Pentecost – 1 Corinthians 12
We’re still getting to know each other, you and I, so there are some things you don’t know about me – like that Trader Joe’s ginger snaps are my favorite cookie, or that tulips are my favorite flower (my secrets are out) – or that Pentecost is my very favorite day in the church. I don’t have many favorites. Now you know almost everything.
Pentecost is my favorite because:
1) I get to say my favorite Hebrew word, ruach – it sounds like what it is – it can mean spirit, wind, or breath. (I considered doing a “we’ve got ruach, yes we do, we’ve got ruach, how bout you” cheer; don’t worry, I know you’ve got Spirit.)
2) It’s the birthday of the church, but at this birthday celebration, you don’t bring a gift – you get a gift, the gift of the Spirit. What could be better?
It’s the perfect liturgical day. I look forward to it every year, to celebrating the power of the Holy Spirit – blowing through a room in Jerusalem, burning like tongues of fire, as in the book of Acts; gathering a random assortment of people and helping them become the body of Christ, as in 1 Corinthians; descending like a cloud to bring vision and leadership.
As much as I love Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, the word “spiritual” gets to me a little. Grew up hearing “speerchel” and thinking of people who prayed a lot, who knew how to get just the right look on their faces at just the right time, who stayed around other people who didn’t threaten their “speerchel” lives – and I was not one of those people.
Not the sense of spiritual in these passages, at least, not if you’re talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come depending on how much you pray, or how you act; the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend hanging around the people you like. The Holy Spirit is not only like the wind; it’s like the weather, it comes no matter what you think of it.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit comes to a group of people, gives a whole community what they need to be faithful. And the purpose of the Spirit is not to make someone feel good, to bring about some kind of nirvana or higher state of consciousness, but to make life possible in the midst of challenging circumstances, when people aren’t getting along.
No one asks the question at Pentecost – “do you want the Holy Spirit?” You get the Spirit, yes, you do! You are spirit-filled whether you like it or not. You have the Spirit. You have everything you need to tell of God’s love, whether or not you like the people around you. You have, in your heart, in your soul, in your mind, and in your strength, everything you need to be the person God wants you to be. If you have breath, you have the Spirit.
As Paul reminds us, we don’t all have it in the same way. We don’t all speak the same language…
Discovering your spiritual gifts means asking two sets of questions:
- What brings me joy? What gives me energy? When do I feel most alive? What do I love doing most?
- And how can I do this in a way that serves others, that helps them to feel the way I do? How can what I do speak God’s love to someone else? How does the light in me connect with the light in them, and bring us both closer to the divine light? In our Christian tradition, how do I show the face of Christ in a way that helps me see the face of Christ in another – in a way that we both come to know Christ – God at work in humanity – more fully?
That is your spiritual gift. Yesterday – students who spoke at this pulpit – a Muslim young woman who shared about being misunderstood, but who found community in the Muslim student association who meet here on Fridays; a transfer student from a small conservative college – the opposite of GW – finding trust in Jesus, God’s presence with him; another graduating senior who talked of taking longer to graduate, partly because she was in recovery, celebrating her sobriety. They weren’t being anything other than themselves in this pulpit. Their light connected with the light of every other person in this space.
Given the way that our world works, given this larger culture of striving to be beautiful and the best and the brightest, it’s easy to think that our success is up to us, that we’ve got to make it on our own, that our energy is all up to us. We forget that our work is to create a system – in our personal lives, in our church, in our communities – that uses this gift of the Spirit that God has given us specifically for the purpose of the common good.
When that happens, we become the human equivalent of the breakdown in our Metro system, which as we know now is suffering after years of deferred maintenance. If we were Metro, or wmata, as one of my friends call it, the Spirit would be that current that runs through the track, specifically the third rail that comes from the power source. When we don’t take care of the track, when it becomes exposed or damaged or overused, it means trouble – blow-ups or breakdowns. No one gets where they are supposed to go or does what they were meant to do – or if they do, they are late and grouchy.
Our work, as individuals and as a church, is not trying to generate our own energy and power, but to maintain the track, to support the divine energy that already runs through us. As we connect with that energy – the Spirit – as we ride the rails, we follow in the direction that it flows.
Imagine, for just a minute, that we all knew we were Spirit-filled, that we really sensed that we have this power running through us. Imagine that we have everything we need to speak God’s love, in our own way, as God has made us who we are. Imagine God’s own train running through your life, on your track; imagine it running through this place. Imagine that your work is not to be beautiful or the best or the brightest, but simply to care for your track, by discovering how through your story, your experiences, your challenges and your triumphs, all become ways that God’s Spirit is already at work in you.
We may still be getting to know each other, you and I, but I’m confident that God’s Spirit is moving us together, and that as long we’re trusting God and paying attention to the Spirit, we’re on the right track.