Surely, the Spirit of God is at work in our midst! And the kingdom of God is much wider and deeper than we imagine...
This was plainly evident as a group of eleven from our faith community experienced the presence, power and provocation of the Spirit last week at the Vineyard Northwest Regional Gathering. I was so thankful for Rose Swetman's leadership and to be a part of this Vineyard family. It was sooooo good!
As I have been thinking about how to distill the richness of teaching, stories, encouragement, and experiences of the presence of God, I have returned to three themes that seem to be at the very core of our community.
The Journey Inward. The Journey Outward. And how we are called to Journey Together.
[Elizabeth O'Connor wrote about these themes extensively as she shared the story of The Church of the Savior; and as The Practicing Church, we also use the language around practices of Formation, Mission and Community that lead us into Faithful Presence.]
I believe that the Spirit is prophetically and provocatively calling us to Journey Outward: to realize that the kingdom of God is much wider than we can fathom. To let go of our fear, denial, complacency and even our complicity -- and to follow Jesus to the edges. Ray Bakke opened up the scriptures the first night in a way I have rarely experienced as he spoke about the inclusiveness, scandal and diversity of the church. Jer Swigart followed the next morning with a compelling call to peacemaking and loving the "other" as the central movement of the gospel. And so we were invited to the edge of our comfort zones, our world views, our theology and our practice. To rethink what it means to follow Jesus through the lens of our sisters and our brothers who are oppressed, who are suffering, those who are facing the unimaginable -- misunderstood, feared, abused and hated. We were called to lay down a version of the gospel steeped in Western Imperialism and to reconvert to the gospel of Jesus. And the punches kept coming through the radical stories we listened to. Stories of saying yes to working with children with disabilities, walking alongside immigrants and refugees, the experiences of injustice of people of color to why the millennials don't think the church cares about what they deeply care about. So many stunning stories. And I believe the prophetic call of the Spirit is challenging and provoking us to awaken from our lethargic and comfortable brand of Christianity to the dare of the gospel.
At the same time, I believe that the Spirit is wooing us, inviting us into the Journey Inward: to realize that the kingdom of God is much deeper than we know. As we encountered the Spirit of God again and again ministering to us through the times of worship and prayer, one thing was clear to me. We need the Spirit so desperately. We need to be immersed and deepened in our experience of the presence of God in our lives and in our community. David Ruis modeled this so beautifully as he spoke and led us in the movement of the Holy Spirit. This is the union we are created for, the water our hearts thirst for, and the life that will sustain us. So we are invited. To sit in the loving gaze of God, to bask in the presence of the Spirit, to worship as we were created to, to practices of prayer, solitude, and stillness, to invitations to listen, reflect, heal, grow and repent. To be vulnerable, to come as we are - in all our glory and our shame. To be transformed, sustained and renewed in the presence of God in the rhythms of our ordinary lives and as we gather together as the beloved community.
Which brings me to the Journey Together: to realize that none of this makes sense without the deep commitment and sacrifice of shared life along with the wide, extravagant welcome that acknowledges that no one is outside God's love. We belong to one another. We are inextricably bound together. One of the really sweet parts about coming together as the people of God is the sense of being connected to a larger family, belonging to this beautifully diverse community and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. Not only did we experience this with our Vineyard family across the region, we also experienced this with each other as we shared our hearts, our laughter and our longings around the fire pit each night. And I believe that this is a work of the Spirit for our entire community. That the Spirit is knitting us together in deeper ways as we share our lives -- our fears and our dreams, our wounds and our desires -- and commit to one another for the long haul. And even this past Sunday as a dear sister walked through our doors, who come to find out had been a part of our Vineyard community in Kenya, I was struck with the beauty of being family, part of this beloved, diverse community that will one day gather around the throne worshipping with one song.
My heart is full of so much gratitude and hope for what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Let us continue to allow the Spirit of God to wake us, provoke us, and stir us that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. That we would journey outward toward the "other" to love our neighbor as we journey inward deeper in our life and union with the Spirit, journeying together to learn what it means to see and be seen, to hear and be heard and to know and be known. That we would indeed know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
by Jessica Ketola