God’s Grammar

May 28, 2020 | Clergy Corner

In school I always hated grammar.  I thought learning the rules of grammar was a tedious undertaking.  If I could communicate and write and speak well then I didn’t need all the rules.  When I went to China to teach English I wished I had paid attention to grammar in school.  I suppose it’s always that way when we learn a new language.  We first learn the rules before we really learn how to speak and communicate in a foreign language. This is of course not the way we learn our native language; we first learn how to speak and communicate and then we are taught the rules.   My point is that my Chinese students knew much more about English grammar than I ever will (they often giggled when I would make a mistake), my job was to teach them how to speak English like a native speaker. I’m here to tell y’all they knew how to say “y’all” when I was done with them. 

We have a certain grammar in the Church.  Certainly anyone coming into an Episcopal Church from another denomination or another faith tradition will immediately realize that Episcopalians are speaking a different language.  For instance I had to explain to my brother the other day what the title “Rector” meant.  But as we get ready for Pentecost I want to suggest that there may be another rule of grammar that God’s Spirit is trying to drill into our hearts and minds: subject and object. 

Very often around the Church, and I don’t just mean St. Paul’s though we certainly aren’t excluded (neither am I for that matter), I hear people centered language.  For instance, thinking about goal setting and visioning for the future we may hear phrases like “don’t think that is possible” or “We don’t have enough money to give to that program.” Each of these examples put the person or persons as the primary agent. This often happens with the Church as well by making the Church the subject and object of our language: “How do we grow the church?” or “Can this church engage and attract young families?”   

In the grammar of faith the first rule is that God is primary agent, both subject and object of our language.  On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit.  We celebrate the ways in which God’s Spirit is among us shaping us calling us out into the world and into the future where God is already active.  God is inviting us to participate in God’s dynamic work.  God’s Spirit is inviting us to imagine what God is up to, inviting us to join God leaving our need for control behind. This rule is difficult for us to learn.  Even though we know intellectually that God is primary agent we speak and live too often as though it were all on us; or perhaps worse we make the Church the object of our focus and energy instead of trusting in God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and open our eyes to the abundance of opportunities and gifts all around us. 

These may perhaps seem foolish things to say.  I am used to making a fool of myself; my Chinese students could tell you. But the story of Pentecost, like so many others in scripture, shows us the foolishness of God’s rule in contrast to our own.  When the Spirit descends upon those gathered and they begin speaking in tongues people mistake them for being drunk (Acts 2:13).  They looked and sounded foolish.  Intoxicated by the Spirit these people were ready to do foolish things, like follow Jesus and to put God in control of their lives.  They were ready to see their unity in the midst of their diversity. We are as much a people of Pentecost as we are a people of Easter.  I pray we can foolishly put the grammar of God first in our lives as both subject and object of all we do; opening ourselves up to God’s Spirit moving among us.

God’s Blessings to you all,

The Rev’d Adam Pierce