"Gifts Differing -
for the Common Good"
The Day of Pentecost was a spectacular day!
The Holy Spirit launched the church with an event that empowered a small ragtag band of followers of a teacher from Nazareth who had stirred up the crowds in Israel for three years. Civil and religious authorities of the day were confident that the struggling movement of the illegitimate teacher from Galilee had been crushed. Indeed, the followers of the Nazarene were reported to have fled when he was arrested. One of his own had turned him in and another claimed not to know him at all.
Then came Pentecost. A day when Israel celebrated "the feast of harvest of the firstfruits" [Exodus 23:16] But this day of Pentecost was different. Jewish people from all over the Middle East were gathered when the commotion started.
The timid followers of Jesus were suddenly loudly proclaiming the news that God had acted decisively in Jesus of Nazareth to the crowds gathered for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The weird thing was that many in the crowd were hearing this news in their own language - lots of languages!
Others, however, heard only strange noise. "They must be drinking," they speculated about these strange people.
In the midst of all this, the disciple who had denied even knowing the Nazarene stood up and spoke in a way that commanded the attention of thousands. "What is happening here," Peter tells them, "Is that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!" [Acts 2:36]
It was a spectacular day.
Three thousand people became a part of the infant church that day and our world has never been the same!
It was a spectacular day.
But it was just the first day of what has become a two thousand year journey. It was a birthday of sorts and everyone knows a birthday is not a life - it is the beginning of a life. The joy of the first day becomes the journey of a lifetime.
Since that spectacular first day, the church has gone through the most incredible times of struggle to times of great joy. It has gone through periods when it bought pain and grief to the heart of God and other times when it has been a joy to God and a blessing to the world.
The Day of Pentecost is a great day to ask the question, "What makes the difference?" When is the church a joy to God and a blessing to the world? And when does the church fall short of everything the Holy Spirit began to do on that first spectacular day?
The answer to these questions has to do with a proper understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Mark this down:
The Day of Pentecost was not simply a one day affair with a spectacular demonstration of power as though Pentecost were a fireworks display which ended with tongues of fire and a gathering of 3000 new people to the church!
Pentecost was simply the day of "arrival" for the Spirit of God in the life of the People of God. When we are in touch with the reality of the Spirit's presence in our life together, we are in a healthy mode. When we are not in touch with the reality of the Spirit's presence in our life together, we are in a toxic mode.
The ongoing work of the Spirit of God in the life of the church is the key to health in the church. The epistle reading for today points to three characteristics that are active when the church is functioning properly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Namely,  There is a common confession,  There is a variety of expression, and  There is a uniting manifestation.
 A Common Confession
The very first thing Paul points his readers to is the fact that we are bound together by a common affirmation.
"Jesus is Lord."
This was the earliest affirmation of faith in the Christian faith. Who is it that holds the place of highest allegiance in our lives? Who do we hold in the highest regard - above every other person? In other words, who do we worship?
The Christian faith is always in conflict with anything or anyone that would place something other than Christ in the position of first place. In the earliest church there were two major claims to the allegiance of the followers of Jesus. One was emperor worship. Many lost their lives for refusing to swear allegiance to the Roman Emperor above their commitment to Christ. The second challenge to the faith, especially when the gospel spread beyond the confines of the Holy Land, was pagan worship.
The common confession that unites Christians even in our own time, was spoken in the context of Paul's mission to a pagan society. And the City of Corinth was among the most pagan of all.
Our epistle reading for today begins at the end of a paragraph. The Christian's basic affirmation comes out of conflict between the old way of living and a new way.
The thing that sets the Christian apart from the pagan world is a complete turning away from one allegiance to a new one. The old way was to worship idols and in that worship Jesus is "cursed." The word cursed is literally "anathema." No one can be under the leadership of God's Spirit and say that Jesus is anathema - or cursed.
This may not be with words but with actions that place everything but Christ at the top of our list of priorities. And by the same token - no one can honestly give Christ the number one place in our living or affirm the Lordship of Christ unless the Spirit of God brings this about in their life.
