I Corinthians 12: 1Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Brothers and sisters, we celebrate today on Pentecost Sunday nothing less than the Eighth Day of Creation. In Genesis 1 we read that humanity was created on the sixth day of Creation’s unfolding, to bear the image of God in his creation. Then in Genesis 2, we hear how humanity was created: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” That was the creation of the First Adam. On the seventh day, God rested, meaning, among other things, that God gave us and all creation a degree of freedom and responsibility.
But we know what happens next: our un-creating through rebellion and a state of sin. And the marring of God’s image in us, leading to disunity and divisions within us and among us. So God sent us the Second Adam, Jesus, to restore his marred and broken image in us.
But God’s work of re-creation did not end with Jesus ascending to the right hand of the throne of God. It continues with the gift of God’s Spirit, breathed into the church, on that Pentecost Sunday, so that we too can bear the image of the Second Adam. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, “wind,” “breath” and “spirit” are one and the same word. The sound of the mighty rushing wind that the 120 disciples heard in that upper room indicates the reappearance of God’s Spirit, the divine breath, that filled the body of the first Adam. On that Pentecost Sunday that we celebrate today, God again breathed his Spirit into a new humanity, the church of Jesus Christ. That makes Pentecost the beginning of the Eighth Day of Creation.
Now, even if this were a classical, traditional, Pentecostal church, it would be rare and ground-breaking news if, after this gathering, we too all ran out of here suddenly, compelled and empowered to preach the gospel in languages we had never studied, but which some of our neighbors speak, such as Somali or the native Indian languages of Mexico and northern Minnesota. I’m open to whatever the Spirit wants to do, but experience tells me that demanding certain miracles doesn’t work any better than denying them. God won’t be put in a box. So what remains of that first Pentecost Sunday outpouring, or in-breathing, of God’s Holy Spirit?
Our second passage, from I Corinthians 12, draws the connection between the Pentecost re-creation of the new humanity and the local church today. It shows how Pentecost continues, how we are still in the Eighth Day of Creation. Its about so much more than speaking in unlearned languages. The links between Acts 2 and I Corinthians 12 are twofold: 1) our faith in Jesus Christ, and 2) the work of his Spirit in us and among us. Its what Christ makes of us, together, based on our common confession that Jesus is Lord. That’s why Paul says, “No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Now technically we know that anyone, believer or not, can parrot the phrase, “Jesus is Lord,” including, a parrot. But Paul knew he needed to reassure these new Christians about what the Holy Spirit was doing in their lives. For as he says, most of them had experiences with other spirits in their pre-Christian past. Such experiences probably included things like going into trances at pagan shrines or pagan ceremonies, and becoming channels and mouthpieces for ancestors, or for local spirits, gods and goddesses. They might come out of such trances and states to find that they had done and said all sorts of surprising things. Like revealing who was responsible for the epidemic or the flood that hit the town and what taboo they had broken to make it happen. Or what allegedly was going to happen in the future. In addition to such trances and channeling and ceremonies might be things like casting spells to influence people on your behalf. Or to get revenge on someone who wronged you. Or to attract money and good fortune, allegedly. Now that they’re Christian, they would naturally wonder, What got into me? Or who?
This is not just ancient history, by the way. Its still common in much of the world. And its enjoying something of a revival in America, especially here in South Minneapolis. I recently took a two day retreat at a retreat center south of town, and found myself in the company of another group taking a very long retreat, of about eleven days. I ate meals with them and got to know them, and learned that they were an advanced group in their religious society, undergoing, as one person told me, their secret initiations into the thirteenth and fourteenth levels of their evolution towards becoming “beings of light.” They even told me where I could learn more on their website. I checked it out to find that their leader, who was there, claimed to channel messages to them from the Pleidians, advanced spiritual beings from the Pleides Galaxy, millions of light years away in outer space. These Pleidians are said to be sending, through their leader, healing, hopeful and helpful messages to help us earthlings along on our cosmic evolution.
