Year A Pentecost, 28 May 2023
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Some things come unexpectedly. Some things take time and work. Some things are and will remain adequate but nothing special. And that is just the way it is.
If you are in Christ, and a part of his Church, his Bride, his very Body on Earth, then you have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is a promise, and what we celebrate here on Pentecost today. Sometimes it comes in a flurry, but for me, more often I hear it as that still small voice of reassurance or possibility whispering when I need it most. But to hear it (or maybe him or maybe her) then I need to still myself so I can resonate with God’s Holy Spirit. I think the Spirit was described ambiguously in Scripture because it was ambiguous. All of us experience the Spirit in our own unique way. Your image of the Spirit and mine are very different, just imagine how different it is across the Church of Christ.
Today is when we mark the beginning of the Church, when it stopped being a ragtag band of Jesus’ followers to a throng of thousands from across the Roman world. All those hard to pronounce names in our Acts reading, God had selected people who could hear and believe and take the Good News home with them after worshiping in Jerusalem. It was a mighty day for them. There were over 3,000 baptized in the Trinitarian pronouncement of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and became a part of the family. We were brought in in the same way, thanks be to God! And when they left, they left with the Holy Spirit within them.
And if we are in Christ, and a part of his Church, and we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then we will have things come about in our lives as we grow and learn and serve.
There are the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives and we are all open to that. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5) Those are things all of us can, and in my opinion, should seek.
When fruit is born, it comes from the maturity of the plant making it, and conditions that it finds itself in. We are no different. If the Spirit is moving and active in us, and we make our environs hospitable to growth, the fruit will come. All of them in their time.
But fruits are the rewards of our continuing growth and maturity. But do not confuse fruit with gifts. Gifts are Grace, free, nothing we did to deserve it, nothing we can do to stop it except to leave it unwrapped. In our reading this morning from I Corinthians, St. Paul breaks down some of the gifts of the Spirit. These are different. Charisms, true Grace-filled gifts, that we have been given to make a difference in Christ’s Church.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
These gifts are from God. It is for God’s benefit to accomplish the work that God has set out. It might bring us attention or notoriety, but it is not about us or necessarily for us. We may benefit from the receiving of the gifts, but that is not its purpose or intent. These are for God’s glory and the building up of Christ’s church.
I will unpack each of these. This is not even Paul’s definitive list, but it is good enough for today. First…
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,
Wisdom is not knowing stuff, but what to do with what we have. Wisdom is something we are taught to chase in Scripture, and relish. It is the reward of a good and devout life. But Wisdom from the Spirit is about being there as the wise sage for the good of the Church. Second…
and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
Knowledge in this context is about knowing things that cannot be known otherwise, words that are intensely and clearly true to the one receiving them, and the giftedness to share with Christ’s Church this Knowledge in a calm yet persuasive way. This is not sales, or convincing anyone of anything, it is the gift of unalterable Truth with capital T. Third…
to another faith by the same Spirit,
The gift of Faith is a hard one to see as that important. We all have faith to some extent or we would not be here. Faith as a spiritual gift is believing when it is all but impossible. It can come in the middle of a crisis, like COVID, when we calmly convince people to hang on just a little bit longer and it will all be okay. It can come when grief is palpable, and we need anything and everything to see light when we are surrounded by darkness. And yes, it can come in the midst of budget discussions, sometimes faith is all we have in budget discussions because all sense seems to have left a long time ago. Fourth…
to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
Gifts of healing can come in so many ways. The right medicine at the right time. A loving touch when we are hurting. Remember your mom kissing and blowing on a boo-boo? Nothing felt better. The Gift of Healing can be like that. And sometimes, very rarely the miraculous happens. It is rare. It is not expected, but sometimes God steps in and works through this gift and miracles occur. And the fifth says just that…
to another the working of miracles,
You know it when you see it. If I tried to give it any parameters I couldn’t, so I will stand on what I said about it in healing and leave it at that. Sixth…
to another prophecy,
Prophecy is not fortune telling or telling the future. There could be some of it in Prophecy, but prophecy is speaking for God. It could be about sin which needs conviction, uncovering crimes that need to be corrected, or hope when all seems hopeless. Prophecy is speaking for God, and sometimes God talks to us about what is to come, but never think it is limited to that. The gift of prophecy is so we can hear God’s word to us, no matter what it is. Seventh…
to another the discernment of spirits,
Discernment is knowing what to do and when to do it. Discernment is parsing the zeitgeist and platzgeist, the spirit of the times and the spirits of a context or place. Truth is often shrouded with deceptions, half-truths, and outright lies. All of them shroud the Truth that cannot seem to get a word in edgewise. Discernment filters out the hubbub and gets to the Truth and lifts it up for the rest of us. Eighth…
to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Tongues is portrayed two ways in the New Testament. Sometimes it is actual foreign languages, where people can quickly and easily make sense of this new “tongue.” This is what happened on the Day of Pentecost. The other way glossolalia is described is ecstatic utterances. What we may describe as gibberish. But however you interpret tongues, notice that there never comes the gift of tongues without the gift of interpretation. They go hand in glove. Why on earth (or heaven for that matter) would God give us an unusable gift. God is not about putting on a show with mortals. God has already put on a show declaring God’s love and intent in what we call Nature. The heavens and all creation declare the glory of God. God does not need show-offs spilling nonsense to get our attention. Tongues, if used, has a purpose and way to understand. Don’t be afraid of this one. If it does not make sense, let it go. And finally…
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
The gifts come from and are activated by the Spirit at work in us. Yesterday my oldest graduated from St. Catherine’s. It was a huge day. And we gave a gift. The gift is only wonderful if it is opened and used. And we love our child, excuse me, young adult now, and know that what we give will be appreciated and used fully. The Spirit is no different. But an unopened gift slowly dissipates if not used for Christ’s Church and for God’s Glory.
But I like to think of the Spirit like my dad when he gave me my first baseball glove. When I got it, it was stiff and unusable. But he worked with me, and showed me how to oil it and work the leather. He showed me how to put a ball in the pocket to form it perfectly, and then oil it and bake it at a low temperature like 250. We pulled it out, worked it, and did it again.
Soon the mitt fit my hand perfectly and the pocket fit a ball perfectly. It was, and now 40 years later, just right. I have grown, but the gift grew with me. My glove is mine. A gift that the giver showed me how to work and make it all my own.
Spiritual gifts are much the same. Unique, precious, something we have to work to make comfortable and second-nature to us. But when we do, oh the things we can do and the places we can go. For God’s glory and for the good of Christ’s church.
Happy Birthday, Church! Open your gifts! Use them. Appreciate them. Give them away! You have been blessed to be a blessing! Amen