Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
(watch here: https://youtu.be/2jTMZdytApg)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
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. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 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.
As we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday, I’m reminded of the one about a priest who was walking through the jungle when he came upon a hungry lion. Just as the lion went to attack, the priest crossed himself and said, “Lord, if you can hear me, please instill the Holy Spirit in this beast’s heart.” Suddenly the lion stopped in his tracks as a bright light began to glow around him. He looked to the sky, folded his paws in prayer, and said, “Thank you, Lord, for this meal.”
What I like about that one is that it adds an altogether new gift of the Spirit to the list of gifts that Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians: the gift to discern what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, the priest and the lion have two drastically different understandings of what is right. The priest believes the Spirit should somehow compel the lion to act with compassion and mercy and spare him his life. Why? Perhaps because he’s a lowly servant of God and deserves to have his life spared, who knows. The lion, on the other hand, believes the Spirit only compels him to give God thanks for the bountiful meal set before him. So who’s right in their discernment of the work of the Spirit? Hmm…perhaps both the priest and the lion were a little presumptuous of the work of the Spirit. Both selfishly called on the Spirit to justify their understanding of what is right and fair. It would be interesting to hear how the Spirit answered their plea and prayer…
That joke illustrates a question that we wrestle with every year as we celebrate the coming of the Spirit: what exactly is the work of the Spirit? It’s hard to pinpoint how the Spirit is at work in our lives and the world around us. Why? Perhaps because it’s hard to understand who and/or what the Spirit is. It’s the part of the Holy Trinity that many of us simply don’t understand. We can kind of understand who the Son is because he’s so relatable. He’s one of us! He behaves the way a human behaves, with great compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, courage, wonder, and love. At the same time, we can kind of understand who the Father is because many of us have had fathers and father figures in our lives. He behaves the way a father behaves, with great wisdom, love, justice, and righteousness. But how does the Spirit behave? Well, the Spirit behaves mysteriously, unexpectedly, and unpredictably. We can’t even get a mental image of what the Spirit looks like the way we can with the Father and the Son. I know church tradition likes to use the image of a dove to embody the Spirit but is that really it’s preferred form? Of all the animals in this world…of all the physical objects…and the Spirit chooses a dove? What about the passage from Acts and elsewhere in Scripture when we hear the Spirit described as a wind or breath? Certainly a better image to convey the mysterious, unexpected, unpredictable nature of the Spirit. It’s hard to understand who the Spirit is, let alone the work of the Spirit.
Even so, our reading for this morning does reveal a lot about the Spirit’s work that is worth celebrating. In the passage from Acts, we heard how the Spirit descended on the disciples and those gathered around them in Jerusalem and caused them to speak in a variety of languages. Why? So that everyone can understand in their own language the mighty works of God as we hear later in chapter 2. The Spirit gave them abilities to communicate God’s love to all of God’s people, just as the Spirit empowers us to communicate God’s love with all those around us too. The Spirit empowers us by not only giving a variety of languages but also a variety of gifts as we hear in the Corinthian passage. Some of us are gifted with wisdom, others with knowledge, others with faith, and others with healing. Miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, variety of tongues, and an ability to interpret tongues…they are all gifts that enable us to convey God’s endless love and mercy and compassion. So the Spirit’s work is really very clear: to empower and enable us to share God’s love with each other and the world around us. The Spirit’s work ultimately reinforces and supports the work of the Father and the Son.
Now then, there is an aspect of the Spirit’s work implied in our reading that is also worth reflecting on. The Spirit not only enables and empowers but also encourages us. By nature, we are a fearful people. Maybe it’s the dangerous world around us, maybe it’s our fragile bodies and minds and hearts…we need courage if we are going to share God’s love. And the Spirit recognizes this and is eager to give us courage as well…call it an extra gift to the list of gifts. God doesn’t want us to be a fearful people. God wants us to be fearless and assured. We know this from other passages in Scripture. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he writes, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (1:7) And in his letter to the Romans, he advises, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (8:15) Friends, the Spirit has grafted us into something much larger than anything of this world. The Spirit has attached us to God’s reality, a reality without sin and death. God lives in and outside of time and this world and we can live there, too, with the help of the Spirit.
We have much to celebrate about the work of the Spirit this morning. The Spirit enables, empowers, and encourages. The Spirit unites us and gives us hope. We couldn’t live without unity and hope. We need the work of the Spirit in the world now more than ever. The world needs to know of God’s love and hope. Let us give thanks for the work of the Spirit as I leave you with Paul’s blessing from his letter to the Romans: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.