I don’t say this for us to mock them or roll our eyes. If we want respect as persons, we must offer respect to all persons. I enjoyed getting to know most of them as persons. In fact, it occurred to me that we have several things in common, one of which is that we both get accused of believing some pretty wild stuff. But one major, major difference between us is that their leader demands much more by way of faith from her followers than I am asking of anyone here, in myself at least. That great runs on a great deal of faith in the leader and in her claim to channel messages from beings in outer space, as well as in the messages themselves.
From what I’ve seen, such blind faith in persons and in their gifts and powers can do at least as much to bust up communities as to create them. Secretive, magical and exclusive spiritual gifts and knowledge can introduce dependency, even fear, suspicion and dissension among people and neighbors. Get into that kind of stuff, and you’ll start to wonder, Is my illness just a natural event, or was it caused by a jealous neighbor? Or an unknown taboo I violated? Many of the street children wandering cities in Central Africa begging for food were cast out of their homes, accused by their neighbors or families of secretive arts and sorcery. In effect, a divisive love of power overrules the unifying power of love. To be honest, that can happen in churches, too. That’s why Paul had to write these words to a church.
Now that these Corinthians, with this kind of past, believe in Jesus, and are exercising various spiritual gifts, they may again be wondering, What’s got into me? Or who? Paul’s answer: The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. You can tell that its him by the faith he’s given you, to confess that Jesus is Lord. Especially when that’s a dangerous and unpopular thing to confess. Back then, Caesar claimed to be Lord. You can also tell its Jesus by how the gifts of the Spirit are given, according to verse 7, to each and every one of them, and that they’re given “for the common good.” They are not given just to any one person. Nor are any one person’s gifts more important than anyone else’s. And they are given to create community and to strengthen it, not to elevate or benefit any one person, certainly not at the expense of others.
That’s how Christ is still active, present and powerful in the world today: not so much by exclusive, eye-popping, attention-grabbing personal powers, or claims to such powers, but by something even more miraculous: relationships and communities of loving and interdependent people, endowed with gifts and qualities that are different but equal in value, that make such love and interdependence possible. Our nation’s Declaration of Independence begins with the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal…” Those words started a revolution. In I Corinthians 12 we read something even more revolutionary: not only that all people are created equal, but that in God’s kingdom, all are endowed by their Creator with gifts of equal power and importance. That is God’s Declaration of our Interdependence.
But don’t take that on my word alone. I’m not asking of anyone that kind of faith. I am asking of us faith in something that stands outside and above all of us, myself included: the Sacred Scriptures, especially in the vision they present of this Beloved Community, of this Peaceful Kingdom, of this interdependent and mutually-dignifying new humanity. I’m also asking for faith in the Holy Spirit who is present and powerful, among us and within us, to gift and to endow us, each and everyone of us, to make such a miracle happen. That miracle does not depend upon any one person, not even the one who preaches. That’s just one gift among many in this congregation’s divine gifting. It happens through all of us and all our gifts, together.
One implication is that this also calls for a measure of faith in ourselves. Or at least in our passions and talents for ministry. If, for example, you have some interest in the faith life of teen-agers, and experience says that you can connect with them, then that’s worth exploring. Maybe its your Holy Spirit- given gift for our common good. Or the friend who called me recently to say she has applied for a job as a parish nurse and is really, really interested in it even though it pays only chicken feed, could that be God’s gifting and leading in her life? she wondered. Check it out and see what you learn, is all I could say.
This also requires some faith in each other. It means that we learn to look at each other with eyes that see possibilities, eyes that look for the goodness and giftedness in each other, eyes that can even see each other’s gifting in unique and surprising ways. Someone may freeze up when it comes to speaking or doing anything public, but with the eyes of faith in the Holy Spirit, we can see other gifts in them that contribute just as much to the common good, like visiting and serving the sick and shut-ins. Or doing hands-on, practical and mechanical stuff for others. Such gifts are just as important to our interdependent community as the more visible or verbal ones. When all such gifts, and more, are working together for the common good of the church and the world, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, for his honor and glory, then the world sees nothing less than Jesus himself, still present and active in the world. That’s how Pentecost continues, today, on this, the Eighth Day of Creation.