Sermon: The Gift of the Spirit

Every year at the end of the Easter season we focus on Pentecost and what it means to be gifted with the Holy Spirit. Often, we recognize the energy and excitement that comes with the Holy Spirit. However, that energy is the effect of the Spirit, not its purpose.

We do need that energy and excitement, but the world desperately needs us to share the spirit — to tell the story of how the spirit has impacted us. If we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, we can share the life-giving word of God to others.

In our daily interactions, in our conversations with others, we can communicate the role God plays in our lives.

“The Gift of the Spirit”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 2: 1-21
May 20, 2018 • Pentecost

Sermon: Conditions Necessary and Insufficient

Today is Pentecost, which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit unto the disciples, empowering them to spread the word of God across nations.

Although we celebrate Pentecost every year, many of us feel like we have few – if any – “Pentecostal moments” — that inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In order for these moments to happen, Luke tells us that we need to have some things in place.

First of all, to be a church we need to come together — not when it’s convenient, not when we feel like waking up, not when we don’t have a soccer game — but every Sunday as a church. If you want to be in the life of the Spirit, you have to be together with God’s people.

Secondly we need diversity. The church is a group of people, gathered across cultures and across time. Inherent in the story of Pentecost is how the Holy Spirit empowered disciples to speak in languages to communicate with all people.

Lastly, we need unity. That can be difficult to come by, and without diversity, we can develop a sense of false unity. However, the truth of Pentecost is that we are working toward a day when God will sweep across our diversity and turn in into true unity.

Sermon

Listen to Oconee Street UMC Choir perform The Word in Song, “Be Filled With The Spirit.”

“Conditions Necessary and Insufficient”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 2: 1-21
June 4, 2017 • Pentecost Sunday

Sermon: What Does This Mean?

“What Does This Mean?”
Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
May 24, 2015 • Pentecost

Call to Worship: “Spirit of God” (featuring instrumentalists Simon Scott and Chandler Pendley, and soloists Casey Pendley, Sharon Pendley and Rick Martin)

The Word in Song: “All to Us”

Sermon

Today is the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is described variously in Scripture. In John’s gospel, there is the quieter version – Jesus promises his disciples that the Spirit will come after his departure to be their comforter, companion, and guide and will lead them into all truth and answer the questions they’re not as yet ready to confront. Then after the resurrection, John describes Jesus returning to the frightened disciples in the upper room and breathing on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The better known version of Pentecost is the one that Hal read earlier where the disciples after having waited in Jerusalem in an upper room as Jesus had commanded them to do, are surprised and overwhelmed by the noisy and powerful entrance of the Holy Spirit into their midst, experienced by them as both wind and flame. And the results of that experience are immediately noticeable on them and on bystanders who have gathered in Jerusalem from near and far. There is an old saying that goes, “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.”

So, the bystanders who first encounter the twelve disciples, bring with them their own life experiences and so react in different ways to the spectacle unfolding around them. Some have brought a capacity for joy, and they sense the joy that is at the center of these disciples’ reactions and which cannot be contained but is now reaching out toward them. Others have brought their cynicism, which makes it just as obvious to them that there’s been some drinking going on already this morning and this spectacle is just about new wine. Still others, the majority perhaps, have brought questions with them, so they are “amazed and perplexed” – or as some would translate it – beside themselves, completely uncomprehending, blown away, and thoroughly disoriented[i] – by what they’ve seen, and so they have to ask, “What does this mean?” [ii] This honest question, some would say, “is like music to the ear of God.”[iii] Throughout scripture it is asked in many ways as the people of God try to figure out what’s happening to them and why – Jacob at the Jabbok, Joseph with his brothers, Moses turning towards the burning bush. And this is the question that we see asked and answered again and again the life and teachings of Jesus.

It is the question that is at the heart of Jesus’ desert temptation, “What does this mean, to be the messiah?” And later he asks of Pharisees, and lawyers, and disciples alike, “What does this mean, to observe the Sabbath? What does this mean, who is my neighbor? What does this mean, to love God with your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself? What does this mean, this discipline of prayer” [iv] What does this mean, the last will be first and the first will be last? And of course, Jesus always asks more questions than he answers. Then at the day of Pentecost in answer to this same question “what does this mean,” Peter tried to explain to the crowds that what they had experienced was the Holy Spirit. They had been privileged to witness what had been foretold by the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days, I will pour out my spirit and they shall prophesy.”