This is not simply a matter of repeating words with our mouth. There is a clue in Paul's letter to the Romans. He writes to them, "...if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." [Rom. 10:9]
The central reality of Christian living for every Christian is this affirmation of the heart that Jesus is Lord. No matter what our denominational heritage or religious background - for the Christian this one brief affirmation is shared by all. "Jesus is Lord!"
This common confession unites us and makes us one.
 There is a variety of expression
Even though Christian people share a common confession, there is a world of difference when it comes to the expression of our faith in talents and avenues of service. There are scores of activities that make up the life of a church. No one talent, or avenue of service or activity is better than the other. They are different, but there are no "bragging rights," in any of these things.
This is where the church at Corinth got into difficulty. People got to thinking things like, "My gift is really very important. Yours is good, but mine is really important!" Or this "bragging rights syndrome" can show up in one person's feeling that their work in the Sunday School is so much more needed than the work of the ushers, or the choir, or the board members. And then, of course, everyone knows that the annual ice cream social is the big event of the church's life for the year. Except, of course, for the men's group that knows (even if silently) that it is actually the pancake breakfast that does the lion's share of the fund raising.
Meanwhile the common confession gets lost in the struggle of human ego. The realities of the life, death and resurrection of Christ somehow fade into the background of what counts in the church and instead of being built up, the church is diminished and the affirmation, "Jesus is Lord," gets lost in the shuffle.
Paul goes out of his way to say that even though there is a variety of gifts, the same Spirit is behind the gifts. And though there are all kinds of ways to serve, it is the same Lord we are serving. There are so many activities in the life of the church, but it is the same God who makes all of them work.
Paul appeals to the church, "Please know that all our talents and all our ways of serving God and all the activities we engage in are equal in the eyes of God - there are no bragging rights in the community of Jesus Christ.
As you read on in Corinthians, you discover just how much turmoil this issue can create in a church and how powerfully this dynamic can turn the church away from it's purpose. Of course this can happen in Chicago, or Columbus or Chattanooga!
The key to making the church function properly in spite of diversity is to remember Paul's three conclusions. "Same Spirit!" "Same Lord!" "Same God!"
 There is a uniting manifestation
Here's what ties it all together. Jesus is Lord, there is a variety of expression of this Lordship in our talents and activities and ... here Paul says, "All God's children have gifts to help build up the Body of Christ!"
No matter what gift the Holy Spirit energizes in us the central idea is that, The Spirit "...allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses."
When the church is doing well and the Lordship of Jesus Christ is growing in the congregation and in the lives of each person in the congregation, it will be evident that there is a powerful Spirit present in the People of God when they come together as the Body of Christ. There is a unity of purpose and a harmony of spirit that draws searching people to the reality of faith.
All of us have a stake in this. None of us has been excluded from the "giftedness" God bestows on all who call Jesus Lord. In the church every single one of us is in God's talented and gifted program!
Here's the center of the epistle reading for today:
At the very least, each of us should engrave this deep within our hearts. We might begin every activity in the church with a new affirmation and response that would go like this:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good!
In fact, let us begin now: (Have them join you in this)
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Connections in the Texts
Connections in the Texts
There is an interesting correlation in the texts that begins with the Psalm of the day. With respect to the creatures of the earth, the Psalmist says... "...When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created..." [Ps. 104:29b - 30:a] We think immediately of Genesis 2:7 the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. We are alive precisely because of the action / intervention of God. God gives the breath (life) and takes the breath away (death.)
In the John 20 reading, Jesus breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit. The immediate consequence of this is Jesus' words, "If you forgive the sins of any... if you retain the sins of any..." The "original sin" of Genesis resulted in death. The ministry of Christ brings about "re-birth" -- or might we not say -- a "re-breathing" of life, which takes place through the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Sin takes away the breath of God (life -- "...in the day you eat of it, you shall die..." Gen. 2:17) The ministry of reconciliation is given to Jesus' disciples. [ 2Cor. 5:18 -- "...and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation."] It is in this sense that the forgiveness of sin is given to the disciples. They are the one who minister the reconciliation; they do not bring it about.
The theme, thus far, is: "Spirit of God = life" Without the spirit of God there is no life.
