See the post on Leaving the Gates.
Sermon preached 5/27/12.
Lectionary: Day of Pentecost
Sermon text: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11, 28-30
Sermon: Just immediately before the service, Judy and I were talking about her retiring in a couple of years, which is interesting because it ties in to what I was going to say about my father, when he retired, and his health was still pretty good, my brother and I kept trying to find a hobby for him. My father’s hobby his entire life was work. It was go to work, go to his other job, come home, cut the grass, fix the car, clean the house–it was work. You’re retired now, we want to give you something that you enjoy, that nobody’s making you do. So we would give him gifts. One time I gave him a telescope, and I think he used it once or twice, but I have it now, and it’s brand new, practically. One time I went to Homewood Toy and Hobby and I bought this perfect little case with all these little tiny razors and knives and sanding equipment and planes, and I bought him a brick of balsa wood and a little book on how to carve car, because he loved cars. Yeah, I have that too now. And it is frustrating when you try to give someone a gift and they don’t do anything with it. They appreciate it, they’re receptive, they’re responsive, they like it, they make all kinds of promises about, “I can’t wait to do this,” and then the next thing you know it’s in the bottom of a drawer.
Last week we talked about us being the successors of Christ in this world. We talked about how He left and imparted to us His authority to do His work in this world. Well, to give us the ability to do His work in this world, He gave us gifts. The gift comes mainly in the form of the Holy Spirit. We talk about here, on Pentecost, how the disciples, not just the eleven, but some one hundred and twenty, that had followed Christ were gathered together , the Holy Spirit came. They were filled with the ability to testify about Christ and what He had done, and they filled the streets of Jerusalem, and several thousand people that day converted and became followers of Christ.
That was the beginning. And that is what the first gift that we get from the Holy Spirit is. It’s life. We go from little waiting lump of people to something real, something dynamic. I imagine that there was there in that 120 people who say the same thing you do, “well, I could never get up and preach in front of this crowd, I could never go out in the streets and preach to people.” I’m sure there were people there who were like that. And yet they were transformed.
Ezekiel has a passage that in part prophesies the day of Pentecost. He says I am taken by God to a place where there has been a great battle, and there is nothing but dry, sun-bleached bones. And God says, “Do you think this can live,” and I say, “You’re God, you tell me.” He says, “Preach.” And so Ezekiel starts to preach, and the bones come together–clatter, clatter, clatter–and the flesh starts up onto the body, and the skin knits together, and suddenly with a huge “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH” they all breathe and they all live.
That’s what happens at Pentecost. The successor being to Christ is born. Us. The church.
But it’s not just so that we can live.
Y’know, there are things in this world that seem to have no purpose other than to live. I grew up, we had a farm, chickens and pigs and cows. There were dogs that chased away strangers and cats that hunted the mice in the barn. But I was talking to somebody recently who has a farm and she talked about how someone got a pony. Cutest little pony in the world, she says. Absolutely useless. What is its purpose? It’s just alive. It is too small for even a child to ride it. It produces no good. It can’t pull a cart, it can’t do anything other than just sit there and look cute. And eat. And I’m afraid that far too much of the church today is miniature ponies, or overbred poodles, or hairless cats. We serve no purpose but just to live. And that’s not much of life.
Jesus said to His disciples in John and elsewhere that the reason He sent the Holy Spirit was so that they could continue to be His witnesses in this world. That they could continue to speak the message that He gave them to the people of this world. And He even goes so far as to say there’s a lot more stuff I would tell you, but you’re not able to handle it right now. And so the Spirit will speak it to you so that you can speak it to the people.
And I don’t think that just applies in the lives of Peter, James and John and the rest of them there. I think that’s true of the church. The Spirit continues to speak to us, to deal with our world, maybe in ways that the people of the past couldn’t handle, that it was too much for them, they couldn’t handle it.
And so this kind of progressive, organic growth of the church continues, and we continue to address the world with a new voice. Not just the voice of Peter on the day of Pentecost talking to the disciples gathered there. But we continue to speak to the world in real and dynamic terms that address today based on the foundation of what Peter, James and John said two thousand years ago, but still alive, still new, still vibrant, because the Holy Spirit continues to speak in us.
You say, “Well, it’s obvious that I’m not a speaker, and I’m glad for those of you that are called to do that, more power to ya, I’m glad I don’t have to do that.”
There are no appendixes in the body of Christ. And you know, actually, scientists have determined that the appendix does help the body. It’s where this bacteria lives that if ever you have something wrong with your stomach, this bacteria comes out and fixes it. But there’s no useless parts in the body of Christ. Paul, writing over and over again, but particularly in Romans and Corinthians, talks about what we become as the body of Christ. Romans chapter 12, I could quote it, “Therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as living sacrifices, which is your reasonable act of service,” that we continue to live our lives, that God has empowered us to be and do in this world.
You say, It’s a big burden to be the successor to Christ. It is. But the good news is that none of that full weight falls on any one of us. I am not Christ. You are not Christ. We are Christ. We are the body of Christ in this world. Not me, not you, no pope, no patriarch, no church leader, no council, no small group–all of us. We are the body of Christ. And we continue to work in this world as that body.
He says here that since we have gifts that differ, verse 6, “according to the grace given to us, is to exercise them accordingly. If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith–” And in the Bible, the New Testament, in the whole Bible, remember when you see the word prophecy, it means first and foremost speaking on God’s behalf. The occasional telling the future is a very small part of Biblical prophecy. That’s not what prophets are about. Prophets are about telling you what God is saying. And a lot of times, especially in the Old Testament, that means, God is telling you this, and if you don’t do it, this is what’s gonna happen. But it’s basically telling you what God [said]. And so he says to those who are given the gift of prophecy, inasmuch as you have the faith to stand up and believe what you’re saying, prophesy. He says, “if in service, serve, or he who teaches, in his teaching, he who exhorts, in his exhortation.” Exhortation is encouraging other people. Service is getting up and vacuuming the church. Service is seeing someone in need and giving them something to eat. Service is helping that neighbor get the dog in. That’s service. “He who gives, with liberality.” If God’s given you the gift of giving, give. Be generous. “He who leads, with diligence. He who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
And this is hardly the only list. We go to 1 Corinthians and get something entirely different. In chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, he says, “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit–” this is chapter 12, verse 7 of 1 Corinthians–“to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word 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 effecting of miracles, and another prophecy, to another distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” Verse 28: “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” Which is love.
We have been given the gift of God’s Spirit, something that before the day of Pentecost did not abide with any human being for very long. It was only said of David that God’s Spirit was always with him. But instead we have over and over again examples of people where God’s Spirit came on them, they did the work of God, and God’s Spirit left them.
But in us, we are always in that moment, always in that state, the same state that Ezekiel was in when he saw the valley of bones, the same state that Elijah was in when he called down fire from heaven and slaughtered the followers of Baal. In that moment where God’s Spirit has filled us up and made us alive and new and different–and that’s what we are. We live, we speak, we act on God’s behalf in this world, through the giving of the Holy Spirit, we are His successors on earth.
And yet, if we take those gifts, and make all kinds of promises, and stick ’em in the back of some personal, metaphorical drawer, then what good is the church? What good is it? Is the successor of Christ a show pony? Or are we a living, vibrant, active, speaking being out in the world? What’s your part in that?