1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
I speak to you in the name of the one, true, and living God, whom we name Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
These days, most clergy have adapted to become televangelists. We share the gospel through electronic means while we are not able to be together face to face. What is this interaction like for you? When I was younger, I was very distrustful of religious leaders who tried to convert or heal me on the radio or television. They seemed a little too enthusiastic about how God was using them for good. They promised that if I prayed and gave over control (and possibly money), the power of the Holy Spirit would flow into my life. That was enough to make me somewhat suspicious of what we call the Third Person of the Trinity. God the Creator I could understand. God the Son I came to trust in Jesus. But God the Holy Spirit?
Yet Anglicans are a Pentecostal people. We believe in the activity of God in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is about doing as well as being. It is the work of the Spirit that weaves through our Scriptures, our tradition, and our experience to change and renew the face of the earth. But sometimes the One we call the Comforter is also discomfiting. We don’t like what we cannot control. And we cannot control the Divine. There is no God-on-demand function where we dictate what we want and it instantly appears. Rather, the wind blows where it will, bringing unexpected gifts. They are not always the ones we ask for.
In my teenage years, I attended a conference on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After carefully listening to the speakers, each participant was invited to go home that night and pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It would be revealed as one of the varieties that St. Paul spoke about in his first letter to the Corinthians. I dutifully got down on my knees beside my bed and addressed God: “Please God, I’ll take any of the gifts of the Spirit that you want to share with me. But please not speaking in tongues.” I don’t know what I expected to happen next, but I found out God has a sense of humour. The Spirit activated something within me that I didn’t know was there. I believed in the Spirit’s power, but I was surprised all the same that it happened directly to me- without mediation.
St. Paul says that “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” (1 Cor 12:4-6). The Greek energōn, from which we get the root for energy, gets translated as “activates”, or “working”. The power of God makes possible what was hidden and potential to switch on in a unique way in order to be of use for ministry. If you go to almost any store, you will see racks of gift cards near the checkout counter. Before they are purchased, they don’t have any value. They are pieces of plastic. But embedded in each one is an activation code. When you buy one and take it to the cashier, it is scanned and activated so that it is now ready for use. In a way, we are God’s gift cards. When we are activated by the Holy Spirit, we get put into circulation to be spent by God on behalf of the world.
Pentecost is about how the Holy Spirit activates us for ministry, rather than having us sit on the shelf. When we don’t have the talents or the courage to engage, it is by God’s hand that we are given gifts. We don’t know where they will take us sometimes. In the old Star Trek series, the spaceship had a teleporter. This technological device (which I wish someone would hurry up and invent) could instantly take an object from one place to another. Every time the crew wanted to go down to a planet for an adventure, they would stand on the teleporter pad. Then the team leader would say “energize” and in a twinkling of light, the intrepid explorers would disappear from sight, only to reappear on the surface of some strange world. There was always an element of risk in this enterprise. We made jokes about the security guard who always seemed to stand on the left and would not always return intact. But the crew of the starship Enterprise had to trust in the teleporter to complete their missions.
How well do we trust the Holy Spirit to energize us? When I look at the list of the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, I feel that Paul might be listing them in order of scariness. He begins with some of the varieties of service or activity that I truly would find helpful: wisdom, knowledge, faith. Then the litany rises in level of discomfort. What about gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues? Are we ready to accept these as necessary and good for the community? If the Spirit is willing and wanting to bestow them on us and we resist, to whom will the Spirit turn? God wants to work through the Church, the body of Christ. For this reason we were baptized into the faith, so that we might share in the same power that came and flowed through Jesus.
However, God’s power is not limited to the people of a faith community. As Paul says, “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Cor 12:11). What we can do is partner with those in which we see the gifts of the Spirit. It doesn’t matter what nationality or social status people have; it is our affiliation with God’s restorative and reconciling work that is important. We are called to work together as one body. We can pool our gifts given for the good of creation.
So thinking of the gifts that the Spirit activates, which ones do you see active now around you? Who are the people who are speaking the truth in wisdom and love? Who do you see offering healing hands and voices? Who are the ones who are able to bridge cultural, generational, or philosophical divides? Who is speaking to the future with hope or proposing best practices for ministry? These are all evidence of the manifestations of the Holy One’s activity. We each have a part in what is happening- to assist God by adding to the energy. It’s not about controlling the process. What is important to recognize is that this is the time to be activated for mission. If we have the courage to get onto the teleporter pad and let God set the coordinates, the Spirit will equip us with all that we need to face the new world. To Pentecost and beyond! Amen.