Saturday, April 28, 2012

missing link

prevenient [pri-veen-yuhnt]
a path - one of many
Beersheba Springs, Tn
1. coming before; antecedent.
2. anticipatory.

God's prevenient grace is with us from birth, preparing us for new life in Christ. "Prevenient" means "comes before."

Wesley did not believe that humanity was totally "depraved" but rather God places a little spark of divine grace within us which enables us to recognize and accept God's justifying grace.

(from John Wesley: Holiness of heart and life
I grew up in  a household that was Holy Spirit focused.  My parents were faithful, but pretty low key when it came to talking about their faith.  While I did not know the term "prevenient grace" as a child, I did know that God and God's love and the power of the Holy Spirit was always with me, wooing me into a deeper relationship with God.

As I mull over the state of the United Methodist Church (all churches in the West for that matter) I am starting to fear that we are overlooking the person and the work of the third person of the Holy Spirit.

Why is it that we are missing this important link in our conversations?  Is it because God, operating underneath an umbrella of grace, takes too long for some?  Is it because we have too little faith?  Or perhaps because we are being called on the carpet for not being faithful disciples over the past 50 years or so and we are now playing catch up?

Are we living as people who have received the very breath of God?  Aren't we, like the disciples, given this gift to strengthen and equip us for great things?

"If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you. I will talk to the Father, and he'll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can't take him in because it doesn't have eyes to see him, doesn't know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you! (John 14:15-17 The Message)

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-22)

Are we living as people who have received the Holy Spirit?

I had a conversation with one of those highly desirable, under 35, young adults the other day, nearly 10 years ago she had a call to seminary, but felt pushed into elder's track.  It was easier for her to drop out at the birth of her first child rather than continue to follow how God was leading her.  Now, 8 years later, doors are opening (isn't this the Spirit at work?) and she is enrolled in seminary again, this time determined to follow the deacon's route.

My own call to ministry came when I was 41, yes I am a late bloomer, but I sure wasn't ready in my teens,  20's or even 30's to hear God's call and claim on my life, let alone the call to ordained ministry.  Truth be told, from the age of 18 to 29 or so I didn't even go to church except when I was home visiting my family (gasp).  When I was in college I never even stepped foot in the Wesley Foundation on campus.  Why?  Its not because I was disinterested in God or anything, I was never invited - plain and simple.

BUT, when I was ready, God's prevenient grace woo'd me to go to church.  This was after I had settled into my career and after the birth of my daughter.  A few weeks later the Spirit compelled me to step forward and answer an altar call one Sunday morning and I was received by profession of faith.  It wasn't anything that anyone did, it was the work of God.  The church, Mountain View UMC in Stone Mountain, Georgia was a safe place for me to work things out, and after I joined they did an outstanding job welcoming me into the fold and plugging me into Sunday school and community activities.

During Rejoice! worship reflection time,
Maddie learns a few chords
I know that youth and young adults are vitally important, from my experience what they want isn't more stuff.  What they want is authentic engagement in the world with people who care about them, people who are welcoming, people who listen - really listen and who give them space to work things out, by the grace of God, in fear and trembling.  (The same could be said for newly retired folk and the aging and everyone in between.)

The Christian life is not meant to be easy, no cheap grace be a disciple of Christ involves giving ones life away time and time again.  Those people who were used by God to woo me back into the church and later into ministry, who walked alongside me in seminary and continue to be fellow travelers on this faith journey are precious to me.  I hope that I am able to have the same kind of impact on a another person's life, but I know that it takes time and commitment to cultivate relationships and to get to know one another's gifts, graces and passions.

This is what we need to be in covenant about - its not about how much money we spend but the time that we give freely to engage in Christ centered relationships with others, and these come about because someone is listening to the nudge of the Holy Spirit to share God's love with a fellow traveler.

I guess that's really where the rubber hits the road.  How many of us are taking the time not only to cultivate these relationships, but to listen to the Holy Spirit and to mentor those who have bright eyes and a call to ministry, both as committed laity and clergy?  How many of US are that missing link - what a difference a thoughtful conversation, prayer and encouragement could make...but we have to make the investment, which means setting aside our toys, giving away our time and we have to pay attention to the Spirit of truth.

I have had powerful experiences of God's presence in times of prayer, worship and fellowship.  In some rare moments I actually feel as if I have entered into the cosmic dance of the Holy Trinity - each person of the Trinity fully themselves and fully in union and communion with one another.  There is no brokenness, only love, justice and mercy.  This is the kind of community I want to be a part of, its not something we can legislate, its something we have to embody with intentionality and compassion for the unique blessedness and belovedness of one another.

in Christ, together - for that is how we were made to be,

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