Spiritual Variety. Spiritual Unity.
| Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
|Sun, May 19, 2002
Rev. Ed Searcy
|That first church gathering was extraordinary. It was noisy - “from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” It was fiery - “Divided tongues as of fire, appeared among them.” It was inspired - “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” But mostly, it was a miracle - “All of them ... began to speak in other languages ... speaking about God’s deeds of power.” That first church gathering was, well, Pentecostal. The crowd that heard it and saw it was confounded. Some said it sounded like a party that was left-over from the night before: “They are filled with new wine.” Everyone who saw and heard it was “amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’.” Imagine that. Imagine neighbours and colleagues and family members being amazed and perplexed by the church, struggling to make sense of what the noisy, fiery life of this inspired community can mean? So much of the church’s life seems anything but amazing and perplexing. Instead, the church seems to be all too predictable and explicable. But we sense that something is happening ... some new wind of the spirit is making noise, the ancient fire is returning bringing with it newfound inspiration. We dare to imagine that we are witnessing utterly unexpected events and miraculous energies, startling lives and new directions, that are soon to amaze and perplex even the most astute observers.
This is the way it is with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the extraordinarily powerful spirit of God. When it blows, when it burns, when it inspires there is no stopping its power to change and to encourage - to resurrect - a frightened, despairing church. Notice this. Pentecost is the day when the church finds its voice. When the Holy Spirit blows and burns and inspires the church discovers that it has truth to tell ... and the guts to tell it. Before Pentecost the church has no voice. On Pentecost it receives a voice ... in every language on the face of the earth. Some voice! The church we know is largely without a voice. It can hardly imagine speaking in every language about God’s mighty deeds of power. We might dare to blurt out something about the love of God or about the power of hope. But daring to testify to God’s power to save ... that is not the United Church of Canada that we know. Thank heavens for Pentecost. It reminds a forgetful church that the courage to speak of God’s mighty deeds of power is not self-generated. The church’s authentic voice is always the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. That is why the times in which we live are so rich with wonder for us. Do you see? We are living in the midst of the stirring of another Pentecost. We are discovering a new voice ... a voice to tell of God’s might deeds of power in the midst of a world that seems powerless to overcome the huge trouble that looms so ominously on the horizon of history. As Terry and Daphne said on Wednesday evening at the inaugural meeting of the new Official Board - we are on a pioneering adventure together. This congregation - along with much of the church in North America - seems on the verge of a new identity in the culture, one that is not yet clearly defined but is, nonetheless, a growing reality. Amen?
So what can we expect? What can we expect as the Holy Spirit stirs and inflames and inspires Christian communities like this one in our time? Well, we can expect to be as amazed and perplexed as our 1st century forbears. You can almost hear the amazement and awe as you listen to the descriptions of those early communities in Acts and 1st Corinthians. There is such incredible variety ... and yet such profound unity. The first community speaks every language known to humankind. It is, we know, a recipe for disaster. Different languages reflect different histories, different cultures, different borders. Different languages block communication, enhance conflict. Ever since the Tower of Babel was left unfinished, we know that a community that includes every language must be a community rife with conflict. Yet the church at Pentecost is a people that speak’s with one voice about God’s mighty deeds of power ... deeds of power that have, in Jesus Christ, given life to a reconciled community of astonishing variety.
This is the portrait that Paul paints. He writes to a conflicted church, reminding it that the mark of the Holy Spirit is rich variety embodied in a single people: “varieties of gifts - same Spirit; varieties of services - same Lord, varieties of activities - same God.” How often the church we have known has been marked by a bland sameness. We wave the flag of inclusivity, but struggle to embace any real difference. Paul promises that a church inspired by the Holy Spirit can expect to be a community blessed with an amazing variety of gifts “for the common good.” This is what we can expect in the days and years to come. We can expect the Holy Spirit to shape us into a people known for the wide variety of gifts evident in our life together. We can expect to become more than a group of individuals who remain in a loose, voluntary association. We can expect that the Holy Spirit is already building us up into a living organism, into the Body of Christ - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, churched or unchurched, white collar or blue collar, left-wing or right-wing - who are “all made to drink of one Spirit.” We can expect, in other words, to become attached to one another in surprising ways ... and through this attachment to become the embodiment of Christ.
Such a people, such a church - known for its incredible variety and its strong bonds of unity - will amaze and perplex a culture that conforms its members to live lives of individualized consumption. This is the pioneering adventure that we are on together ... growing into the Body of Christ in and for a troubled culture and an endangered world. It is an adventure fueled by the Holy Spirit that is already at work in our life together, inspiring daring voices of truth. It is a pioneering journey that surprises us at every turn. That is why the installation of the Official Board that we are about to witness is so crucial. Not so long ago we could imagine that we elected a Board to manage the ordinary seasons of a predictable church. Not anymore. Now we call forth elders who we trust with the crucial ministry of providing leadership to a church that is on a pioneering adventure. Pray that the Holy Spirit will grant these elders wisdom for our common journey. More than that, pray that the Holy Spirit will fill us all with the gift of tongues, and lives, that are unafraid to announce God’s mighty deeds of power. Amen?