Wild One: the Holy Spirit and Its Gifts


Its Pentecost!! Yahoo!!

I was talking earlier today about how we focus on Pentecost as this festival day, where we get to wear red and we get all excited about it. We get all excited about the Holy Spirit. Yet, it seems so odd to me that we do this; Pentecost seems like an odd thing for me.

We struggle with the Spirit and what the Spirit calls us to do. So, I want to talk about how it influenced the disciples.

Do you remember last week?
Christ has ascended back to the Father. The disciples were hidden in an upper room, praying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. But the truth is, Christ had already sent them into the world to carry on his mission.

I talked about how we are invited, encouraged, and brought into that same mission through our baptismal promises; nurtured by the faithful, nurtured by Word and Sacrament. We are called to proclaim the Word in word and deed. We’re called to seek justice, to act with mercy and compassion, to love, and to serve.

But, the disciples are in an upstairs room praying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. Where is the action?

The analogy I used last week was the relay runner, because we are called to get a head-start while the one running up behind us is bringing us the drive or motivation to continue.

That motivation, that drive happened at Pentecost.

The disciples are gathered in that upper room for a fest day, when suddenly the sound of wind, the text says the sound of a loud, violent, rushing wind, enter into their room. I imagine it is like being on the flight line and the airplanes cranking up their engines {whoosh}.

People from outside the room hear this sound and are drawn to it. The disciples start talking, they’re all talking their native language and yet the Jews and non-Jews alike are hearing it in their own native language. The Spirit is ensuring that all people, no matter who or where they are, are able to understand the words being spoken.

The crowd is obviously perplexed and amazed at what is happening. We have some who are seeking to explain it away, “don’t listen to them. They must be drunk and filled with new wine”. Sounds like an odd explanation, but Peter’s defense for why that cannot be in even stranger. “We can’t be drunk it is too early in the morning to be drunk.”

It is the Holy Spirit working and moving in, through, among all the characters of this story. In fact, when it says it came upon the disciples, the followers of Christ, we know men and women alike were in that room. This text is not gender specific, meaning it was not just The Twelve or just the male disciples out there speaking, but it was the whole of the followers of Christ.

Peter understands and explains that this is the prophecy of the prophet Joel come true. A day when the spirit would be poured out on all people (actually, flesh); young and old; male and female; slave and free. There would be prophesy, dreams, and visions. This is NOT the Holy Spirit that we are often comfortable talking about.

The Holy Spirit is multifaceted like God the Father, Christ, and humanity.  We’re more familiar and more comfortable, in Lutheranism and mainline denominations, talking about the Holy Spirit that is the spirit of gentleness that works persistently like a potter works with clay or like the rivers, such as the Colorado, carved out the Grand Canyon; a slow, persistent shaping and transforming of us into who we are called to be. That is a Spirit we are more comfortable talking about.

And yet, we have the other side of the Holy Spirit.
The one that is unruly.
The one that cannot be contained.
The one that is unpredictable.
The one that might even be a little messy and dangerous.

That is the one we lift up today.

Similarly, we have in our Corinthians text where Paul is writing to the people in Corinth. When we talk about the gifts of the spirit, we often are talking about the fruit of the spirit. The part of the Spirit that is shaping and molding us to be more gentle, loving, kind, faithful [joyful, peaceful, patience, generous, and self-controlled; see Gal. 5:22-23]. (Other Spiritual Gifts include Apostleship, Evangelism, Pastoring, Teaching, Serving, Encouraging, Leading, and acting with Mercy.)

But, if you notice similar to our Acts (of the Apostles) text, the Spiritual Gifts that Paul references are not those.
It is the gifts of healing and working miracles.
It is the gifts of speaking in or interpreting tongues.
It is the gift of prophecy.
It is the gift of discerning spirits.
Those are gifts that we tend to shove aside in mainline Christian denominations. We tend to say that those are gifts that other traditions, like the Pentecostal Church or the Holiness Movement, focus on and embrace.

Paul is writing to the people in Corinth telling them “I know you have these gifts. You have them abundantly”

Just like we do today. We have these gifts abundantly, the question is how are we using these gifts? and how do we understand them?

The people in Corinth had these gifts abundantly, gifts that were intended for the community as a whole for engaging those baptismal promises, living out the mission that Christ gave us and that the Holy Spirit moves us to do.

The problem is that anytime we see differences, we try to put them up on a hierarchy. So in Corinth, they were doing that.

“Oh, you have the gift of speaking in tongues? Your gift means nothing without my gift of interpreting them.”

“Oh, that is nice. You have the gift of discerning spirits. I have the gift of prophecy.”

You see what happens when we look at our gifts as competition or in a way of showing whose “better” or “worse”?

The true purpose of these gifts is to work together for the sake of the Church.

When I was in Seminary, I went to Berkeley (CA) and most of my colleagues wanted to do urban ministry. I was the odd duck. I have always been called to the small towns, to the more rural areas for that is where I feel at home and where I feel called to go.

I had some colleagues tell me on multiple occasions “I don’t know what your interest in rural ministry is”, “I don’t know what your interest in the small towns are”, and “it is the urban spots that are happening”.

My response to them was:
“You feel called to those places. You have gifts that will be unique for ministry in those places. I am not in competition with you, but rather I am thankful that you have that call. There are people in urban settings that need to hear the Word. There are people in small towns that need to hear the Word. You’re called to one and I am called to the other that does not make them better or worse. What that does is it says we, as a whole, are called to work together with our gifts for the common good of all.”

We, too often, have gifts that we do not use for the church.
We use them to line our checkbooks and our pockets.
We use our gifts to boost up our own ego.
We use our gifts to try to place ourselves above others.

What would happen if we used our gifts as they were intended?

The gifts mentioned today are ones that we, in the Lutheran tradition, tend to be a little uneasy with. I am going to pick (only) one of them to talk about, it is the gift of prophecy.

We tend to think that prophecy is the foretelling of future events, those things to come. But, if we look at the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), prophecy is about being a mouth-piece for God. Prophecy is about speaking truth into situations where it may be uncomfortable to do so, unpopular, maybe even (a little) dangerous; and yet, we are called to speak the truth into those situations anyways.

All you have to do is watch 30 minutes of news a day to know that there is a lot of not-so-good in our world today;
There are people seeking injustices.
There are people acting without compassion and mercy.
There is a lot of hate and little willingness to serve one another.

My challenge is that we accept the Spirit that we are not always comfortable with, because these two sides of the Spirit work together. The persistent transformation is working on those who are feeling afflicted and in need of some comfort. The Spirit we hear about today is working on those of us who are comfortable  and need a kick in the butt to get going.

My challenge for us as individuals, as a church, as a society, as a world
is to look at the gifts we’ve been given,
not as a way to be in confrontation or competition,
not as a way to divide us
but in a way to reach across those divides,
to reach out, to proclaim the Word through word and deed,
through acts of compassion and mercy that seek justice,
to love, and to serve all people
no matter what corners of the earth they have been gathered in from.

The Scriptures were Acts 2: 1-21; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13; and John 20: 19-23.
The Sermon was originally preached on 4 June 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).

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