John 7 speaks of spiritual life in terms of living water. Those who believe in (trust) Christ receive the Spirit - which is "living water." Whereas sin brings about death, the spirit brings about a renewal of life. The symbols of water and wind (breath of God) call to mind the original concepts of the basic elements as earth, wind, fire and water. The fire, wind and water are all symbols of the Spirit of God.
1 Corinthians carries the theme of the Spirit of God to the formation of the Body of Christ. The Spirit gives life and gives gifts to bring life to the body of Christ. As the breath of God gave life to "dusty" Adam, so the Spirit also gives life to the Body of Christ. Jesus' reconciling (life giving) ministry is given to the Body of Christ.
The key that ties all these texts together is the life giving and regenerating power of the Spirit of God.
* "Let anyone who is thirsty..." The thirst here is of course, not a physical, but spiritual thirst. The analogy in this text shifts a bit. First, the thirsty person comes to Christ to drink -- then the Spirit who will be given, will produce "rivers of living water" from within the believer. John 4 has an extended discussion of the relationship between physical and spiritual thirst. See March 7, 1999 to review. The only other references to thirst which indicate a spiritual or symbolic meaning is in Matthew 5:6, Revelation 21:6, and 22:17. Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of the emptiness of the people of God without a relationship with God. "...for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water." There is an "emptiness -- fulfillment" theme here. Pentecost, as well as giving life to and empowering the church, brings fullness to the Christian's life. If you find people struggling with a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose in their lives or in the church, some use of our alternate sermon from last Pentecost might be in order. ("Whatever Became Of The Spirit?" )
* The setting of this text is dramatic. It is the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Each day during the feast, there is a procession of priests from the pool of Siloam to the temple where the water was poured out as a libation at the altar. The choir would sing Isaiah 12:3, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." Tabernacles called the soul of the nation back to the time of its wilderness wandering and the joy of "fulfillment" that came with the Promised Land. One rabbi is quoted as saying, "He that has never seen the joy of the water-drawing, has never in his life seen joy." [Leon Morris: Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John, Baker, 1988] It is at the concluding celebration of Tabernacles that Jesus stands and cries out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me..." The timing of Jesus' statement represents an amazing claim and conflict naturally ensues. That claim is no less amazing in our own time. The issue of joy in our spiritual lives might well be addressed through this text, its context and the Isaiah reference. See Acts 13:52 (Disciples filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit) If there is not joy in the church and in the lives of Christian folk -- then there is a need for renewal and a new infusion of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps a genuine Pentecost for some would be an outpouring of the Joy of the Spirit of God in the midst of the people of God. This passage speaks to me especially when I deal with folk whose personal expression of Christian faith is negative, judgmental and wearisome.
* The disciples are behind "locked doors" because of fear. It is into this situation that Jesus comes to them. There is a significant point to be made in the fact that Jesus comes to them where they are - - in their fear and distress. As you follow the text you note that Christ brings "peace" and "joy" to those who are behind those locked doors. What is it that keeps you "locked up?" Pentecost is a community celebration. It is a time to think about the nature of the church and the power of God that is available to the community. But -- it may also be that a more personal Pentecost is needed. You may discern that a number of your folk have heard the traditional Pentecost story many times and are in need of the personal Pentecost that is inherent in this particular reading from John.
* "If you forgive the sins..." Important to note that this is a statement made to the community -- not to an individual. "If you (plural) forgive the sins..." Of course there is no forgiveness without the Body of Christ -- because there is no proclamation of forgiveness and new life without the witness of the Body.
* It is significant that this particular reading appears in the lectionary for both Easter and Pentecost readings. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, the cornerstone of the fact that death (which is the consequence of life denying sin) is overcome. The presence of the Risen Christ in the gathering of these disciples is the affirmation that the Spirit within the believing community is present to give forgiveness of sin -- and thus new life. Resurrection and reconciliation are conjoined in this text.
