying to get us to move.
But we don’t want to move. We don’t want to change. All we want to do is stay still. All we want is some calm, a little turn around the lazy river, but life is not a lazy river. Life is the Hubba, Hubba Highway, and we have two choices. We can exert a lot of effort trying to resist the current, trying to stay in one place, trying to oppose the inevitable changes of life – or we can cling to the Holy Spirit. We can hold on to the One who is not afraid of change. God’s spirit is not afraid of moving forward. God’s spirit embodies change and unpredictability, creativity and action. And God’s spirit will help us embrace and thrive through the change and unpredictability of life.
The Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words. The Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
In this life that is ever-changing and unpredictable, we need the Holy Spirit. As we hold on to the firey red prayer bead that reminds us of the Holy Spirit, we remember to hold on to God’s Holy Spirit, to take a deep breath of the Spirit, to take a soul deep breath and embrace the creativity and newness, the winds and currents of the Spirit as she moves us through this Hubba Hubba Highway of Life.