By the end of his first public sermon, 3000 people were ready to be baptized and to follow Jesus. Three thousand people had experienced the Holy Spirit; three thousand people had their question answered and knew the truth of Peter’s message. Even those who had been scornful and had blamed it all on too much wine, received answers that took them from seeing this event from their own cynical view point, to seeing it in an entirely new light and as it truly was. From that day, the Holy Spirit led the disciples on to become more than they ever dreamed they could become and do more than they ever dreamed or thought they could do. It was the Holy Spirit that opened Paul’s eyes to the truth of Christ and changed him from being the persecutor of Christians to becoming the primary spokesperson for the group he’d once persecuted. It was the Holy Spirit that led Phillip to baptize the Ethopian Eunuch. It was the Holy Spirit that allowed Peter to dream crazy dreams about a sheet being lowered from heaven which contained all kinds of objects he’d thought of as unclean, and then led him to the home of a Gentile, a Roman soldier named Cornelius and to baptize this man and his whole household – people whom he would previously have shunned – and to conclude “God shows no partiality.” In each instance a new experience forced them to see the world from a different perspective, forced them to look with new eyes at a situation they once wouldn’t have questioned, and to ask “What does this mean?” And the answer came to them each time, not from the tradition or the authorities of the day, but from the urging and prompting of the Holy Spirit from within.

Today, we especially need to be aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we try to find our meaning for our time. In times past, people of faith looked to outside authorities – the authority of the church or the authority of scripture – to find the truth. If the church said it, it was true. If the Bible said it, we were to believe it, and the issue was settled. But things are different today; we live in a time of change and flux. The Church which began as one is now divided into some 41,000 different denominations and sects around it world, and has lost that single voice with which it once spoke. Now there is a cacophony of voices claiming to speak for God and the Church, and if you don’t like one, you can move down the street to another more to your liking. The Bible, too has lost much of the authority it had in days gone by. Biblical literacy is at an all time low; and the changes over the last 150 or so years has undermined its power. Our historical struggles over slavery, the acceptance of divorce, the changing status and role of women, technological, medical and scientific advances have all challenged the traditional role of scripture. And one author has suggested that the current struggle over marriage equality and the ordination of LGBT clergy is the last bastion of the sola scriptura – only scripture – position within Christianity. When it is over, we will no longer be able to claim scripture as the sole authority for the answers to our deepest questions.[v] If all this is so, then to what do we turn as the authority for today that will lead us to the answers to our most significant questions? How do we know that what we do, think, or feel is right, or holy, or of God when the old standards have ceased to have influence in our pluralistic society, when there is no longer one kind of Christianity, or one clear voice that speaks for the faithful?[vi] I wonder if the answer is that we should turn to exactly what overtook the disciples on thefirst day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit.

Regardless of the weight and authority that we do or do not give to Scripture or the traditions of the church, the Holy Spirit continues to call us into the mystery of God, reminds us of the model of Jesus, and brings us into the fullness of who we are meant to be.[vii] To speak the central question, “What does this mean?” at the first Pentecost or today 2000+ years later starts us and keeps us on our journey towards God.   The Holy Spirit has come as the Advocate, the Friend, and the Comforter, but also as the Agitator, the Encourager, the Guide of all of us who are on this life long journey during which we become more and more aware of its leading. It is as Jesus had promised, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” However, if we are not careful and aware, it is easy to become very self-centered and go right back to the place of seeing things as we are and not as they truly are. To avoid this pitfall we need one another; we need community where we can ask God centered questions – not questions about what we are doing or what is personally important to us, but about what is God doing, where is the Holy Spirit working, and what can we do today to participate in what God is already up to. Where and how can we individually and as a church fit into God’s much larger work and hope for the world. When we ask “what does this mean?” we can’t be thinking “what do we want from God or from the church?” but instead what does God want from us and from the church. The history of this church is characterized by its continual asking of these questions. The answers have changed for the changing times and circumstances. Most recently we have spent important time over the last two years exploring these questions yet again and we will continue to do so even after we’ve moved into our new building and it ceases over time to be new anymore. For as long as there is an Oconee Street United Methodist church we will ask these questions “what does this mean” and “where is God working” and we will seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we explore new possibilities.

