Bring God to the People

Pentecost Year B – Fr. J. Devin Rodgers

I enjoy musical renditions of scripture and the way musicians, actors, librettists, and the orchestra can bring our sacred stories to life. Godspell is one of my favorites. John-Michael Tebelek, the show’s creator didn’t aspire to simply a retelling of stories. He sought the make the show a moving, religious experience – a conversion if you will.

Godspell has an interesting history.

The idea for the musical came in the early 1970’s while Tebelek was attending the Great Vigil of Easter. This service left him disturbed. The congregation seemed bored, the priest was hurrying through the liturgy. It was stagnate and unmoving. 

Tebelek thought merely going through the motions of worship, undermined the experience that comes with a true religious experience – drama, conflict and resolution, transformation and transcendence.

Inspired, Tebelek sought to create a musical that would capture these elements and inspire people Christian and non Christian alike. In 1970 he assembled a team, which composed original pop music and text based on the Gospel of Matthew. The team debuted Godspell at Carnegie Tech School of Drama in 1971.

Tebelek believed that  by putting the sacred texts in modern contexts an audience who might struggle to identify with the everyday situations of Jesus’ time – pharisees, slaves, innkeepers, tax collectors- might better identify with pop culture references, modern language, and slang. It worked.

Perhaps the success of Godspell is found in its complete adaptability It’s been done with a variety of costumes, interpretations and settings. It has been adapted to film. Today, almost 40 years later the show is still being performed and adapted to local contexts.

Tebelek believed in meeting people where they are. Bringing God to the People. 

That is what the story of Pentecost is all about.  It’s the story of the Holy Spirit equipping and leading the Church to minister in new ways, to new people. 

“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

All understood the message of Good news in their own language. 

This rousing  show of proclamation and preaching was not met with acceptance by all. 

Acts tells us that “All were amazed, and perplexed saying to one another, “What does this mean?” others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

The writer of Acts points out an interesting fact about people’s response to the Holy Spirit.  It’s viewed with skepticism, pessimism and oftentimes rejection.

Why is the Spirit’s influence and power downplayed or viewed as radical, good for a few of those charismatic Christians, but is far too demonstrative for others.

Speaking foreign languages? Rushing winds? Tongues of flames?  Most modern Christians would find this too much and we’d run for the fire extinguisher. 

The Holy Spirit is wild, free flowing, uncontainable and that makes it uncomfortable. The church often does not take the Holy Spirit and the message she brings seriously because it would push us to the edge of our comfort zone and necessitate change. 

What’s being all this?

Change, whether good or bad, always brings up anxiety and fear -usually the fear of the unknown, but also fear of failure and fear of criticism. 

Instead of following where the Spirit leads and becksons excuses are made. 

“They are filled with new wine.”

“That new ministry idea won’t work because of x,y,or z.”

“We haven’t done it that way before. Let’s not try.”

“It will upset so and so and we can’t rock the boat”

Or we simply say nothing at all, ignore what’s happening and boycott.

I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of this at one time or another as I’m sure we all have. 

Here is the problem with this excuse making and digging in our heels in resistance – we end up using God to validate the way things presently are instead of allowing God to lead us forward in mission. 

We can’t bring God to the people if we aren’t willing to meet God where God is and calls us.

God is not interested in being cloistered within one set of practices and customs, but God is interested in leading us towards deeper love and this requires transformation.

But to do this, we have to be willing to follow where God would have us go. It may entail trying the unfamiliar, testing out new ideas, being uncomfortable for a time and discovering and revealing God in new places.

As the lyrics from one Godspell song state we must as ask God.

“Where are you going? Where are you going? Can you take me with you?” 

When we do this we will soon realize that the events that began on Pentecost, never came to an end. The same Holy Spirit is still wildly flowing, uncontainable through creation with that same purpose.

The Spirit is still moving us to

 “Bring God to the People”

This past week I was in a continuing education seminar. Among the many topics discussed we heard statisticians, theorists and theologians discuss the impact of COVID-19 on churches. As you can imagine there is a lot of anxiety and fear – once again, these go hand in hand with change. Now that the pandemic is coming to a close we are beginning to discuss reopening and as much as possible “a return to the practices in place before March 2020.” 

Is this where the Spirit is calling us?

I’m going to have to say an emphatic, “No!”

 God never desired us to merely return. If we are being true to our faith story and the Spirits guidance we are not called to return. 

We are called to revival. 

We are called to a holy process of listening and learning from the events of the past year and forging a church that transformed and reinvigorated fora  life post COVID. 

What this looks like and how strong our church becomes is up to each of us. 

So we must ask, Do we want conversion and transformation…or not?

Our life of faith is one of constant transformation and following God. 

Today Sam and Zack who in receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism will make promises that will set them on a new life course. 

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

We are not left on our own to carry these out, which is acknowledged by the baptismal candidate and all the congregation, by answering “I will with God’s help”

As Jesus promises in the Gospel of John, this helps comes to us through the Holy Spirit the Advocate who is by our side and leading the faithful in mission:

We have many examples.

The Holy Spirit gave the disciples a gift of tongues so all might hear the Gospel in their own language.

Wanting his audience to have an experience with John – Michael Tebelek crafted a musical to capture the joy and transformation of a conversion experience.

But we have local examples of the Spirit’s presence in our midst. 

Karen, Zack, Sam, Jackson and Carrie allowing the Holy Spirit to reach others through song. 

Pastoral caregivers reaching out to the sick and homebound so that they might experience the Spirit’s healing. 

Members of the Centennial committee carefully preparing a celebration for St. Alban’s day so that guests can experience the joy of Christian fellowship and community.

Youth who will be working on team building for a fun afternoon outing.

The Holy Spirit granting Wisdom to parents who are learning to teach their young children about the scriptures and crafting creative sermons and reflections for the 3:33 service. 

The long hours of administrative and financial work done by parishioners to ensure we are able to continue serving and carrying out mission.

Vestry members creatively discerning where God is calling so that we might faithfully respond.

On this Pentecost Sunday new life is being breathed into the our Church. We see signs of it all around us. 

With the Spirits help I pray:

See God more clearly

Love God more dearly

Follow God more nearly 

And in doing so you will bring God to the people. 

Amen