Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Colorful Ghost

On this date in 1980, a group of thugs assassinated Oscar Romero as was blessing the wine and bread for Communion.

He had been an unlikely leader for a chaotic time. Many believe that El Salvador’s elite had agreed to his appointment as the nation’s archbishop because he was a scholarly type, a bit bookish and otherworldly; not the sort to cause a lot of trouble.

And he wouldn’t have caused any trouble, had it not been for a group of nuns who knew the Lord and who began encouraging his prayer life. Soon, he was attending to the needs of his flock and then began to really notice the suffering of the people that God and history had called him to serve.

The movie, Romero, tells the story of pastoral leadership and the effect of that leadership upon the nation. As Oscar Romeo prayed and went deeper in God, his life and sermons began to provoke powerful people – the very people among whom he had been raised and taught.

God had anointed him to speak a prophetic word of comfort to the suffering and a warning of God’s judgment to the powerful.

As is often the case, this pastor paid the ultimate price for trying to move beyond merely speaking the words of the gospel and into acting upon the words of the gospel.

Like many great men and women, Archbishop Romero was not naturally courageous. He trembled and shook as he walked into the dangerous work of exposing and rebuking evil.

Why did he do it?

How did he do it?

He clothed himself in the Holy Spirit. He went on the adventure with God. He stopped trying to control God, trying to use god words to buttress the status quo, and dared to follow God’s heart.
One moving scene in the movie is when Romero joins the nuns singing the popular Spanish folk song “De Colores.” He has been discouraged and afraid. So the Indian nuns form a ring around their leader and sing until he laughs and joins them:

De Colores
De Colores se visten los campos en la primavera
De Colores
De Colores son los pajarillos que vienen de afuera
De Colores
De Colores es el arco iris que vemos lucir
Y por eso los grandes amores
De muchos colores
Me Gustan a mi

All of us who have been on a Cursillo weekend, or one of the many spiritual retreats in Protestant circles modeled after Cursillo – know what is happening in that scene. The nuns are reminding their pastor that our work is “not by power nor by might, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts.” Only the Spirit can turn the dark gray of winter into the “colores de la primavera” (the colors of spring time.)

In an age in which so many churches continue their death march into the cold professionalism, entertainment and business management in which the Holy Spirit gradually becomes a pious but meaningless term, how we need the Spirit that produces the “many bright colors that make my heart cry.”

When I was a young Pentecostal evangelist, I would often hold prayer services for those seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I will never forget one of those services in my home state of West Virginia.

I had been going down the line of seekers, laying my hands on them as I went. When I came to one little boy, I laid my hand on him and said, as gently as a Pentecostal preacher can, “Receive the Holy Ghost!”

When I said those words, the little boy opened his eyes as far as they could open, bolted for the door and shouted back at me as he ran out of the building; “I don’t want nut’in to do with no ghost!”

That is unfortunately, the stance many adult Christians in all denominations have toward the dynamic and uncontrollable presence of God. They don’t want nut’in to do with no ghost.

When we call God, “Father” we have a place to begin with our attempts to imagine God. Even though we know that our heavenly Father must be considerably different than our earthly father, we understand what “father” means. The same is true as we speak of God as “The Son.” The term “Son of God,” although beyond our comprehension, is at least imaginable. Because of Jesus, we can even give God a human face in our imagination.

But how do we even begin to speak, write, think about or ever comprehend the Holy Spirit?

I find it difficult to write about the Holy Spirit.

He seems to elude all of our descriptions.

Perhaps the most important reason for this difficulty in describing the Holy Spirit is that one does not so much study the Holy Spirit as simply experience Him.

He is a Fire, mere words cannot contain Him.

He is a wind, mere ceremony cannot control Him.

He is, as the folk song puts it, the “brightest colors of springtime.”

He is dangerous, as Romero discovered. He does not guarantee our safety.

But He is good and He does guarantee our transformation.

In the movie, as Oscar Romero lifts the cup and says, “the blood of Christ, poured out for us, may it keep us unto eternal life,” a bullet rips through his chest. He does all he can to steady the cup and set it down gently on the Table. But he fails. The wine pours out across the Table until the blood and the wine become so mixed upon the altar that no one can tell them apart.

But outside the Cathedral, the pastor’s death takes the heart out of the war and it finally stops, from a sheer lack of interest.

The rainbow is vested across the blue sky and so must all love be of many bright colors that make our hearts cry.

De Colores!


Marilyn said...

...and there are still countries today with struggles similar to that of thirty years ago in El Salvador. It is sad, "This is not the way God wants His children to live. It cries out to heaven for redress." Indeed, as one reported stated: "thirty years and little learned." Lord have mercy.

James Smith said...

Pastor Dan, Thanks so much so sharing this story in a way that only the Holy Spirit working in you could. It is only March and you have so blessed me with your thoughts this year, I know you are only the tool being used of God. Grace and peace to you I pray.