Thanks be to God for this day of Pentecost, for every year it reminds us and teaches us of the amazing, disorienting, mind-blowing arrival of the Holy spirit on that first Pentecost, and calls us to ask questions, and to move into uncharted territory and face new challenges as we find ways to serve God and God’s people in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Frank L. Crouch, “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21, www.workingpreacher.org, , 2015 [ii] Richard Spalding, “A Seal Upon Your Heart,” Pulpit Digest, April-June 2000, 114. [iii] Spalding. [iv] Spalding, 115. [v] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, 2008, 83. [vi] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, 2006, 93. [vii] Peter Gomes, “Remembrance and Imagination,” Strength for the Journey, 2003, 297.

Sermon: The Common Good

The Common Good
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
June 8, 2014
1Corinthians 12:3b-13, Acts 2:1-21

The story of what happened on the Day of Pentecost is a favorite one of the church. It is the oldest of Christian holy days, and is traditionally celebrated as the birthday of the church. As JoBeth read the story from Acts, the disciples had been waiting as Jesus instructed them for the coming of the Holy Spirit, but they really didn’t know what that meant but then, suddenly, they found out what they were waiting for in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit of God blew through the room, enlivening and enlightening everyone there. Those who’d been cowardly were suddenly brave; those who were afraid to speak, began to preach; those who were afraid of strangers began to greet them as if they were long lost friends. It was a life-changing experience, making some of them so different in their behavior than they were before, that outside observers simply thought they were drunk. But it wasn’t something so simple as alcohol. Peter the fisherman, who addressed the crowd to explain what had happened, would never be the same again; he’d never go back to his nets, to his old way of life. Because of what happened that day, his feet were set on a different path.

The celebration of that life-changing day of Pentecost divides our church year into two parts, the first half focused on the life of Jesus, the second half focused on life in the Spirit. Since Advent we have recalled stories of Jesus’ birth, manifestation of his identity, his ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. And now, we embark on a new journey, a journey of Christian life and practice under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Acts goes on to tell us what early experiments in Christian community looked like. And Paul’s letters are windows into early Christian communities throughout Asia Minor that were struggling to define what this new life meant amid the old life that they were so used to. In all of these writings, the Holy Spirit of God is the driving, motivating force, equipping persons in new and exciting ways for the new lives they had embraced in Christ. People were leading, teaching, preaching, prophesying, offering hospitality, visiting the sick. They were going places they’d never been and risking not only their reputations but their very lives in loyalty to the one in whom they had found freedom from fear, from sin and from death itself.
The Corinthians were a particularly difficult congregation. On the one hand, they embraced the gifts bestowed by God with enthusiasm. On the other hand, however, being human, they had begun to compare their gifts and some had found reason to think of themselves as part of the spiritual elite of the congregation. They thought they were better loved by and closer to God because of their particular gift.

So Paul has a job on his hands. How to encourage the different gifts within the community yet at the same time remind them that these gifts of which they are so proud and boastful, are, after all, gifts! Not their inborn talent, not their inalienable right or possession, not something achieved through their own merit, but free and gracious gifts from God, given to them for the common good, for the up-building of the community and not for the boosting of their individual egos. In their pride and excitement over their gifts, they’d lost sight of the giver.

Paul reminds them of the overarching unity in their diversity that they were ignoring or had conveniently forgotten. Their variety of gifts had all been given by the same spirit to share with each other through belief in God revealed in the person of Jesus. It was time for them to go back to square one, and square one is unity of faith in Christ, the one who is the measure by which genuine activity of the Spirit can be identified. As far as the Spirit is concerned, there is no room for categories or hierarchies that divide one group or one person from another, or causes anyone to think he or she is better, more privileged, or more greatly loved by God than another. Instead, the Spirit of God calls diverse people into community together despite, and maybe because of, their differences.

Although we know this to be truth, that doesn’t make it any easier to achieve or to maintain. We know that Christ calls us to unity; but our human tendency is to separate or rank ourselves on the basis of our differences and preferences for individual priorities and interests. However, as we noted last week, unity matters to God. Remember that according to John’s gospel, it is what Jesus preached about on his last night with his disciples. “Father, I pray that they can be one,” Jesus said. He didn’t pray for their health, or their happiness, their success or their safety, but for their unity.

