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Using the Gifts of God

by Rev. Rick Mason

based on Acts 2:1-21

It’s Pentecost Sunday: the day when we remember the birth of the church-- when God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the apostles. Since the beginning of this century, Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing segment of Christianity around the globe. Today in South America, Pentecostal Protestantism has replaced the Catholic Church as the predominant faith of the people. A few months ago I read a story about a Pentecostal couple who felt that it was very important to own an equally Christian pet. So they went shopping. At a kennel specializing in this particular breed, they found a dog they liked a lot. When they asked the dog to fetch a Bible, he did it in a flash. When they instructed him to look up Psalm 23, he complied with unusual dexterity in his paws. They were impressed, purchased the animal and took him home. That night they had friends over. They were so proud of their new Christian dog and his skills that they showed him off a little. The friends were equally impressed and asked whether the dog was able to do any of the usual dog tricks as well. The couple didn’t know. “Let’s try him out,” they said. Once more the dog was summoned; and they pronounced the command carefully, “Heel”. Quick as a wink, the dog jumped up, put his paw on the man’s forehead, closed his eyes in concentration and bowed his head. A friend on the Internet asked an interesting question earlier this week: “What do you think would happen in the church if the Pentecost event occurred today?” Think about it. Look again at the event’s description in Acts, chapter 2. What do you think would happen if........

“...suddenly... there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire place where (we are) sitting”? I bet the first thing that would happen in many churches would be a meeting of the Building Committee! “How much did we pay for this shoddy construction? The wind’s blowing through cracks where there shouldn’t be any cracks.” Others might comment: “Something needs to be done! That sound is sooooooo distracting.” And, “Never mind the sound, that draft is making my feet cold. We’re supposed to be comfortable in God’s house.”

Or what do you think would happen to the church if “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among us, and a tongue rested on each and every one of us”? “Now, don’t go getting folks all heated up, pastor,” one might say. “We’re here for pats on the back, not for flames on our heads.” And another might worry, “Wait just a minute! These flames don’t mean we have to get up and do anything, do they? We’re here to sit and listen.”

Or what would happen if “all began to speak in other languages......” Oh my, what chaos!!!! “Who’s making all that commotion? How can I talk when you’re talking?” Or, “We need decorum and good order. That is what the church is all about.”

Or what do you think might happen if-- God forbid-- each one heard the Gospel in his own native language? “Which version of the Gospel do you claim to be hearing? The NIV, that New Revised Standard Version, the Good News Bible, or God’s own King James?” And what about the presentation of the Gospel? “I relate well to dramatic presentations,” says one person. “Oh no, I learn best with a lecture style,” says another. “Storytelling, that’s the way to present the Good News,” offers a third. “But God is a poet,” says another, “and poetry is the language of faith and love.”

Or what might happen if each heard the music that is native to his or her soul? Reggae, Spanish, classical European, Afro-American spiritual, country?

What would happen in the church if Pentecost happened today? I’m afraid it would reek havoc!!! This extraordinary event would greatly disturb many in the church who much prefer the “ordinary”, the easy, the traditional, the safe. But do you know what? The Pentecost event is supposed to happen in the church today. The outpouring of God’s Spirit was not a once-for-all happening. The Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings are for each and every Christian to receive and to use. If we-- as Christians and as a church-- would have trouble with the noise, the lack of decorum, the diversity of voices present at Pentecost, then we much question our birth into Christ’s Church. The Pentecost event in Acts 2 calls us to unity and to diversity for the proclamation of Jesus Christ. I spoke about unity in Christ last Sunday, so I won’t belabor that point today. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God...all the members of the body, though many, are one body...” But this unity doesn’t just tolerate diversity, it thrives on it!! The church is not meant to be just another social club where we gather so that we may associate with like-minded people. The wildly divergent attitudes, angles, and activities of the various members of the body of Christ are actually for the common good of the faith community. Two lifelong friends had a running argument. The black friend would argue that God was black; and the white friend insisted that God was white. One day on the way home from a fishing trip, the two renewed their disagreement. Before they knew it, they were in an accident and found themselves standing before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. “Is God black or white?” they shouted nearly in unison. St. Peter invited the two to have a seat in the waiting room and God would come out and talk with them. As they waited, they continued to argue. Then they heard some loud footsteps. They turned to look. The door swung open, and God stepped in and said, “Buenos tardes, caballeros!” As the song says, we are-- “by God’s design”-- a skin kaleidoscope. We are called to work together-- the Parthians, the Medes, the residents of Mesopotamia. As the unified body of Christ, the church is called to honor and to utilize the diversity of God’s creation in proclaiming salvation to all the world. The birth of the church takes place not just when the Holy Spirit comes down, but when the Spirit’s presence evokes a proclamation-response from the disciples’ mouths. The Spirit-powered mission and the message of the church are clearly evident in the outpouring of the divergent languages. God’s saving action in Jesus is a proclamation that must be spread by us to all people, in all languages, in all forms, to the ends of the earth. The birth of the church was a birth to action, not to management. When the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they didn’t rent the Upper Room and stay there to hold holiness meetings. Jesus did not command all the world to go to church. Jesus commanded his church to go to the whole world. It’s like the farmer who was frustrated after a long drought. “Please tell God to send us some rain,” he said to his pastor. Who replied, “I’m sorry, Abe, I’m in sales, not management.” The Pentecost event reminds us that God is the one in charge of the management of his church, not us. We’re the sales force, folks. It is our job to unify our diverse gifts to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we truly tried that, who knows, maybe a Prince of Peace Pentecost would result in another 3000 baptisms in one day. I think “the Boss” has the “Goods” all lined up, if we will only speak the Spirit’s words. What do you think?