SJF • Pentecost C 2010 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
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.+
Today is the feast of Pentecost, marking the fiftieth day from Easter, commemorating that day on which the promised Spirit came down from heaven, blew through the windows, and landed square on the heads of the apostles setting them on fire. The Spirit found them gathered in one place, like a pile of tinder or a stack of kindling wood, not yet started on the ministry, not yet set on fire for the task that Jesus had called on them to do. The only thing they’d done since Jesus ascended into heaven was to choose a successor for Judas — and then they sat around waiting for God to show them what to do. They didn’t have to wait long, for God’s Holy Spirit came upon them like fire, and inspired them to action from inaction to courage and boldness from fear — and to work! A fire was lit that day that has not been put out since.
Just as what happened on the first Easter wasn’t merely something spectacular for that one particular Sunday morning, but marked the turning point for the history of the whole world, as Jesus our Lord was raised from the dead — so too what happened on Pentecost fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead wasn’t just a spectacular pyrotechnic display for a single day. No, it was the beginning of something; what happened on Pentecost was a new beginning, so new that people call Pentecost the “birthday of the church.” For it was on this day that the disciples were converted from being followers into being leaders. They got “all fired up” and started into action!
And it is that conversion, that “firing up” I want to talk with you about today, for it is a conversion and an “ignition” to which we all are called and in which we are all empowered, if we will accept the call of God and the power of God to work in us as it worked in the apostles long ago, to convert us from simply following Christ to taking the lead and spreading the word, to build up the church for which Christ died.
For the work of the church is not just my job alone, even though I have been given a particular office and ministry — about which I spoke a few weeks ago. Nor is it only our organist Mr. Baker’s job or the choir’s job, or Br James’ or Mr Greene’s or Mr Korlai’s, or the acolytes — though some of them literally do carry fire around in the torches and the thurible — or the members of the Bishop’s Committee or the Men or Women of St James, or the members of the other parish groups. Rather the work of the church is everyone’s job, and everyone has a role to play in the spread of the Gospel, to carry that torch that was lit so long ago, and to build up of God’s kingdom. Nobody is off the hook; everyone is part of God’s inspired workforce for the work of the Holy Spirit; everyone.
Look what God says through the prophet Joel. There is no minimum age requirement, no , nor no early retirement neither — God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh, on old and young. There is no class or educational requirement — God’s spirit is poured out even on the humblest servant. And there is no sex discrimination either — and if there are even in this day and age people in parts of this world who think women shouldn’t serve the church, think how revolutionary it must have been when Joel spoke those words a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ! God’s Spirit comes to sons and daughters — and not just the daughters of the best families — but even female slaves are given God’s spirit to proclaim salvation. God is no respecter of persons! God lifts up the lowly and puts down the mighty. God was an equal opportunity employer long before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and God still has a job for everyone to do — everyone! — and will pour the Spirit lavishly upon them all, to equip them for that work. There is no job shortage, no being made redundant, no layoffs, no down-sizings, no golden parachute, no laying off or laying back — there is no unemployment in the kingdom of God: all are servants of the Lamb.
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You know, when people who are out of work, are looking for work, they go to the “help wanted” ads in the papers, or in these latter days, they search the Internet. Well, Saint Paul provides us with a kind of help-wanted ad for the work of the church in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Look at all these job opportunities! People gifted to speak words of wisdom, and words of knowledge; people with the gift to bring a healing touch; people with the astonishing gifts of working unthought of things, or the ability to speak the truth so clearly that people will be convicted in their hearts and souls — we call them prophets; those with the gift to look into the heart and discern the Spirit at work, and those who can speak or interpret the language of human beings or the language of heaven. And the only job requirement for all of these tasks is the presence of the Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, that living flame and spark of divinity who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
There are many, many gifts given to God’s people for God’s work. Note in particular one item from Paul’s list I’m saving for last: those who have the gift of faith — because that covers all the rest of us who may not be healers or teachers or prophets or miracle workers. We all have the gift of faith, and we are promised that even if our faith is as small as a mustard seed, it can move mountains more effectively than the biggest rig from Caterpillar Tractors or a ton of dynamite. Even if it is a flame as small as a spark, we all know — as the apostle James said — how great a pile of lumber can be set alight by even a tiny flame, a tiny spark.
So, fellow workers all of us, if I can (on the next to last Sunday in May) borrow and modify a phrase more often heard on the first of May: “Workers of the church, unite!” Who dares stand idle on the fruited plain: the harvest is ripe, and we have all the job skills we need to do God’s work.
Can you carry a broom? There’s plenty of cleaning up to do. Can you tell a story? There are young ears eager to hear the story of your faith, of our faith — the church’s faith. Can you sing? Lift up your voices, people of God! Shake the rafters with a joyous noise! Can you give? Who does not have the strength to carry his own weight, to share the abundance he or she has to help this church recover and rebuild from the times of narrowness, the times of fear? Who dares to stand before the throne of God and say, “God, I’ve got enough for me but I don’t have enough for you.”
Can you pray? Don’t let’s forget that, for it is something we all can do, young or old, rich or poor — to pray, even if it is as simple prayer, “Jesus, Lord, save me!” Pray earnestly, in season and out of season, pray that the Spirit will continue to bless, to inspire, to set us alight with divine fire, and pour out God’s gifts upon us.
After all, today is our birthday, the church’s birthday, and God is giving us a whole pile of birthday presents; today and every day, and all we have to do is unwrap them and put them to use! God’s gracious gifts keep coming, even before we can ask. This is the promise and the power of God, and his promises are sure, and his power is great — not only to save but to preserve.
We are no longer merely followers of our Lord — we are commissioned as leaders to carry forth his mission, and to share in his work, to do our share of that work. So be brave, sisters and brothers of the faith. Be strong in the knowledge of God. Rejoice, rejoice believers, for the Lord our God is a mighty Lord. Glory to him, glory to him, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus our Lord! +