Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Finger Pointing at the Moon

the moon glows in the desert skies

Today is Pentecost Sunday on the Christian calendar. 

In the story of Pentecost, Jesus' earthly mission is over. His disciples are "gathered together," wondering what to do now that Jesus is gone. Suddenly they hear a howling wind and the room glows with tongues of fire resting over the heads of the disciples. 

They are on fire with the experience of God's spirit and enflamed with a glowing love for one another. Then they rush out into the marketplace to share the love they have experienced, and embrace the "whole world" with the arms of unbridled compassion.

This is the picture the "church" holds up today as an icon of its core identity and primary mission: The church is the gathered-together followers of Jesus, filled with a sense of God's untamed spirit, on fire with love for one another, rushing out into the market place of everyday life in order to embrace the whole world with limitless compassion. 

I have been part of the church for my whole life. In my reflection on this Pentecost Sunday,  I am aware that I have "sometimes" experienced the church as it is defined in the Pentecost story, but more often than not,  my experiences of church have fallen short of the church as imagined in the "Pentecost Picture" of this day.

Yes,  there have been times when I have "gathered together" in a church and, through music, or the word of the scriptures, through the taste of bread and or the sip of wine, I have felt the burning presence of God's mysterious holy spirit. 

In my experiences of church, there have also been many times when I have enjoyed tender relationships with my fellow believers, bound together with them by the tender chord of fellowship.

And there have been times, in my experiences of church, when we have rushed out into the marketplace to embrace the poor and needy, to welcome the stranger and invite the castaway to sit at a place of dignity.

But in my experience with the "church," the opposite has also been true.  

The gathering together has often been dull and boring. Many people come to church in order to "put in their time" (and it better not be more than an hour). They come to church to visit the man upstairs, hoping to get favors answered, trusting that coming to church will earn them an eventual place in heaven. 

I have also experienced "church" as a place of political intrigue, a hothouse of gossip and infighting, a place that keeps people "out" more than welcoming people "in."

There is a well-known Zen saying that helps me get a handle on the "church" on this Pentecost Sunday

Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case can be likened to a finger. A finger can point to the moon's location. However, a finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?"

I think that the "church" (or the mosque, or the temple) is like a finger. It is supposed to point us to the moon. It is a doorway to help gathered believers experience the fiery Holy Presence. It is a vehicle for tender fellowship and an opportunity for leading a more generous and compassionate everyday life.

On this Pentecost Sunday I think the finger of the church must ask if it is indeed pointing at the moon and to also be mindful that the finger is not the moon.  

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