by Deacon Bill Brennan, Chair, NCRC
Not too long ago I was invited to speak at a charismatic conference in Montana. The theme of the weekend was "Amazing Grace," and the conference was filled with signs of the grace of Pentecost alive today. The experience was for me a powerful reminder of God's not being finished with us and of His calling us into a deeper walk in the Sprit. In all that I saw and heard that weekend, there was one moment that touched me most deeply, and it occurred at the very beginning of the conference. We were gathered in a fairly large arena on that Friday evening. Everyone was visiting and chatting, and the atmosphere was one of joy and celebration. When the signal that the conference was about to start came, the crowd became very quiet, and I could almost feel the sense of anticipation in the arena. On the stage a beautiful young lady appeared and slowly walked to the front of the stage. From that position, she proceeded to sing, with no musical accompaniment, one of the most powerful renditions of Amazing Grace that I have ever heard. That opening song set the tone of the whole weekend and touched all of us very deeply - it moved me to tears. And the memory of that brief moment has stayed in my heart to this day. Since then "amazing grace" has been a frequent theme of my teaching and preaching as well as my own personal reflection.
It is truly amazing grace that has so profoundly touched us in the experience we know as baptism in the Holy Spirit. Think about it. It is amazing grace that touches a human heart and transforms it, sometimes on the spot. It is amazing grace that touches one's mind and begins to conform it to the mind of Christ. It is amazing grace that brings prayer alive, the scriptures alive, the sacraments alive, the church alive, and Jesus alive - truly alive. It is amazing grace that changes one's life and even the direction of his or her life. It is amazing grace that enables one to see and hear what he or she had simply been unable to see or hear before. And it is amazing grace that brings to life the charisms of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of God's love (the definition of a charism incidentally) that enable and empower even the most average, ordinary people to do the works of Jesus. To take it even farther, it is truly amazing grace that brings to life the grace of one's baptism and as a result enables one to experience the adventure of sharing in the work and ministry of Jesus as King, Prophet and Priest (our baptismal heritage).
This grace that has been so lavishly poured into our hearts by our loving God should evoke from within us not only a deep sense of gratitude but also a sense of astonishment and amazement. The precedent has been established in the gospel stories of Jesus active in his public ministry, doing the works of the Messiah: healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and proclaiming the good news of the Father's kingdom ( in summary). The stories tell us that often the reaction of the crowd was one of astonishment or amazement when they witnessed the power of Jesus at work. What about us today? Have we become so settled in when it comes to life in the Spirit that we have lost that sense of astonishment and amazement over what God has done for us? Have we become so used to the touch of the Spirit that the specialness of the moment has become routine and no longer excites us? Have we, in effect, begun to experience a spiritual version of the old proverb "Familiarity breeds contempt?" If so, what can we do about it? There is a remedy readily available to us.
Just as Moses instructed the people to do after their experience of the power of God as recounted in the story of Exodus, so we can and, perhaps, should do today: remember what God has done for you. But do not just remember for yourself; tell your children and your childrens' children all that God has done for you. So there are here two steps we can and should take. First, we can recall what our experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit was when we first encountered it and what it has meant in our lives ever since. Second, we can share that good news with others wherever we can. In both cases, we can follow the same principle Moses advocated in his time: if this is what God could do then, think what He can do now!
St. Paul gives us another aspect of the remedy in his second letter to Timothy. Perhaps Timothy was experiencing a moment of discouragement or a decline in the fire. Whatever the case, Paul admonished him to "stir into flame the gift he [had] received" when Paul laid hands upon him. The phrase seems to suggest that Timothy had the ability within himself to stir up the coals and restore the fire in his heart in all of its glory. You and I can do the same thing. If the Lord truly filled us with that amazing grace in the first place, we can remember it and celebrate it with joy every day. And if we can do that, then we will be in a position to say what I have proclaimed wherever the Lord has sent me: "I don't care how many naysayers come against me, I will go to my last breath saying 'Thank you!' to the Lord.
It is in that light, the light of amazing grace, that I express my wish and hope, on behalf of the liaisons of Northern California (NCRC), that this web site be a source of encouragement as well as information for all who enter, that it enhance their encounter with the living God, and help them to move deeper into the true adventure of life in the Spirit.