Welcome to our multi-vocal sermon for Pentecost!

Listen here:

Part 1 – Rev.  Ashley:

Today is Pentecost, the day we welcome the Holy Spirit into our midst. We don’t get to keep post-resurrection Jesus. Instead, we get a pretty solid trade. When Jesus ascends, he leaves us the Spirit, the “parakletos” in the Greek. That means, “the Spirit of Truth,” and gets variously paraphrased as advocate, counselor, comforter, helper, mediator who lives on among and within us forever. I will personally take all of those, thank you very much.

Pentecost is also the day we honor the beginning of the church. The church is, after all, the collection of disciples (also translated as students) of Jesus who continue his work in the world after his death, bound together by this Spirit of Truth.

Just like the disciples or students of Jesus before us, we too are bound together by this Spirit. She speaks differently through each of us, each of our faith stories, each of our traditions of church. That’s why we have a mosaic sermon this morning where several of us are going to tell our own stories about spirit, why the church matters to us and how they are stitched together through the sacred texts of our lives. You’ll get to hear from a born and raised Pentecostal, a born and raised Mormon and two born and raised UCCers who all are a part of this community.

One of those born and raised UCCers is me. Well, at least raised. What is this Holy Spirit for me? We spend a lot more time with the other aspects of the trinity – with the Creator and with Jesus – throughout the church year. So I spent some time with one of my favorite theologians this week to reconnect with Spirit. Her name is Catherine Keller. To get fancy about it – she’s an eco-feminist process theo-poeticist. In real people speak – she writes about the earth, gender and God in language so rich it’s more like poetry than prose.

Keller talks about the Spirit as the breath of God that blows through us, a creating force amidst chaos not just in the past, in the beginning of the world Genesis describes, but in all the beginning places in our lives. Keller describes the Spirit as mutuality. The Holy Spirit is the force that “immerses us all in [our] shared future.” The Spirit lures us, connects us, draws us into community. Mutuality is another name for the Holy Spirit.

As you listen to the rest of our speakers this morning, I invite you to listen that lure towards our shared future, that mutuality breathing through us all differently.

First, we get to hear from Shannon Voelkel. She is sharing her confirmation statement with us because she was officially confirmed by First Congregational Church a few weeks ago. She has generously agreed to share this statement with us too.

Part 2 – Shannon Voelkel:

Because I’m the youngest of the group, I sort of have to force myself to act older sometimes. I’m sort of getting used to it now, both because of being the youngest in my grade, and now this. This time, it has sort of made me more aware of myself, both because of the things we did, and sort of being myself in the small group, sometimes trying to blend in, like, “fake it ‘til you make it.”

It seems like such a short time that we’ve been in this group, like we started yesterday, and it’s been really fun. Honestly, i think we haven’t paid much attention to what we’re supposed to be learning. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but i do think we’ve gotten a lot closer. Planning someone else’s downfall (*cough* Daniel) really helps people to connect.

When we were in Guatemala, it made me think about how the people there get everything from the mission. I can’t help wondering what they believe, especially because the principal at the school said that the students sometimes only speak the native languages. It seems like they are committed, going to church so often and so early, but i wonder if they chose that for themselves.

Kathy and I talked about how faith is all about questions and doubting and following the path that that leads you on, and not having all the answers. There is an old UCC quote from Gracie Allen “Never put a period where God has put a comma” This has given me permission to question, search, & explore my faith within and with our community. I can be on my own journey, learning about myself, and it is still going towards god, because god is all that.

The Bible story that means the most to me is the story of “doubting” Thomas because he doesn’t believe something before he sees it with his own eyes. It is hard for me to have faith that there is a personified God out there without evidence. I can believe that everything is connected, but I feel weird trying to fit myself to the “Christ is the child of God” stuff.

The most important thing about the church is being in this community that is so tightly-knit, and that the people care for each other.   I think that the connections are more important than what I can believe, and I want to be confirmed and connected to this community, even if I’m not yet clear about my faith.

Having grown up in two communities, it is important to stay connected to these places that are almost part of my family. I believe the connections and questions that lead you on your path are your faith. The love and caring in our relationships and community are the most important things.

To be able to stay connected with the church after confirmation, I will try to be more involved in the services, ushering or reading. I will also sing in the choir next year.  I will still be in youth group at Lyndale, and so I will help at the Simpson shelter once a month, and keep going on servant trips.

In closing, I’d really like to thank Kathy Hayden for being my mentor and for all the talks and time together. And I’d like to thank Jane and Daniel for leading us. It was a really great experience.

[Part 3 – Beth Ellsworth – Audio Only]

Part 4 – Jonathan Stegall:

The beginning of my life as a Jesus follower was in 1998 in a Pentecostal church in North Carolina. I ended up there almost by coincidence, but with my life and my almost 15 year old self in a bad place. While I was there that first time I had what I still think of as a mystical encounter with the Holy Spirt, and this encounter, and the realization I had that I wanted more of whatever had happened to me, changed everything.

I’d spend the next decade in different roles in Pentecostal church spaces having more of those experiences, longing for them, getting an always changing language to articulate them, trying to hear the voice from them, and trying to figure out how to live in a world where people can have those encounters but so many barriers exist to keep us from them. In some ways I’m still doing all of that, but it looks very different than it did then.

So you can imagine that when I think “what does the Holy Spirit mean to me” I get a weird combination of feeling overwhelmed and tender and confused and passionate.

But this is the first thing I thought of: that God is available, in this world, in ways that we can encounter in our bodies. She, the Spirit means that we can long for God, and ultimately she means we can learn that God longs for us, and that in pursuing we can learn that we are pursued.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about hasn’t been separate from that, for me, but it has been distinct, and it’s the ongoing realization that as the Spirit, God is always at work on the margins, of the world, of the church, of the powers, of everything. The Spirit is the one who is always imagining new realities, drawing people into undomesticated spaces to embody them, and putting the people who have been left on the margins at the center of those realities.

This has looked different over the years, with the Spirit always widening the margins I can see and always pushing me toward them, but it’s the way I’ve awkwardly tried to figure out how to live since I was a teenager.

Some of the ways I’ve tried to pursue this have arguably been unhelpful. For a long time I had a drive, from those teenage days, to be on the “cutting edge” of things I  thought the Spirit was doing in the world, out front where things were changing, and there are ways I tried to be faithful to that which didn’t work the ways I hoped they would.

There are other ways I’ve tried to pursue this though, and they’ve left me in awe at the life I’ve been given. I’ve found myself trying to consistently learn where the Spirit was moving the world toward justice and to put myself there as much as I could, and there’s nothing like the kind of liberation, and the knowledge of my ongoing need for liberation, that I’ve found there.

Ultimately, the Spirit for me is the one who does both of those things, and I believe wants to integrate those things in us. The one who wants to encounter us in our bodies, and the one who leads and meets us in the way of Jesus which leads toward the margins.

Part 5 – Rev. Ashley:

As you have heard, the Spirit does not arrive and help us become the church by making us all the same or believe the same thing or understand the world in the same way. The Holy Spirit comes to stitch us together in our uniqueness and our differences to become to a community that can continue wrestle a blessing together in the midst of all that difference.

A Blessing for Pentecost Day

This is the blessing
we cannot speak
by ourselves.

This is the blessing
we cannot summon
by our own devices,
cannot shape
to our own purposes,
cannot bend
to our own will.

This is the blessing
that comes
when we leave behind
our aloneness,
when we gather
when we turn
toward one another.

This is the blessing
that blazes among us
when we speak
the words
strange to our ears,

when we finally listen
into the chaos,

when we breathe together
at last.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons