When the world seems to be a giant simmering pot of hatred and violence, I am able to cling to the hope for peace, because of an amazing experience I had many years ago.
I was at my first Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Though ostensibly Catholic, there were Charismatics (Pentecostals) from many mainline protestant denominations. This particular year there were 20,000 of us gathered for Worship in the football stadium. At one point during the sermon the worshippers responded by singing in the Spirit. Singing in the Spirit is when each person sings whatever the Spirit gives them. For some it may just be terms of praise in the believer’s own language, but to an unknown melody given them by the Spirit, for many the words are in a language unknown to the singer and at the same time to an unknown melody. The words, languages, and melodies are all different
For a few moments, I hesitated, since I had never experienced this and I found myself distracted by the differences I heard close to me. But suddenly my own song came bubbling up from deep inside and as more and more voices joined together singing completely different words and melodies, the awesome harmony brought tears of joy.
I cannot normally sing anything without following the lead of a strong voice next to me. But when singing in the Spirit, my own surprisingly high notes stay true to me, yet blend with the whole. That many people singing different melodies in different languages simultaneously in beautiful harmony simply lifts you out of yourself. Somehow, the God within each of us, that is the God of the Universe, bring us together as one body.
I may seriously doubt that any person could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I know first hand that the Spirit can.
And that keeps me praying and seeking and listening and learning to love, even when no country and no person, not even children, are safe from violence.
Fundamentalist Christians have to struggle not to make an idol of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is vitally important, because scripture introduces us to Jesus. Jesus speaks to where individuals are and calls us to growth now, just as He did the people in the scriptures. He wasn’t adding more rules. The Jews had plenty of them. Our call is to an ongoing, deepening relationship with a living Savior who continues to show us the way of love that changes us. Though scriptures may be like letters from God about Jesus, they are not God, and He is not limited to them. And Jesus himself, was sent to awaken us to God’s Spirit within us and all around us.
Catholics have to struggle to not make an idol of the structure of the church. Again, Jesus is the Word of God to each of us. The spirit of God grows in us through a personal relationship with Jesus. The church can be a safe place of nurture with its rich tradition of spirituality, but ultimately we are personally accountable for growing in our relationship to God through Jesus, the Way of love. The Church may be our mother, but it is not God, and God is not limited to it.
Liberal Protestants tend to idolize ideals for our physical world and being. Which once again, are good things, and part of our call to stewardship, but are not God or our ultimate reason for being, because physical life is not all there is, either now or forever. Humbling though it may be, it is not about our intellectual ideals for this life. It’s about recognizing our incompleteness and accepting the call to a growing relationship with God through the human expression of both His love and the spirituality that He is calling us to, Jesus.
The Scriptures and the commandments; the church and its traditions of spirituality; caring for the physical well being of others and our world, are all good and absolutely vital parts of Christianity, but none of them is God. None of them are a substitute for a personal relationship with God, which for Christians is given life and nurtured by our relationship with Jesus who is the love of God fleshed out for us.
Out of that relationship can flow a love for scripture, a love for the spirituality of the church, a love for all creation and all humanity and a valuing of all of these and appreciation for those whom God calls to ministry in each area. It is not one or the other. There is one God, but many gifts and ministries.
When we only value one aspect of the kingdom of God, we have turned a good thing into an idol.
Jesus, Himself, was sent to lead us to God, not just to Himself. His love, laying down his life for us, is the Way to God. He was taken away, so that we too would be filled with and led by God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is love, love for all His creation and all His creatures. And the world will know that we are His by our growth in love, a love that lays down its life for others.
Anything else is an idol.