1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who blows new life into our lives. Amen
It’s pentecost! The festival fifty days after Easter
when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit
and the start of the church.
Each year I’m reminded of a song from my children’s choir days
- Mom you know exactly which one I’m talking about,
and yes my mom watches the worship videos online-
this pandemic has created avid youtubers out of moms of pastors all across the nation-
anyway the song went a little something like this:
Pentecost is happy birthday
Happy birthday to the church
When every single doubting Thomas
Comes alive with Jesus’ promise
That he would not leave them
In the lurch.
Now with the exception of the fact
that the song continues to smear the disciple Thomas’ character
for the sake of a rhyme
it’s a pretty good basic interpretation of the day.
We heard last week
how Jesus promised the disciples
the gift of the holy spirit
and commanded them to take his message to the ends of the earth
before ascending to the right hand of the father
and we just heard in our reading from acts,
how the spirit blew the disciples out into the streets,
each speaking in a different language
so that the people assembled from the ends of the earth
could understand their message
and later though it wasn’t part of our reading,
we are told about 3,000 people are baptized and join the disciples
and it is exciting and a great celebration
but it’s one that comes as the culmination of a long time of waiting and uncertainty.
We’re intimately familiar with those dual feelings aren’t we?
uncertainty coupled with waiting
and even if we are trusting in the promise of God to bring new life
it can be really hard to wait,
we get impatient,
or we imagine what the future will look like
which invariably ends up being unrealistic,
because we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero,
we anticipate and hope that when our wait is over
and the spirit is on the move
that we will be like the disciples stepping forward to face the crowds
but the reality is that often when the Holy Spirit blows in new life,
it looks nothing like what we imagined
and in turn we are act more like the crowds than the disciples
Act tells us that the crowds
gathered by the commotion the disciples are making
are first astonished to hear the disciples
whose accents betray them as Galileans,
speaking in their own languages
and then they have one of two reactions
some in the crowd react with curiosity,
asking “What does this mean? But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." Their response is to immediately dismiss what is happening
using the least generous possibility as an explanation,
and while it is amusing to hear Peter protest
that the disciples are not drunk because it is only 9am
think about how the disciples felt,
here they are receiving the long awaited gift from God,
and some immediately dismiss them because they are disturbed.
That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit,
as new and exciting as it is, the new life it brings
is coupled with the potential for destruction,
the potential exists even in the way the arrival of the spirit is described,
with a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
and as tongues of fire,
out here we know the power of wind
and what it can do to trees and structures that seem strong in one moment
and in the next are torn apart.
Fire, used for cooking and heating,
is always only one spark away from destruction.
We also know that giving birth
Even in the best of circumstances,
is painful and dangerous and full of uncertainty
Until the first breath is taken and even after.
When we are faced with the arrival of the Holy Spirit,
New life and all the comes with it to bring it into the world
we are faced with two options:
to dismiss the strange things before us
with pat explanations that demean those through whom the spirit is working,
or we can approach with curiosity,
to ask the question: What does this mean?
To take the time to listen to the ones who like Peter
stand up and offer an explanation,
to explore what others have experienced leading up to this moment
That makes new life necessary
to seek out those who have visions and dreams for the future,
those who can help us imagine ourselves in that future,
those whose faith remains unshaken even as we are unsure.
In short, faced with the work of the holy spirit
we need the help of the gifts of the spirit
that Paul describes in our reading from 1 Corinthians,
gifts that the spirit has distributed as she sees fit
and never all in one person,
when we need the gifts of the spirit
we need the community.
We need the people who are wise,
and the ones that are knowledgeable,
we need the ones that get things done,
and the ones who are good at figuring out what we need to do,
we need those who prophesy
and those who translate that prophesy into a vision for the future.
“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.”
We are united in the spirit
but Unity in the spirit doesn’t erase our individual identities,
in fact we need people to be different
so that we all can be whole
Paul continuing with his body analogy later says “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”
and what keeps a whole body alive?
Breath, the spirit.
The common theme running through the major upheavals in our world right now
is lack of breath,
COVID19 is a sickness of the lungs,
the people who die are those whose lungs are so compromised
that they are no longer able to breathe.
George Floyd could not breathe,
his airway cut off by another person
and he is not the first to have uttered those words
in a similar circumstance.
Those seeking new life for other
Have their breath taken from them
By those who want things to stay the same.
Our world needs breath,
needs the spirit,
even as we are made aware
that we are members of a community,
that our health and wellbeing
are tied up in the health and well being of our neighbors,
the ones next door,
across the country,
and around the world.
The world needs the spirit,
and I believe that the spirit is at work,
bringing new life,
even, especially if it is life like we haven’t imagined,
and the work of the spirit,
like a strong wind,
will be unsettling,
even for those of us who long for the new life that the spirit brings.
And when faced with the work of the Holy Spirit,
we have two options: curiosity or dismissiveness.
We can dismiss the need
for finding new ways for common life
that enable the health of all,
we can dismiss the protests
using whatever pat explanation comes to mind.
Or we can ask:
What does this mean?
And listen with an open heart and an open mind
to those, who like Peter,
have the gifts of the spirit
that allow them to explain the long history leading up to this point,
who show us why this is a moment
that should not be dismissed but paid attention to.
And it may be hard to hear
what the Peters in our midst have to say,
and at each point when we feel discomfort,
a sign that the spirit is working by the way,
we once again have two options:
we can dismiss it
or we can ask what does this mean?
And move further down the path toward new life
and as we go down this path,
we will never be alone
because we have been given the gift of the spirit
who is as close to us as the breath in our lungs,
who is there to unsettle us when we need to be unsettled
and to comfort us when we need to be comforted
who activates in each of us gifts,
who works in our lives through the gifts others share
who gathers us together in community to wonder together: what does this mean?
If you are feeling the moving of the spirit,
If you ever want someone to wonder with
and ask the hard questions,
know that I am available to wonder and question with you,
because this is something that we don’t do alone
and if we can’t ask the hard questions in the church,
where can we ask them?
Pentecost is happy birthday
Happy birthday to the church.
What does this mean?
It means the start of something new,
something unsettling and comforting at the same time,
it means God is with us
and God is sending us.
It means Jesus keeps his promises. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.