I’m not sure exactly how it happened — though I never really know how the Holy Spirit moves. I can tell you when it happens. I can tell you when I feel her. I can tell you when She appears. But, like most things in life, I can’t explain the sequence of events. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. None of those little details that attempt to explain the mysteries of God are truly helpful. (Actually, I find those little details are more complicated. They make our understanding of God incomprehensible.) Truly, when we allow ourselves to be present, God can appear.
She did. She moved right through me on Sunday morning. I had prepared a sermon. I’d carefully transcribed each word. I’d recorded every thought. I was prepared in every sense of the word.
This is the way I always am. It’s how I’ve always been as I prepare for worship. I write out each word of each spoken moment. I won’t allow the Holy Spirit to move through me during worship. I’ll allow her to guide my hand in my preparation to worship. I go through several drafts. I make notes all over the margins. I edit until the very moment where the words are shared aloud. I want them to be the right words at the right time. I want them to reflect all that we might want or need or desire to reveal to God in this moment — and words are important to me. I can’t control God. I can’t understand how She works but I can choose how I speak to Her. I can select the right words to praise Her. I don’t want to use just any words. I love words too much to let them fly off my tongue. I want to make sure that I’m saying the right word at the right time. I want to be able to quote and cite. I’ve always wanted the comfort of the words in front of me — especially when I’m preaching.
I never considered that this might change until a friend mentioned over coffee that this might be time. I have no idea what gave her this notion but it stuck with me. It burrowed under my skin so that when I was writing my sermon last week, I thought about giving up. I thought that maybe I should risk going without this carefully composed manuscript.
Of course, I didn’t. I’m a big chicken. I wrote out every word of my manuscript. I printed it out. It was ready to preach. It was ready to be revealed. And then, I began to lead worship. We navigated our way through the first service. It’s supposed to be a casual service. It’s supposed to feel differently from the high liturgical experience with the big pulpit. In this service, there is no pulpit. It’s intended as an exploration of the Bible — which I (honestly) hated when I began serving this church. It never felt comfortable. It never felt natural. I was a manuscript preacher. I knew how to do Bible Study but I didn’t know how to do this thing in between study and sermon.
Yesterday, She moved. The Holy Spirit spoke each word we shared. She articulated truth that I hadn’t been prepared to hear. She breathed into our space. She showed us the living nature of these words in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I was stunned. They were stunned. It was holy. It was so holy that I hated the idea of preaching the words I’d carefully recorded earlier that week. I wasn’t decided that that’s what I would do. It wasn’t clear to me that She would move again in that same way in the following service. Truthfully, it wasn’t until I stepped out of the pulpit that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to preach my manuscript. I wasn’t sure that I knew how to carry those words through across the chasm. But, it happened. I preached without those sacred words to which I clutch so dearly. I missed my central point. I completely left out the epiphany I’d had in the first service of the day. It’s a crucial one that makes me want to rush back to the security of my manuscript — but maybe that’s what makes the sermon continue beyond Sunday morning.
Don’t worry. I’ll tell you. The missing point was this: we assume that we are the rich man in life. We assume that we are cast in his role instead of Lazarus. Until death. After these two men die, we suddenly cast ourselves as Lazarus. We assume that we’ll be cradled in the bosom of Abraham when we’ve chosen to live our lives as the rich man. It’s hypocritical. It’s unfair. It’s flat out wrong. That’s the chasm. We want to be both of these men. We’re constantly trying to navigate between them.
And yet, even though I missed this point, what really amazes me (and still gives me goosebumps even now) is that weird, wondrous truth that God moves. She moves… and it’s wonderful. So wonderful.