Acts 2:1-4; Galatians 4:1-7
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.
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a couple of very problematic 12 year old boys living in a small town. Because it was such a small town, if there was ever any trouble the two boys were assumed to somehow be involved. It had gotten to the point where every time some stranger came to their house it was to complain about something they did. Eventually their mother had had it with their behavior so she went to the town priest who was said to have the ability to cure such cases. She explained the issue to him, and he said he’d be able to help, but that she needed to bring each of the twins separately. The next day she brought the first one to the priest. After asking him some mundane questions, the priest asked the boy if he believed in God. The boy, finding this to be a rather inappropriate question, refused to answer. The priest asked again. Again, the boy didn’t answer. The priest got angry and shouted at the boy, “Do you not know God?!” Shocked at the priest’s tone, the boy got scared and ran away from the priest’s office. He ran like crazy until he got to his home. Seeing his fearful expression, his brother came over to him and asked what had happened. The boy said, “Listen carefully, apparently something happened to God and they think we’re somehow involved!”
Presumably those boys cleaned up their act and walked the straight and narrow after the priest’s basic questioning. Who knew that simply asking a troublemaker boy if he believed in God would correct his wayward ways?! I suppose that’s what all troublemaker boys need to get them back on track–a good, healthy dose of fear. Boys will be boys and unless their natural fearlessness is kept in check, they can get into a lot of trouble. Not that I’m all for making boys full of fear but a little fear can curb a lot of misbehavior. Our sinful natures can easily get the better of all of us unless we have these little curbs along the way keeping us on the road. Scripture itself repeatedly tells us that we all need to have a good, healthy fear of the Lord. And not necessarily the fear of God’s judgment or pain and suffering but rather a respect and awe of God. We all need to have a respect and awe of God’s mighty power in our lives and the world around us and the sooner we can get it the better. Healthy fear is about respect instead of being scared and the priest was on the right path for instilling respect by bringing God into the picture. It’s hard not being more respectful in the presence of God! So the priest fulfilled his reputation of having the ability to cure troublesome boys.
Now then, God gives each of us a variety of abilities. Some of us can cure troublesome boys, some of us create troublesome boys. Some of us have little to no interactions with boys whatsoever. That doesn’t mean we are without abilities. Our abilities are simply dedicated to other things. In our reading for this morning, we heard how the disciples were gifted with a very unusual ability–the ability to speak in a variety of languages. It was a particularly useful ability for those disciples as they were trying to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to as many people as possible. What better way to share that gospel than with a variety of languages! Everyone can hear and understand in their own language! No misinterpreting or mistranslating what the disciples had to say! And what good news they had to share! In the Galatians passage, we heard how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in effect adopted us into the divine family. We can receive eternal life because of what Jesus did. He destroyed death not only for himself but for us too. He showed us there is life after death and he wants to lead us to that new life. We must simply follow him, simply declare him the Lord of our lives. He WILL lead us to new life, to eternal life! Simply follow him in life and in death and he’ll guide us and protect us.
Both those gifts–the ability to speak in a variety of languages and adoption–were gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit works in and through us to reveal God’s glory to the world. This is what I think we need to be celebrating on this Pentecost Sunday. Rather than celebrate the mysterious nature of the Spirit, we need to celebrate the work of the Spirit. The Spirit reveals itself in its work, it is nothing without us. So what is it’s work? Well, first and foremost, to give us abilities. It gave that priest the ability to cure troublesome boys, it gave those disciples the ability to speak in a variety of languages, it gives us the ability to receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit gives abilities. Now then, the abilities it gives all have a very specific purpose of bringing glory to God. It would not give abilities to shame or dishonor God. Those abilities are not of God. The Spirit works on behalf of God and rightly so since it is God. The Spirit enables us to bring glory to God and to receive God’s glory. The Spirit gives each of us the abilities to glorify God. Whether we choose to use those abilities for the glory of God is up to us but they are gifts of the Spirit nonetheless.
Perhaps the Spirit isn’t all that mysterious after all. The Spirit reveals itself in the abilities it gives us. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, “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) Power, love, self-discipline, in these we bring glory to God. God’s love and power and discipline are revealed through us! And the Spirit doesn’t simply give us these abilities, the Spirit also helps put these abilities to use. The Spirit guides us and encourages us to use our abilities along the way. We can boldly proclaim along with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) The Spirit wants us to glorify God in all that we do!
Let us give thanks for all the abilities that the Spirit gives to us. They all serve one purpose, to bring glory to God. God is good to us and wants us to be good to each other. Recall Peter’s words in his first letter, “like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (4:10) Let us serve each other according to our abilities and be assured that in doing so we bring glory to God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.