(Members of the Estamos Unidos Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC building a new deck on a home near Laurel Ridge as part of Mission Camp. Many varied gifts were needed to get the job done.)
Unity for Mission
By Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Acts 2:1-21 and I Corinthians 12:4-13
I must admit that the account of Pentecost in the Book of Acts has always amazed me. Yes, I’m amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit to empower this miracle of the ability to speak foreign languages, and I’ll say more about that in a few moments. But for now, let me deal with that last verse of this passage where Peter addresses those who thought all of this Pentecost commotion was being stirred up by people who had had too much to drink so early in the morning. Peter says, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Is he insinuating that had it been 5 in the afternoon, they might have been drunk? One will never know!
But let’s not get distracted by trivialities; let’s look at the event itself. This event, which takes place in Jerusalem, is often seen as the restoration of the division of the human race that is depicted in the story of the Tower of Babel. Remember that from way back in Genesis chapter 11. In a moment of human arrogance, people tried to build a tower that would reach heaven itself, and the resulting punishment was that their languages were confused, and people were scattered over the face of the earth.
But here, as people gathered for the festival of Pentecost, these early believers were gathered in one place. Suddenly the Spirit of God moved in their midst in such a way that it was compared to the movement of wind, and people’s souls were warmed in such a way that it was described as if a flame had come to rest on each of them. And the result of this was that these believers were given the gift of speaking so that visitors from many different countries could hear and understand the Gospel message being spoken. Truly a miracle for most of these followers of Jesus were illiterate fishermen. Here the spirit of God was bringing unity out of separation and division. But some discounted it as rubbish, thinking this was just a bunch of drunk people spouting off at the mouth.
Funny how there is always an attempt to explain away the power of God. Remember back in Luke’s account of the resurrection, when Mary Magdalene and the other women go back to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, they discounted it as an idle tale.
As I see it, the essential truth of this passage lies in the fact that where there was division, unity was being restored. The good news of God’s love for the world was being understood by all people, and the kingdom of God was transforming not just a chosen, faithful few but ALL people.
What do you think? Is this a story about drunk people spinning an idle tale?
What do you suppose the movement of the Holy Spirit meant for the members of the Church in Corinth? They were a divided Church. Not long after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Paul converted to the Christian faith and became a great missionary of the Gospel message. One of the Churches he started was in Corinth, where he assembled and empowered a handful of converts, convincing them that they had each been given important spiritual gifts. But upon Paul’s departure, a funny thing happened. It was almost like the Tower of Babel all over again, but rather than being divided by language, they were separated by spiritual pride as each thought their gift was the most important for this church. So Paul wrote them these words:
1 Corinthians 12:4-13 (NRSV)
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.
Where there was division, now there was to be unity. This did not mean that everyone would have the same gift, far from it. It did mean that everyone would now be using their unique gift for the common good. These gifts were not given for personal gain or glory but for the common good and the kingdom of God. Out of many, one!
Is this an idle tale? Is this the writing of a man who was confused? What do you think? What does it mean for us today?
Over the years, in working with dozens of congregations, the most significant difference that I have found between growing congregations and ones that are stagnant is that growing congregations are full of members who are not only aware of their spiritual gifts but are using them for the benefit of the common good. It has very little to do with a theological point of view or even with a particular style of worship. It has everything to do with how the Christians who are a part of those congregations use their gifts.
There are varieties of gifts, each of them equally valuable before God. And each gift is equally valuable to the community of faith and equally useful in making that congregation the body of Christ to the neighborhood in which it sits.
Thanks be to God this is not a story about drunk men spouting off at the mouth; it is about God’s mighty spirit bringing good news to people of all nations. Thanks be to God, this is not a story about a congregation that died because of internal division and strife; this is the story about people uniting their gifts for the common good.
This is a story about the refreshing breath of God breathing new life into individual members, exciting them to use their spiritual gifts not for themselves but for the common good.