I Corinthians 12:3b-13
* Here the issue is the unity of the people of Christ. Corinth was seriously in the grip of division and factions were fracturing the Body of Christ. Paul says that the Holy Spirit gives, a common confession, diversity of gifts and a common body. Though diverse, the Holy Spirit has immersed us "baptized" us into one body. This text along with the Acts passage could provide a message on unity in the Body of Christ if that is a need in your church. Here Paul is saying it takes all parts of the body to have a whole body. We think "community" -- not "rugged individual". That flies in the face of a lot of Western world thinking. "I Did It My Way," makes a great song -- but it is terrible theology. In the Body of Christ it's "We did it His way"
* This passage from Acts comes up each year of the lectionary cycle and may qualify as one of the top ten, "Most Familiar - Least Understood" passages in the bible. What happens here? The Holy Spirit energizes and empowers common, ordinary people of the rank and file to take God's message of reconciliation to every possible person who will hear it.
* The reaction is important! Some who hear the result of the Spirit's empowerment are amazed and impressed. Others, however, are moved to scorn. "These guys are drunk!" The last verse (21) affirms that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved -- but conversely, those who do not call upon the name of the Lord will not be saved. The message of Pentecost unites -- but it only unites those who "call upon the name of the Lord." Nevertheless -- from 1 Corinthians, it is essential to understand that those of us who do embrace the Messiah and the message are bound together in a single body. Mark it down: "The Spirit of God is the authentic source of unity in the midst of diversity." Without unity, we do not have the credibility to bring the message to our world. Without diversity, we do not have the ability to bring the message to our world." Only Pentecost -- the coming of the Holy Spirit to our community can create the fusion of diversity and unity we need.
The disciples of Jesus are gathered together after a time of "waiting on the Lord." The gathering is in response to the command of Jesus. The key here is that obedience leads to the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. In short, we need to "follow the directions" or nothing happens. The theme is consistent throughout the lessons for today. The word of God is central and attending to the word of God in obedience is the key to effective ministry.
The "witness" given by Peter and the disciples when the Spirit has come upon them is evidence of the divine work -- a fulfillment of the promise of God to pour out the Spirit on all flesh. The mighty rushing wind of Pentecost calls to mind the wind Ezekiel calls from the four corners of the earth. Here in Jerusalem, people are gathered from all over the earth.
The signs of the Spirit's presence includes the rushing wind (Hebrew - "ruach") and the tongues of fire. Both wind and fire are familiar Old Testament images of the presence of God.
Old Testament prophets speak when the spirit came upon them and the empowering work of the Spirit likewise inspires Peter to rise and proclaim the news that God has fulfilled the promise of Joel that the Spirit would be poured out in the last days. The "last days" here point to the inauguration of the work of the church.
( Peter's argument that the disciples were not drunk because it was only nine o'clock in the morning would likely not carry the weight today it did then!)
A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 104 )
Leader: Come O Lord,
our Lord and fill us with your Spirit,
Prayer of Confession
Almighty and most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you and have wandered from the way of life and light you have set before us. We have not loved you with the whole of our hearts and souls and minds. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not kept these the most important commandments of all, O Lord and our hearts are grieved that we have brought grief to you. and Amen [Adapted from the BCP]
Assurance of Pardon
Beloved in Christ, our God is merciful and full of grace toward those who truly turn away from their sin and determine to live in love and charity with their neighbors and intend to live a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we have drawn near to God in confession, so now let us receive the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
O Lord God Almighty, Ruler of all creation and Redeemer of all who truly turn to you, we are filled with thanksgiving on this Day of Pentecost. On this day you opened up the hearts of your people by the power of the Holy Spirit and the good news of your son Jesus Christ was given to all nations.
We pray that you would give us the joy of seeing our friends and the people of this city [town, village] come to know the joy of your salvation. Fill us with the self same power you gave to your disciples on the day your Spirit filled the apostles with your message for all peoples. By your great mercy, give us open hearts and willing spirits to love one another as Christ loved us and to love our neighbors as ourselves that the world might know you alone are the Lord.
All praise, honor and glory are yours. Amen.
A Prayer of Dedication
O God of all bounty, Lord of every blessing, Giver of every gift and Source of all gladness, it is a wonder to our minds and joy to our hearts that you should accept these gifts from our hands. May the renewing power of your Holy Spirit free us to be fully given into your hands, that you may bless the world through us. Amen.