12 May 2008

Spirit Speaks

Pentecost Sunday
by Elizabeth McCord, M.Div.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them…and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses, one of his chosen men, said “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all God’s people were prophets, and that God would put God’s spirit on them!”
--Numbers 11:26-29

The day the Permanent Judicial Commission issued its ruling on Jane Adams Spahr v. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the Presbytery of the Redwoods (Disciplinary Case 218-12), I downloaded the 11 page “Decision and Order” at the law office were I work. I skimmed the denomination’s judicial document, noticing its format. Visually, it took the shape of secular legal pleadings and court orders that sat on my desk. On page five I read, “Prophecy contains risk and uncertainty both for those who would speak and for those who would listen. The role of a prophet carries consequences. It is the burden of a church officer to accept the consequences of his or her actions that are the ecclesiastical equivalent of civil disobedience.”

I doubt anyone would deny that prophecy bears risk. Threat of negative consequence, small or great, is an inherent part of speaking Truth, of speaking out of the Spirit’s calling on one’s own life. In the case of Eldad and Medad, their ecstatic expressions were met with a plea to the powers that be for silencing. Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, insisted the two unauthorized prophets be stopped. This “chosen man” of leadership argued as a prosecutor, anxiously defending the authority structure which had guided this rabble of wilderness wanderers. Perhaps, given the fact that Joshua had not known his people to always make wise decisions in the absence of their leader, this was a reasonable request.

Working in a law office has given me new perspective on my faith tradition. I watch our attorneys finger through law books, exegeting their content for the wellbeing of individuals and society. As a Christian, this makes me more aware of what it is to be a covenant people tied to the written word, and as a Presbyterian, it makes me understand more fully what it is to be a confessional church tied to the constitution. The confessions and Book of Order offer us common language and guidelines as we seek to communicate personal faith in a diverse community. I choose to be a Presbyterian because I value these documents and because, despite our ongoing failings, I value the idea of inclusive dialogue, which I believe is at the heart of our polity.

However, I can’t help but feel we betray our Heart when we respond to prophecy with disciplinary charges rather than open-minded conversation. Jealous and embittered is a church that attempts to squelch the unrelenting, insuppressible voice of the Spirit. Rigid and non-reforming is a church that masks its torn and bleeding wounds with orderly judicial papers mimicking the world of U.S. governance rather than the New Creation of Christ. And, hypocritical and lost is a church that gives lip service to ministry for marginalized people without claiming its own role as the marginalizor, or that fails to support the Spirit-filled ministers (ordained or lay) who would otherwise lead us to embrace the profuseness of God’s grace. I am saddened and wearied by this denomination.

I am also, despite all experience and reason, hopeful. The breath of the Spirit moving through the ministries of Janie and many others reminds me that the Promised Land is not beyond the strength of our tired feet. My prayer this Pentecost is that the Presbyterian Church will heed the Spirit’s message of mutuality, love, and covenant, as lifted up in Janie’s prophetic action of marrying same-sex couples. I pray for our people, that Christ will continue to stir us to boldness and disobedience, regardless of the denomination’s closed doors. I offer to God Moses’ words, “Would that all God’s people were prophets.” Maybe then we will find our way out of this wilderness, for all things are possible when the Spirit speaks.


Cecilia said...

Absolutely breathtaking. I hope you don't mind. I will be linking to this at my blog.

Pax, C.

Jenny Howard said...

Thank you! That's just what I need to hear when, like today, I don't see why I should keep trying.