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Rev. Barbara Kay Lundblad: “Our Knowledge of God is Not Complete”

Week 7 Chaplin Barbara Kay Lundblad gives the morning sermon Sunday, August 4, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“How many of you received Pentecost cards?” asked the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad. “Neither did I. The florists and card companies haven’t decided to honor this event, and it is often a forgotten holy day.” Preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Friday Ecumenical Service in the Amphitheater, her sermon title was “Grace: Is it for Everyone? That’s Scary,” and her text was Acts 2:1-18. The church season was Pentecost.

“It is a powerful day and I can see some of you are wearing red,” she said. “But it hardly matches the celebration in churches in 10th-century Rome.”

The churches had painted the inside of the domed ceilings to draw the eyes of worshipers upward, but also to hide trap doors. “Some brave soul would climb out on the roof, and open the doors and release doves over the head of the congregation,” Lundblad said. “The choir would make the sound of the wind, like the wind machine in the symphony last night.”

Someone else would float rose petals down like tongues of fire. “We could do that here,” she said to Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music.

Diana Eck, a theologian at Harvard University, wrote in Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras that the Christian church needs “Holy Spirit holes,” so that the churches would look skyward and be open to the wind rush of God.

“Our knowledge of God is not complete; no petal or flame can domesticate God’s Spirit,” Lundblad said. “We need Holy Spirit holes.”

Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether said the function of the church is to faithfully pass on the tradition from generation to generation and to be “open to the new winds of the Spirit by which tradition comes alive. Both are needed.”


The Holy Spirit seems to be out of control, Lundblad said. When she was on the pastoral team at Advent Lutheran Church in Manhattan, she did the children’s sermon for Pentecost Sunday. The church had one wall that they shared with the hotel next door, and it had no windows. The congregation used the wall as a bulletin board and artistic space. On Pentecost, they put cutouts of dancing figures with flames over their heads on the wall. “I asked the children, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Lundblad said.

“It’s not safe,” said Gavin, one of the children.

“He was very wise,” Lundblad said. “Even though the Holy Spirit will assure us, it is not safe, it is not under control.”

She continued, “Imagine the first Pentecost and hearing the Gospel in your own language. I am not sure if it was a miracle of speaking or a miracle of hearing.”

It was a very chaotic scene, and the people of Jerusalem accused the foreign people of being drunk at 9 a.m.

“Peter stepped forward and said it was impossible for them to be drunk so early in the morning,” Lundblad said. “Obviously he had never been in first class on a morning flight.”

Peter quoted a text from the Prophet Joel, which Lundblad used for her Wednesday sermon on Lent.

“If we really listen, we hear the text saying the Spirit is poured out on all flesh rather than all people,” she said. “That must mean black flesh, brown flesh, yellow and red flesh — not just white flesh — immigrants and prisoners. It’s not safe.”

If the Spirit is poured out on daughters as well as sons, it means that women must be ordained in every church.

“Not just the Roman Catholic church, but parts of the Lutheran church as well. It’s not safe,” Lundblad said.

“If youth see visions, that means we have to keep listening to the kids from Parkland School who are going around the country talking about gun control,” she said. “It is a dangerous world; it’s not safe.”


And if our elders dream dreams, “some could speak to the elders who are running our government. It’s not safe,” she said.“For the descendants of women and men who were enslaved, surely the Spirit can be poured out on them in the United States of America. It’s not safe,” Lundblad said. “When people say, ‘Black lives matter,’ someone always says ‘All lives matter.’ They don’t want to hear the first part. It’s not safe.”

Lundblad visited the town of Torun, Poland, where astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born. He formulated a universe where the Earth rotated around the sun and not the reverse. Everyone called him a heretic because it was written in the Bible (Joshua 10:12-14) that Joshua made the sun stand still. “Copernicus was a religious man,” Lundblad said. “He remembered the great commandment to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.’ He dared to use his mind. It’s not safe.”

In 2009, the national body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was meeting in Minneapolis, debating a paper called “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.” One of the proposals in the paper would allow partnered gay and lesbian people to be ordained.

“It was not safe,” Lundblad said. “The paper needed a two-thirds majority to pass. After prayer, the delegates pushed their electronic voting buttons and waited for the total to come up on screens around the hall. It passed by 66.6%.”

She continued, “There was a gasp but no applause, as the presiding bishop has asked. If it had not passed, I would be introduced as the ‘former Lutheran pastor.’ I am personally grateful.”

How do you overturn 2,000 years of church tradition? Lundblad asked.

“We have forgotten about Holy Spirit holes,” she said. “Sometimes we have to use our minds; the Spirit can work through our minds.”

The night before the vote in Minneapolis in 2009, a tornado touched down near the convention center and twisted the cross on Central Lutheran Church across the street. The supporters said, “God needs to send a tornado to get through to Lutherans,” while opposers said, “God is displeased.” Lundblad said that “some of them are still displeased.”

“The Spirit will take us places we never planned to go,” she said. “Some people still believe that women should not be ordained. It is possible to be wrong for a very long time. Our calling, as the people of God and followers of Jesus, is to be open to the wind of the Spirit by which traditions are brought to life. We have to make space for Holy Spirit holes in the church, and in our own lives.”

Is there space for a Holy Spirit?

“Is our faith so certain that we won’t let the Spirit in, or are we so uncertain that nothing can get to us?” she asked. “We have to be open to the Holy Spirit when too much is changing, when there are more endings than beginnings. Come Holy Spirit, come and surprise me once again. Amen.”
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the morning worship column. This past winter she made her acting debut as Miss Maudy in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Lucille Ball Little Theater in Jamestown. She edited the forthcoming history of the Jewish presence at Chautauqua and wrote the history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd for its 125th anniversary this summer. She is a member of the Chautauqua Lake Central School Board and lives year-round in Chautauqua with her dog, Max.