2 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
So, I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.
12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.
What will the church of the next year look like? Will things return to the way they were before COVID-19? Will there be big changes … will there be subtle changes? How will we know the way ahead?
The disciples were much like us. They were in the dark about what was next. Jesus had been their guide through thick and thin. He had been the steady voice, the source of hope. Jesus had now ascended, and it seemed they were on their own. The Holy Spirit was promised, and with its coming it opened a path of trust and hope for the future. That future, in 1 Corinthians, is defined by Spirit filled followers of Christ willing to recognize and share their varied and diverse gifts with the world.
Teachers have an interesting job. They need to inspire learning in a classroom filled with students who learn differently from each other. Here in Thermopolis, most if not all are English speaking. Yet there is an awareness that each child will respond to different keys to learning. When I was a Math teacher, probably 50% to 60% of the class would grasp some semblance of a concept the first time I introduced it. Then began the task. What further instruction would be needed for that group to solidify the concept in their minds? Then there was the other 40%-50% that didn’t get it the first pass. So, how can I present it differently to meet their needs. Then there was the small percentage of students who looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language! I had to learn their language in order to put it in a way they could understand it.
That is what is so amazing about what happened on Pentecost. Acts sets the stage with “all of them together in one place.” The eleven disciples and the other followers were in a house when the Spirit came like the rush of a mighty wind. They began speaking in languages other than their own native tongue. In verses 5-13 a diverse crowd gathers at the sound. I took pity on Verne this morning – as I would on any Lay Reader and skipped the test with all of the different names for those gathered. It takes two entire verses just naming those who gathered. On two different occasions the text speaks of persons hearing in their own languages. “We hear them declaring the mighty acts of God in our own languages!” Those mighty acts were put in words that they could understand.
We are an extremely diverse world. We come from all kinds of backgrounds. There are ranchers and business owners, engineers and teacher, government officials and oil field workers – just to name a few. People need to hear of God in their “own language.” I have known about differing learning styles for many years. In one construct, learners are characterized as auditory, visual, kinesthetic learners. I learned a long time ago that if a parishioner closes their eyes during a sermon it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sleeping! Some like to rely only on what they hear. Others like to “see” what they are hearing. Others still need to touch what they learn. In another example, Gary Smalley has identified five different love languages. These love languages describe how a person best experiences love. The five are: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. There is a story of a man who really liked the heels of a loaf of bread. As an act of giving to his wife, however, he would offer his favorite part of the loaf to his wife. After many months of this she finally became exasperated and exploded one day with, “Why do you give me the dregs of the loaf?! You never let me have the prime pieces of bread, just the heels!” He wasn’t speaking her language, was he? Both of these constructs point to diverse needs that need to be met in diverse ways.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, introduces the “body” image as a way of understanding the church. There are many parts, each with their own functions (gifts, talents, etc.), that work together for the common good. Look around you this morning. As you look at each face there may come up in your mind what they are good at. You may look at one and say, ‘Wow. They really have a gift for hospitality.’ On seeing someone else you might say, ‘I wish I could understand the scriptures the way they do.’
As I read 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 I was struck by the words “Different” and “Same.” There is a “Trinity” of examples. “There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” You notice that all three persons of the Trinity are referenced. The bottom line is that all of us – the church – are powered by the Holy Spirit (“… all things are produced by the one and same Spirit, v. 11). Paul has grasped how the church would grow and adapt in order to reach the world for Christ.
Now, you remember earlier I asked you to look around at the faces of those around you. It is easier to see in others what we might call spiritual gifts, ministries and activities. At this point, I want you to take notice of verses 7, 11, and 13. These are pivotal verses! “Each”, “each” and “all” are the words used to describe us in relation to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do we believe that each and every believer is “given a demonstration of the Spirit for the common good?” Do you believe that the Spirit has given you a demonstration of the Spirit for the common good? I intentionally used words above that implied a comparison. We tend to think that way. “My gifts are nothing in comparison to ‘so-in-so’s gifts.” In the comparison game we all lose. When I play the comparison game, upon seeing someone with a “better” gift I may refrain from using my gifts because I deem them ‘pale in comparison.’ How much poorer the Body of Christ is when I don’t add my distinctiveness to it. So, I ask again, “How do we see our giftedness?” What are we good at? What people might we reach because of who we are?
As a person who has work glasses since I was in sixth grade, I understand the image of lenses – I look through lenses in order to see the world more clearly. Metaphorically, each of us uses lenses as a way of looking at life. In the trinity of examples I spoke of earlier, it mentions spiritual gifts (varieties of gifts), ministries (services), and activities. That describes a diversity of life, a diversity of following Jesus Christ. Instead of comparison, I challenge you to see own self as God sees you. I challenge you to seek God in prayer asking that the Spirit reveal to you the variety of gifts that have been given to you. I would call it ‘prayer with a pencil in hand.’ It begins with realizing and accepting that you are beloved by God. God knows you intimately, created you wonderfully, and has given you gifts to share with others. Wouldn’t God give a “beloved” follower good gifts? Start a list. Don’t forget to think small as well as big. I am convinced that the “big” gifts of the Spirit are just a compilation of many smaller gifts.
“We each are given a demonstration of the Spirit for the common good.” This isn’t collecting gifts for a good resume. It is recognizing a gift and using it for the common good. What can we do for others? What can we do for God? Big things. Small things. Talents. Abilities. God is seeking a church who will claim the gifts given through the Spirit, and put them to work.
The Holy Spirit seeks to pour out God’s love and grace and power to all the world through followers who will see what God has given them and use it for the common good. Come Holy Spirit!