Lay Preachers

by Elizabeth Laurençot

I find it interesting how the spirit of God moves. Here's a small example: the lay preaching group along with Terry had agreed that the members of the group would preach on the first Sunday of each month. But since we had the Appreciative Inquiry workshop this past Sunday, that wasn't an option for May. Instead, I was assigned to preach on May 11, which is a fun situation for me. For one thing, it's Mother's Day...and I'm a mother, and it's an unusual treat to be able to speak to you all today. And it's also Pentecost, and I enjoy very much the way we celebrate Pentecost here at St. Paul's, with the reading from Acts in many languages.

This probably doesn't come as a surprise to some of you, but many of you may not know that my college degrees are in the field of linguistics, which is the study of language. Among linguists, there's something we call "the quintessential cocktail party question," and it goes like this: "Oh, you're a linguist....So, how many languages do you speak?"

Aside from those rare individuals who can rattle off a long list, most linguists I know claim some competence in two or three different languages.

But as for me, I always feel-perhaps ironically-a bit tongue-tied when asked this question. I usually respond with something like, "Umm....well....actually, you know, umm....I've studied a number of languages: German, French, Russian, Japanese, American Sign Language, Hebrew."

More often than not, though, my skills are usually limited to phrases like "What time is it?" or "I have a new yellow pencil."

But because I do enjoy learning different languages, I work on them, I take classes, I get a tutor, or arrange for conversation partners, but all of those efforts clearly don't make a fluent speaker. What would it take for me to really be able to improve my skills in, let's say, French?

Honestly, I think it would have to be an immersion experience. I would have to be in a situation where I had no choice but to speak French, because if English were an option, knowing myself, I'd probably try to take the easy way out.

My guess is, that kind of situation would, quite frequently, be quite uncomfortable. I'd have to be willing to make lots of mistakes. I'd have to be willing to step out of my comfort zone. There would be the potential for miscommunication; I might not be able to get my thoughts across clearly. There would be the potential for misunderstandings; I might not understand what someone else is trying to tell me.

And I even think, it might have to be the case that I didn't get to actually choose the specifics of the situation. I might just have to be thrust into it. Then I'd probably be motivated enough to work my way through it.

It struck me that this kind of uncomfortable, unfamiliar, maybe unchosen situation sounds a lot like where we all are right here, right now, at St. Paul's. I can tell you that I, for one, did not choose this transition time. It's completely new territory for me. I can't even say that I find it particularly comfortable.

But I've also noticed, over the last few months, there's been an increased sense of energy here as well. I think that's because, sometimes, when things are uncomfortable or unfamiliar, they also feel a bit...exciting. There's a special energy that seems to arise.

I picture it like one of these tongues of fire of the Spirit that was in our reading from Acts this morning. Not just coming to rest on our heads, but even licking at our heels, heating things up, spurring us on, and telling us, "No, you can't stay exactly where you are, or how you are. The Spirit is present. The Spirit is moving."

So, in what ways might the Spirit move? One place to look would be through the gifts that it bestows-the kinds of gifts we heard about in the Epistle lesson this morning: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and so on.

When I consider all of us here at St. Paul's, I see a lot of gifts of the Spirit. As I stand here now, I see people with wisdom, people with faith, people with healing ministries, people who teach, people who serve.

I see the gifts of the Spirit.

When we bring all of our gifts together in this unfamiliar situation, and we share them with each other, we become inspired

-and remember that the word "inspiration" has a meaning of new breath, of being infused with new life. Like we heard in the gospel lesson, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit".

We are inspired by this same Holy Spirit to move beyond what we know, and who we currently think we are.

We can take those shared values that we discussed last week in the Appreciative Inquiry workshop, we can take the many thoughtful plans and options that the building committee has presented to us, we can take our wishes, hopes, dreams, and prayers for this church-and with God's help, we will give our abundant gifts to each other in this process.

When the Holy Spirit moved on Pentecost, in that room with the 120 disciples, everyone could see something miraculous was happening. As the Spirit moves here at St. Paul's, I believe we will also see miraculous things.

Recall Paul's words from his letter to the Corinthians: "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."

This is a charge to each of us to seek out our gifts-gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and whatever else we have been blessed with-and to bring them to this place, and to each other, and present them as offerings to God. In doing so, we will find that miraculous things are manifested in our own individual lives, and in our collective experience as well.

So, while I can't say that I find this time particularly comfortable, I am comforted, being here, in the midst of change, with all of you, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, with our friends. I'm inspired to know that we have amazing gifts; we have been blessed with gifts of the Holy Spirit. May each of us keep our hearts open to accept these gifts, so that we will be amazed by the miracles that await us here at St. Paul's.

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