Saturday, June 11, 2011

Using the gifts of the Spirit

June 12, 2012

On this Pentecost Sunday, believers around the world celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and here at Hope we also celebrate the faith of one young man named Jacob. 
Even before he died, Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples, to be with them after he ascended. There are two different stories about the coming of the Spirit in the Greek Testament, and we read both of them this morning.
John’s Gospel, written in the 90’s, says the Holy Spirit was given by Jesus on Easter evening, as Jesus spoke with the surprised and terrified disciples. “Peace be with you,” he said. “Receive the Holy Spirit. As I have been sent into the world, so I now send you. I give you the authority to forgive sins, or to not forgive them.” And he breathed on them. With the next breath they took, they inhaled the Holy Spirit. I imagine this scene as filled with quiet wonder, almost too much mystery to handle, the disciples in a sort of daze as they tried to absorb what Jesus was saying.
 Acts, written about 30 years earlier, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit with over-the-top excitement: wind and flame and foreign languages, accusations of drunkenness, and quotations of prophecy. This image seems wildly chaotic, filled with energy and the promise of a new day, a new way of understanding God.
I’ve spoken recently about the Holy Spirit, and how the Spirit’s power can influence our lives and our ministry. We call on the Spirit’s power to help us in times of crisis, seeking God’s comfort and strength. We ask the Spirit to help us pray when we can’t even find the words for prayer. We call on the Spirit for guidance for our own lives, and in the life of our congregation.
The Spirit also calls on us. When the Holy Spirit gets involved in our lives, it’s often to challenge us, to lead us out of our familiar comfortable habits, to lead us to do God’s work.
The disciples were certainly led out of their comfort zones. They left families, synagogues, hometowns, often traveling far from home to share the news of the resurrection of Jesus. They risked their jobs, they risked the disdain of their neighbors, and they risked their lives in order to share the love of Jesus with others.
Peter left his familiar life as a fisherman to follow Jesus. After the resurrection he was forgiven for his denial of Jesus, and ready to lead the new church in spreading the good news among the Jews.
Paul gave up his credentials as a well-educated Pharisee and persecutor of Jesus’ followers to be a planter of churches, communicating with them by letter and messenger. He gave up his focus on the letter of the law and began to focus on the grace of God, the gift of undeserved forgiveness.
Thomas changed from asking questions to making statements, from ‘Show me!’ to ‘My Lord and my God!’ Tradition holds that he headed east, to India and back, with the message of Jesus love and forgiveness.
Legend reports that Mary Magdalene was a powerful evangelist. She went from being tormented by demons, to following and financially supporting Jesus. She spent the rest of her life sharing the news of the resurrection and God’s grace, most likely with the people of Ephesus.
Many pastors and lay leaders like deacons know from early childhood that they are called by God to lead God’s people. Many more have their lives interrupted by that calling. In the middle of their lives, Peter, Paul, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene knew they were called by Jesus to leave those former lives. In the same way pastors and lay leaders are called to leave their former lives in order to serve God’s people.
Most of the people in this room have not been called to be pastors or deacons.  Yet, you have all been called. You have been filled with Holy Spirit power. At your baptism, for most of you, your parents and Godparents made promises for your life of faith. At your confirmation, you made those promises for yourself.
“To live among God’s faithful people, 
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, 
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through words and deed, 
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus, 
To strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
With these promises, you gave God your word that you would be guided by the Holy Spirit to learn as much as you could about Jesus and to serve as Jesus would serve. You are not called to be Peter, or Paul, or Thomas, or Mary Magdalene, or me or some other pastor, or Deacon John, Diane or Ted. You are called to be yourself, the person God called you to be.
To help us be the persons we were called to be, we have a variety of gifts. Paul lists some gifts we may have: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, language, speaking God’s word prophetically. I would add many gifts to this list: math, science, mechanics, hospitality, the arts, humor – what would you add? ... We all have gifts, and we all have different gifts, so that we can accomplish more together than if we all had the same gifts.
You are called to use the gifts God gave you to share God’s love with others. You may be called to use the same gifts you have used all your life, or you may be called to use different gifts, including newly discovered gifts. As we find ourselves in different places, in different situations, we may be called to do new things, or the same things in different ways.
We all know Helga has a way with arts and crafts, with cards and quilts. How many of you know that this great-grandmother is now learning to play piano!? Talk about doing new things!
Bob was a serious extrovert. He enjoyed being with people, welcoming them to worship, and introducing them to other people. In the fellowship hall, he moved from table to table, chatting and joking with everyone. He became ill and had to move into a nursing home.
While his mobility was limited, he loved getting to know the staff personally. He learned about their families and what they liked doing. Of course he enjoyed having visitors. Whenever a staff member entered the room, he took care to introduce the staff person to the visitor and told each person something about the other. Bob was forced by circumstances to adapt the way in which he used his gifts to his new circumstances.
What gifts do you have? What gifts will you use? Where will the Holy Spirit lead you next? How willing are you to be led out of your familiar comfort zone? These questions are especially for Jake today, but they are also all of us.
And they are not just for us as individuals. They are also for us as a congregation. In what ways will we use our gifts as the Spirit leads us into the future? How far out of our comfort zone will we allow the Spirit to take us as we seek to reach out to the community in which we live and serve? How will we, today, know Christ and make him known?
Please pray with me: Jesus, pour out your Holy Spirit on us today. Bless Jake and fill him with your power. Guide us into the future and send us out into our community as you once sent your disciples. Amen