The Grace of Holy Chaos
Matthew 5: 1-10
Blessed are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they of gentle spirit for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness to prevail, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown them.
Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers for God shall call them His sons.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
One ordinary day the Holy Spirit blew through the Haywood Street Congregation during worship. She is always there with us on campus, but She might be a still small voice rather than a blaring trumpet. We never know when She will appear or how She knows to come or who invites Her, but many times during the years I’ve been in attendance, She has arrived with the same sort of electrifying Presence that She did this day.
We call Her Holy Chaos because the Holy Spirit can be messy and raw and frightening to some. She may appear in a scream of grief or anger or pain, but when She embraces us, we know She is Love.
This day the people gathered. The flowers were beautifully arranged on the altar. We sang the first hymn. Others offered special music. We have many in our congregation with talents in song and music. Brian came to the front of the church. He stood in the aisle about to ask his Socratic question after a member read the Scripture, but we never got to the reading or the question.
From the back of the Sanctuary one of our members, I’ll call him J, came forward, walked up to the altar, and threw down the guitar case he carried. Then he turned toward the congregation, flung his arms to his sides in exasperation, and screamed something that was clearly a form of “NO!” Brian stopped and Mark went to J. We could not hear what Mark said to him, but J protested.
Before J threw his case down, I thought he was going to play his guitar. I was sad that he arrived after our special music because he loved to dance on the altar when others played, and he had missed the opportunity. However, I saw that instead of being joyful, he was in pain, deep pain. The congregation was silent and waited. Some prayed. They didn’t know what to think of the outburst.
J continued to protest and Brian joined Mark on the altar with J. Slowly the three of them moved toward the ramp on the side of the church. Mark and J left the Sanctuary and the service resumed. Brian explained to everyone that J, who had often felt alone and friendless, had made a special friend on the street. However, during the winter his friend had died suddenly. He was still grieving her death. Our congregation has lost so many people this year that there was a sense of understanding that spread throughout the church.
No sooner had this happened than J returned protesting even louder. He was shouting something about he didn’t do anything. He used expletives. Brian went to him and Mark came in from the lobby behind J. Three more men from the congregation joined them on the ramp. Two were gruff and wanted to remove J forcefully. Another walked up to support Mark and Brian in letting J have space to express his pain. J made his way back to his guitar case still tense and angry.
Then one of the soloists who had sung earlier began humming “Amazing Grace.” The congregation picked it up and the music drifted throughout the Sanctuary. The organist played the hymn gently. As we watched, J relaxed. His arms went limp and his fists released. Mark and Brian had followed him and Mark put an arm around his shoulders and walked him out again after he retrieved the guitar case. Brian returned to the aisle and said, “Our friend has offered the sermon in the form of sharing his truth. There is no need to say more,” and he sat down.
In earlier years we had people disrupt the service and always the person’s dignity was honored and their needs were addressed usually by one of the ministers, but that day was different. It was the first time the entire congregation had taken part in caring for a distraught friend through song. We sang to J that God loved him and the members sitting in the pews loved him, too, and understood. It was a beautiful gift we gave one another. Those who had been fearful were calmed. The Holy Spirit had blown through the room and our hearts were strangely warmed, as John Wesley described it.
In a postscript, J was ushered down to the driveway by Mark and some of our men we call the Mercy League.** The rough men made their way down to the driveway, too, still wanting to call authorities though J was quiet. They had to be reminded J needed kindness and companionship, not forceful removal.
One of the Mercy League brought his car to take J home. When it arrived, J, still bereft, started out toward the road not noticing the car or the traffic. A man who had left the church service and was heading home stepped between J and the street. He was a big man who called J by name, reached out his arms, and drew J into them. J melted into those strong arms and finally wept.
This is what grace looks like. Grace accepts where people are and wants to show an understanding of pain or grief beneath the anger that often shows up first. Haywood Street Congregation is a place of Grace where Holy Chaos whispers our name and wraps us in the arms of Love.
*In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is identified as the feminine, Sophia or Wisdom.
**The Mercy League is a group of people who make themselves available during Haywood’s busiest days to interject themselves into situations that may be getting out of hand like arguments or unintended slights. They have been trained to help our friends practice patience with one another. Their interventions are enough to relieve tensions without calling in outside authorities.