Acts 2:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Pentecost can be so hard for us to understand. At least I find it difficult sometimes. Trying to describe a day centered on the Holy Spirit – something sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost – well, it is bound to be a bit confusing. You have heard me call this day the birthday of the Christian church. And here is why. Remember last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension – Jesus returned to God – and God's messengers told the disciples to stop standing around staring at the sky. So what's next? That’s the big question, isn’t it? So the disciples are in Jerusalem, celebrating a holy day remembering the giving of the law by God to Moses. And while they are there, as Jesus has promised would soon happen, a sound comes like the rush of a violent wind, and it fills the whole place where the disciples were. And Luke, our author, describes to us these “divided tongues,” like flames, resting on each apostle. And all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gives them ability. The Jews in the city, who are from many countries, many places, all hear the disciples speaking in their own language, and they are amazed, dumbfounded, perplexed. Some even wonder if the disciples are drunk. But Peter stands with the rest of the twelve, and raises his voice to address the crowds that have gathered to witness this strange event.
“Let this be known to you, and listen to what I say,” Peter begins. They aren’t drunk, he insists, but instead, they embody the vision of God which the prophet Joel proclaimed: “God declares . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all your flesh, and yours sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Past our text for today, Peter continues preaching, talking about Jesus Christ, and people respond to his words. In his message, they hear something, catch something of the Spirit that has filled Peter and the other disciples, and from this day on, the disciples add believers day by day. That is Pentecost. But it isn’t just something in history we remember. It is something we continue to live into.
As most of you know, Roxanne – who is our lay member to the United Methodist Annual Conference – and I attended the Annual Conference session in Rochester most of this past week. Our worship centered on the Pentecost story, a timely focus, and we were blessed by two special guests at conference – Bishop Larry McCleskey, and the choir of Africa University, a school founded by the denomination in Zimbabwe. The choir has a fantastic reputation, and we heard awesome music each day, which Bishop McCleskey wove into his sermon. As he was describing this strange speaking in tongues thing, he asked the choir to sing for us two songs – in different African languages that of course, most of us did not understand. When they were done, he asked what they were singing. Now, we didn’t know the words they had said. But we knew – we knew they were songs of praise. We knew they were songs that spoke in worship of God. Bishop McCleskey said that if we know how to be moved by music even if we don’t know the words, we know what Pentecost is all about. It is the power of God, that transcends all boundaries. A movement that enables something to happen even when you thought that something would be impossible.
Last week I had you write three items on slips of paper – three things you are good at, or at least, if you are somehow convinced God hasn’t gifted you with three skills, then at least three things you like. I’ve looked through all your responses, and put them together, and thought a lot about what it means, what we can do with these gifts. I noticed a few things from all the words I collected. First of all – I noticed some of you have a pretty good sense of humor, insisting your best skills are bossing people around, interrupting, or sleeping. As I have witnessed church members do all these things, I suppose I can vouch for your truthfulness! Second, I noticed that there were many common themes in the things you shared (explain graphic). Some things are standouts – not just gifts of an individual, but apparent gifts of the congregation.
After I tabulated all your gifts, I asked friends and colleagues to help me brainstorm ways that each item – each item – could be used in service, mission, and ministry in this congregation and community. What you see is a beginning – a scratch on the surface of how these talents and interests could be used. Today after worship, I will ask you to add to the list too – not to the items you listed – but to the items others listed. It is usually easier for us to see how the gifts of others can be used than to see for our own. We can point out both ways we already have existing opportunities in our congregation to use certain gifts, and also brainstorm new ways. And we will continue to add to these lists in the weeks ahead, and begin to see some of the places we are led. This is just a step in a direction.
The celebration of Pentecost and your gifts are strongly bound together. Our text from Paul's letter to the Corinthians says this: 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. Two things here: First, to each is given. To each. No exceptions noted in this text. And second, it is the Holy Spirit that activates gifts in each of us. We each have these gifts, and the work of the Holy Spirit is to activate them. Have you ever purchased a new cell phone? Before you can just start using it, you have to activate it. The phone may have all the working parts, but without being activated, you still can't make any phone calls. Or when you receive a new debit card in the mail – you have to call and activate the card before you can use it to spend money – it is a way of verifying that the card belongs uniquely to you and that you will be the one using it. It is your card to activate.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate that we each have gifts, uniquely ours, that are activated, ready for use in God's kingdom, by the power of this Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the disciples saw their gifts activated in a way that enabled them to become church, speak and act with boldness, change lives. Today is Pentecost for us. You have gifts – together we will help each other imagine all the ways we can put them to use. We pray that the Holy Spirit will activate our gifts, activate us, that we might be the church, speak and act with boldness, and change lives. Amen.