“Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:30-32)
I can’t ever remember a feeling quite like this. I’ve been in the church my whole life, and yes, I have felt the Spirit move in ways I can’t explain. Sometimes during a prayer, a song, a silence. Sometimes when I am alone talking with God. And sometimes in church as we share in the harmony of a song or prayer. More than any other time I feel God’s Spirit when we come together at the Table. This is where we break bread together, and I believe are given an incredible gift while there, if we take time to receive it: of being able to see each other more clearly there through the eyes of our Host. All of us gathered at the table are God’s children, trembling, hungry, loving; our faces smudged with what we’ve been into.
When I feel that strong sense of the Spirit, I have to admit it leaves me stunned. I’m just an ordinary person, a mainline Protestant, one who for 28 years made a living teaching science to exuberant high school students. (Okay, maybe not so exuberant about the chemistry or physics, but they did seem to enjoy it when I could make things turn colors, fizz, or explode.) Part of my job was to explain things like quantum theory, relativity, nuclear transmutation, fission and fusion, reaction pathways, and periodic properties. I could explain things like that and had even developed a knack for it. I tried to teach my students to be keen observers, to look at as many different dimensions of something as they could, so to get the greatest understanding.
So, when I came home that night, Wednesday, September 22, 2010, I was at a loss. I knew what had happened; I had felt it and the others had felt it. But all I could manage was to know beyond all doubt the sense of the Holy Spirit moving, working, circulating there among us as readily as blood flows through the vessels of a human body. I went home and on my Facebook profile, wrote, “WOW!” Let me tell you more about what brought this on.
Our meeting that night was in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. We gathered in the fellowship hall of a church allowing us this space. We were meeting as DisciplesNet Church, a vision that had become firmly planted in my mind almost exactly two years before. I’d not been able to shake it as it had kept growing stronger, more driving, more specific. I finished seminary knowing exactly what I was being called to do, to work as God’s instrument in launching this church that would connect people online as the body of Christ online. And especially try to connect with people who in the past have been disconnected from the church. At first I tried to hand this off to veteran pastors who I saw might have the gifts for such a thing. But no takers…until I realized in humility that God was asking this of me, and my weaknesses would become God’s strengths.
What I didn’t know then and still don’t know today is how it will all unfold. What I do have is a feeling of faith as strong as anything I have ever known that God will make a way. I keep being drawn back to Hebrews 11, beginning with one of my favorite passages: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NRSV).This passage opens the way for an inspiring list of leaders: “By faith, Abraham…,and others who stepped out in faith. This passage is helping now to inspire our clergy staff who have committing all we have to work for this. Until now it has been all volunteer effort. I’ve emptied my own pockets, even borrowed to get us to the next step, because I believe so strongly that God is working here, is calling DisciplesNet into existence and to service to a world in so much need. With our borrow money we’ve begun offering small salaries: $2000 a month for full time work; no benefits. And by faith, the staff we have called said “Yes!”
Last Wednesday seemed like an affirmation of the leap of faith that we’re taking. The week before we’d met for the first of what is to be regular weekly in-person worship meetings. Right now, these follow our planning meeting, and involve our core group and any else who wants to attend. Our worship was familiar, with prayers, singing, scripture, and a message. At the heart of it all is the Lord’s Table.
The feeling of awe began as two of our team members joined in on Skype (a free computer program that lets people around the world see and talk through an internet connection and computer web cam. We had the laptop computers laid out on the round table before us. Denny was coming in from Ohio and Maria from California. Then Kashif skyped in. Kashif is a young pastor in Pakistan who had connected with us and the Disciples of Christ several weeks before. As I had heard him describe his feeling that God was calling him to reach out and connect with other Christians by way of the internet, I had known exactly what he meant.
This evening was 2:30 in the morning for Kashif, but we were all excited to meet each other. Rahul was able to speak to him in Urdu, which brought a visible joy to Kashif’s face. Kashif told us of the big Christian rally they were planning that weekend and their hopes for it. Behind everything I also knew the fears that he had shared with me when I had been talking with him via Skype in his home—two young pastor friends had recently been shot to death while authorities there had turned their heads. I could sense that Kashif was also nervous for his wife—she was due to give birth any day to their third child. A lot of pressure for a young pastor. As we saw Kashif’s handsome, bright and earnest face smiling from the laptop screen before us, each of us in our meeting, yes, including those present by laptop, prayed aloud for him. In turn, Kashif prayed for us and DisciplesNet’s ministry—of which he feels himself a part. My heart was burning with this glow, so strong. In my mind came the passage, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.”(Matthew 18:20). My mind marveled at this place we were experiencing church in such an amazing new way.
We finished our meeting and began worship. In all this I felt so humbled, bowed by this sense of joy and wonder. Before our website is even up and running, we were witnessing the unfolding of the God’s vision for DisciplesNet.
The laptop pinged again, signaling someone else skyping in. With a click, we brought in two more members of our team. Bob, a retired Disciples Pastor and wife Susan, a retired chemist. They were calling from Dublin, Ireland, near midnight their time. They were vacationing there and felt moved to join us in worship. The glow spread as I began feeling the strength they added to our numbers. We prayed and worshipped together. Richard, one of our pastors, gave an inspiring message of his journey and struggles and God’s presence. Then it was time for breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper, or Communion). For Disciples of Christ, we do this every week.
We asked those at home to get something for their bread and cup and to have it ready. Then Richard gave the words of institution and broke the bread from his place in the wheelchair that he uses to get around. Inches away on the laptop screen, Denny in Ohio gave the prayer for the bread, then inches to the other side, Maria in California gave the prayer for the cup. We’d asked that she pray in her first-language, and she gave a beautiful prayer in Spanish. The Spirit filled me in a way that night that I was numb. Not just my heart and mind, but my whole body seemed to be filled and overflowing. The sense left me so humbled in the presence of this way God is speaking, and numb in not having, and knowing I could never have any words to describe all this.
This is the first blog I have written about DisciplesNet church. I wanted to write earlier, but we have been working so hard and so busy, that the thoughts have stayed in my mind but not recorded on paper. But the time has come to start sharing with you more about this exciting new frontier journey we are stepping out into. We appreciate your prayers as you hear about us in time to come, and will invite your participation. I can’t explain it to anyone, just tell you what I feel. The Spirit is moving in great ways today. The key thing I feel God wants us to proclaim is that we must stay connected to let God work through this body of Christ called church. This is the way we can share God’s love for all of God’s children, wherever they may be.
Peace and grace to you as you journey today.
Just another child of God,