At a clergy retreat, I once asked a fellow priest what his church was like. He said that his parish had two groups of people. He raised both hands high in the air, turned his face to the heavens, closed his eyes, and swayed gently. “That’s the first group,” he said. Then, he clasped his hands together flat, reverently bowed his head, and became very still. “That’s the second group.” His parish is not atypical of Anglican parishes.
Though we have a basic worship style and pattern, and we affirm the same Faith, we are different in our personal expressions of devotion, service, and worship. We are different in our spiritual gifts. We are different in what mission and service ministries we are passionate about. We are different in worship because our forms of worship are shaped by previous, powerful experiences of God. But that’s a good thing! The same Spirit shows himself in different ways, revealing Christ and conforming us to his image. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in his first Epistle,
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
What a beautiful picture of One Spirit empowering many members of One Body in many activities and manifestations, all for the “common good.” It is this essential unity which guides and empowers the diverse gifts.
I have the privilege of hearing from folks in this parish, and listening as you share your experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in worship and daily life. There is a common depth of devotion among us, even if we express it differently. And I am also amazed at the different ways in which his presence was made real to each one, and how different the outward expression of that presence looked.
Some folks talk with passion of how our regular, ordered worship provides them with the peace and freedom to rest in God’s presence. Others talk of how our flexibility and openness to the Spirit refreshes and renews them. One shares how our written prayers refreshes her soul by depth, reverence, and sound theology. Another talks of how our spontaneous prayers affirm to him that we are listening to the Spirit in “real time” and open to what God is doing right now. And yet both are affirming that the Spirit is at work, revealing Christ
Some folks are passionate about reaching out to the broken, others to training up our children, and still others to strengthening our organizational structures. People are gifted with words of knowledge, hospitality, and spirit led care ministries. Teams are dedicated to healing prayer and to preparation of the altar for worship. Others are busy preparing teachings and sermons, while still more are volunteering and giving to support outreach ministries. And yet in all this, the same Spirit is at work. He keeps showing up!
This week I want to encourage us to celebrate what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through others. We might be tempted to only recognize the Spirit’s manifestation in ways which are similar to our own experience, gifts, or ministries. But its a good thing to talk to each other, and to hear how God is at work. The fruit of the Spirit shows forth in devoted love for Christ and self-sacrificing love for others. Its not always easy to communicate our hearts, but as we hear others bear testimony of Christ and a living faith, we can see the Spirit. Our common devotion to him brings about a common mission and a shared sense of his presence. As we talk to each other, we discern the different ways in which he is comforting, transforming, and empowering us. And together, we are One Body, able to serve in many ways.