Not that he meant they should be identical – all the same, with the same thoughts, same gifts, same ways of doing things, same ideas and interests. But that they should be unified in their trust and faith in God as they knew and understood God in Christ, and their love for one another and their community of faith. That’s what the Corinthians had forgotten.

Paul uses the metaphor of the body to explain their unity in diversity. This metaphor would have been quite familiar to the Corinthians. In fact, in classical writings it was often used for the hierarchy of society, for the purpose, however, of supporting the interests of the upper classes. The upper class political writers transferred the truth of the foot’s subordination to the head, to the social body composed of masters and slaves, men and women, rich and poor, the well-born and the peasant. If the Corinthians had not been listening closely as Paul’s letter was read to them, they might have been lulled into thinking Paul was advocating a way to manage the less gifted in the church by making them feel needed but kept in their place by convincing them that they are merely the feet.

But that is not what Paul does. First of all, in the body of Christ, Christ is the head of the body, with all others subordinate to him. All the other bodily parts, although very different one from the other, are of equal honor. For the good of the body, hands aren’t feet and ears aren’t eyes, but they share the work of the body, and one part is not more important than the other. They are interconnected and interdependent on one another, not in competition, because they all receive life and growth from the same Holy Spirit. Paul’s language is the language of friendship, dependence, and cooperation, not of hierarchy, individualism, or domination.

Thus, every gift, service, or activity and every person is equally important, all manifesting the one Spirit through which each is empowered for service for the common good. All of us have spiritual gifts and all rightfully can expect to have these gifts put to use in the community. Gifts are not reserved to a privileged few, but are given to all.

Have you ever wondered about your gifts? Have you ever been guilty of thinking that you have no needed or useful gifts? Do you ever look around at others and think, “I could never do that! I’m just not very talented.” There are a couple of mistakes in that kind of thinking: First mistake: comparing yourself to someone else! Always remember that you are a unique and unrepeatable miracle of God, so comparison does not apply! Second mistake: thinking you’re not good enough! The writer Marianne Williamson has written “You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” I would say actually, your playing small does not serve God or God’s people.

I think we can rightly identify as gifts of the Spirit any aptitudes or interests we have that are informed by and energized by the Holy Spirit for the greater good, those skills and abilities which are means through which God is a work with grace and mercy for the good of all. So each of us here is gifted insofar as God’s grace and power reorient us away from ourselves and our own interests, away from our fears about our supposed inadequacies, to become agents of God’s love.

Last Thursday evening I attended a meeting of our district’s strategic growth team. Part of the meeting was devoted to small congregations, to hear about their gifts for ministry. What they were doing to make a difference for others and how they were attentive to the needs of their community and one another. Phil Schroeder who is the Conference director of church Development commented that the danger to small churches comes from within, when small churches think they don’t matter or that they can’t do anything because they are only a few people. The truth is, he said, small churches can do great things.
And certainly that is true of our church. Each of you is so willing to share the gifts God has given you, and because of your sharing we make a difference in our little corner of God’s kingdom. We know we can change things for the better in both large and small ways through the sharing of our gifts.

In this congregation we those who teach, sing, visit the sick, send cards and notes, make sandwiches or deliver them, work on church inventories until their eyes cross, greet visitors, pay bills, check to see that the lights are out and the doors are locked. We have others who are good listeners, encouragers, and organizers. And still others who are examples of courage, patience, kindness, endurance, gentleness, grace, and love. The list of gifts that you possess goes on and one, and you express your love for God, God’s people and the church in sharing them.
When I first decided to go seminary people would ask me what do you want to do? And all I knew to say is that I felt that somewhere there was a place that needed a pastor, and I could go there and do what I was called to do and each person there would also do what he or she had been called by God to do, and by working together, sharing our gifts, we would be the church. Oconee Street is such a place.

The Spirit of God is a work in each one of us and has given different gifts to each. So claim them! But more than that, these gifts should not only be identified, claimed, and celebrated, but put to use for the building up of God’s kingdom because they are given to us by the Spirit, not to create division, but unity, for together we are the church, the community of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.