Get your mind out of the gutter first. What I mean is that last Sunday I brought a very poor text into the pulpit but boy did I get a good response.
It was poor for several reasons. I had only come back to the east two days before. Yes, I made notes on the plane but at that altitude much of what I write is almost as thin as the air. And just getting the brain back into work (with a little reluctance I must admit, the aroma of redwoods still in my nose and the sound the pacific still in my ears) I felt anything but ready.
So were all those people wrong to find it inspiring? No. But neither was I wrong about my material. What gives?
The Holy Spirit.
You do know that I serve a liberal (read skeptical) tradition, right? The very idea of a Holy Spirit makes them take two steps back, and the thought that a leader in the tradition is saying this makes them look for pods. (You do get that reference, right?) I assure you I am a card carrying skeptic about the efficacy of prayer, the reality of an afterlife, the need for salvation and other things.
So where do I come off claiming to experience the Holy Spirit.
Because nothing else explains how a preacher who should be better prepared is able to speak with enough clarity and honesty that half baked thoughts and rough hewn sentences are able to be heard deeply and with spiritual power in other people?
I didn’t do it. I was there and I know. Now, I am not claiming to be possessed like some saint or medium. But I am saying that there was more in the room than the people and me.
There always is, actually. But only now and then do we connect with it. There are no foolproof ways to make it happen. Sometimes all the thought and preparation in the world builds a wall not a bridge. Sometimes it is a bridge. And sometimes it just happens.
One thing I do know is that it requires being real, even when that means stumbling. In parts of the African-American tradition congregations literally help a struggling preacher crying out “Help him Lord” or when the spirit begins to connect, “Preach it.” I could use some of that from time to time. But that’s hard for people in my culture, where poised performance is the standard, especially in larger churches where highly planned services are the mark of excellence.
But what sort of excellence are we looking for really?
What I am saying, and I am stumbling now trying to express this even on paper friends, is that I think I may be becoming a no-kidding, fire-breathing, pentecostal intellectual religious liberal. As I look at those words on the page they seem scary even to me.
Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone else, OK?