The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
© 2014 Frank B Crumbaugh III
Pentecost focuses the Church for ministry. Pentecost makes clear in unambiguous terms that we are here for something/-one larger than ourselves. The proliferation of languages at Pentecost demonstrates whether we want to know it or not that we all are bi-lingual in behalf of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit makes every single Baptized person a translator. The Gospel is not a private possession and so God gives everyone a second language to make certain that it gets shared. The Pentecost question for every life reading this is “What’s my second language?” Not “Did I get a second language?” but “What is my second language?” Everyone. No exceptions or deferments. Everyone. Did I say everyone?
God intends that the ability to speak to others in ways they can hear and understand is the functional context for every ministry undertaken in His Name. Knowing God’s intention about this, Paul writes to Corinth:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance 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 working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
This is helpful. It gives us a way to focus the Pentecost question as it pertains to us individually; it is strong encouragement to say our prayers and listen for what the Spirit is saying. So what’s your second language? What is the Spirit’s gift to you at Pentecost? Paul enumerates but a few- wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues….
Now your life’s experience has probably taught you what you’re gifted to do and what you’re not gifted to do. Some of us can cook and others can’t boil water well. Some are good teachers while others would have trouble teaching another person to work a light switch. Some are patient while others are brittle or snappish. Some move easily in a group of people they may not even know, while others do better in small gatherings of people they know. Human experience and memory serve us well when we recall what we’ve learned about ourselves.
However, when we hear the Pentecost story, we are compelled to wonder. Sometimes we’re blessedly clear in knowing who God calls us to be, and knowing that we then know what we are called to do. Other times we’re less clear; we cast about, not very clear about who we are, taking up ministry by default rather than by call. This is tepid, and it can hurt the Church.
Two examples, one local, one diocesan: 1) often, nominating committees in parish Churches struggle to fill the slate at Vestry elections. They delude themselves into believing that anyone willing to volunteer or to say yes is qualified to serve. And of course we know better- there are those who may be willing but are not gifted to serve in that ministry. The nominators don’t do ministry well when they see their work as making up a list, rather than discerning a leader with a temperament gifted to serve, and having the courage to call that person to that work. 2) when I serve with the diocesan Committee on Priesthood, a large part of my ministry there is helping people discern calls to ordained ministry; some want to be ordained and my work with them reveals that they do not have a call to priesthood. Such discoveries are painful to make. Others are rightly reluctant in believing that God is calling them when in fact He is, and their discernment is no less scary. It is as hard to hear that God is calling you to something as it is to hear that God isn’t calling you to something. These are but two examples, and in both we see people present themselves for work think they’d like to do without having asked the prior question- who does God mean for them to be?
Pentecost insists that at least once a year- on Pentecost itself if on no other day of the year- we ask again. Pentecost insists that we be as open to a new gift as the Apostles were in that upper room. God isn’t finished with any of us, and there is now and always will be on every day of our lives for as long as we live, a new learning and perhaps a new gift.
God is forming and reforming us over and over again, day by day, to grow into maturity in Christ. That maturity leads inevitably to new ministry when new insights are gained. That makes every day Pentecost because every day we are a new person if we are willing to let God make us so. The gifts are fiery and new daily, not just once in a lifetime…
God often uses the voices and faces of people we know and love to give us such messages. Sometimes we are invited by others to take something up, and other times we are gently encouraged to set something down, to let it go, to cease struggling.
However God’s murmurs come to us, Paul gives us a simple, clear test. Paul gives us a way to make certain that we are hearing well where messages about ministry are concerned.
Paul writes his laundry list of gifts, and then he says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” For the common good, not for personal edification or gain…for the common good, not to an avoidance or a way out of the dumps when we’re feeling low…for the common good, not for added esteem or self-protection… for the common good…for God’s World…for God’s Church as an institution and for God’s Church as its precious people…Paul gives us this helpful litmus test about God’s call to us.
In Corinthians 13, Paul goes on to tell us how any gift is employed. Love is the methodology for the use of any and all gifts. Paul sets Corinth on a path of discernment in the twelfth chapter, and gives them the how-to in the thirteenth- Love.
And we know the awful truth about this, don’t we? We know that any functional ministry, any task branded as ministry in His Name, will fail miserably if we “have not Love”, becoming instead a “a clanging gong, a tinkling cymbal…” Paul reminds us that whatever we believe the gifts of Pentecost to be, the prior condition necessary is Love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not Love, I am as a clanging gong or a tinkling cymbal.”
Pentecost’s first gift is not a set of skills…it’s Love. Pentecost’s first gift is a new you, a you who can Love and be Loved, a you whose Love will drive any subsequent action…and the skill set will be whatever it will be. God gifts us to be a gift. God blesses us to be a blessing. Every day.
Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, 4 June 2017, being The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday