Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 18, 2018
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But What Can I Do?

Acts 2:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

 “On the day of Pentecost…”  Pentecost was a Jewish festival of harvest.  It came 50 days after Passover.  In first century Hebrew culture, all Jews were required to make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetime to Jerusalem for at least one of the three major festivals:  Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot, or Tabernacles.  Often, those who made a long journey would simply stay for all three of them.  Passover was in March or April, Pentecost in May or June, and Sukkot in September or October.  So at any point during that six month span, there would be pilgrims in the city from all over the known world, and especially on the days of the festivals.  

 Many of the same pilgrims who were there on Passover when Jesus was crucified were also there on this day of Pentecost.  They would have known about Jesus’ death, and they almost certainly would have heard of his resurrection.  Soon they would go back to their homes all across the Roman Empire and beyond.

 The first century world was a prime situation for the gospel could spread.  For one thing, there was a common language.  While most people spoke a native language, almost everyone spoke Greek.  Greek was called Koine in the first century, a word meaning “common,” because it was so widespread.  Also, the Roman Empire had brought about a time of relative peace to the ancient world, called the Pax Romana.  And the Empire had also built reliable roads all over the Empire.  Some of their roads survive to this day.  Take a hint, PennDOT!  

 The believers were all gathered together in one place, the upper room in the upper city of Jerusalem, near the Temple.  

 There was a sound like a mighty rushing wind that filled the house.  In the Greek and Hebrew languages, the same word that meant “wind” also meant “breath” or “spirit.”  So this wind is the coming of the Spirit.  

 Tongues of fire appears over each of their heads.  This fulfills John the Baptists’ promise about the coming of Messiah in Luke 3, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  It also fulfills Joel’s prophecy, which Peter quotes.  

 Tongues, of course, not only describe the appearance of flames, but also remind us of languages and the ability to speak, or in this case to prophesy.  People disagree

about the meaning of the gift of tongues, but it seems pretty clear that at least in this case, it refers to the ability to speak in known languages that a person has not learned.  Fire is also used to speak of purification in Scripture.  

 The sound of this commotion draws many people.  At this point, they are all still Jews or at least converts to Judaism, but it is opening the door for the gospel message to go out beyond Jewish people at a later date.  They come from all over the known world:  Asia Minor, Rome, Crete, North Africa, and the lands of the east that were not part of the Roman Empire, Arabia and the Parthian Empire.  

 “What does this mean?” they wonder.  But there are always some clowns in the group, and they say, “Oh, these guys are just drunk.”  

 Peter stands up and addresses the crowd.  “These men are not drunk.  After all, it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning.”  Later, when Peter was brought before the Sanhedrin, they could tell that he was an “uneducated man.”  Sure enough, Peter never went to college.  If he had, he would have been able to think of people being drunk at 9 AM.  

 But the truth is that this is the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all God’s people.  In Numbers 11, Moses lamented that he wished all of God’s people were prophets and that the Lord put his Spirit upon them all.  And that’s just what we see here in the first Pentecost.  Now all believers have God’s Spirit.  It’s not restricted to a certain few, as it was in the Old Testament.  Now young and old, male and female, slave and free, and soon, Jew and Gentile, have God’s Spirit.

 Years later, Paul addressed the subject of gifts of the Spirit in a different context when he wrote to the Corinthians.  The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the Church, and while they should bring the Church unity, in Corinth, they were creating division.  Jesus had prayed for the Church to have the same kind of unity he shared with the Father.  While there is a diversity of gifts, they are given for a unity of purpose:  To bring glory to God, to build up the Church, and to serve each other in love.  All the gifts come from the same source and all should be used to serve the same Lord.  Our gifts should not be used to serve our selfish interests, but that’s what was happening in the Corinthian congregations.  The gifts are given according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so there should be no jealousy in the Church about who has what gift.  

 But, of course, people do what they do.  And one of the things we do is try to elevate ourselves above others.  In Corinth, it was believers who had the gift of tongues

who were elevating themselves, saying their gift was more important than others.  When Paul listed some of the gifts of the Spirit, he listed the gift of tongues last, not because he thought it was the least important, but because some in Corinth insisted it was the MOST important.  

 There are several places in the New Testament where there are lists of the ways the Spirit gifts God’s people.  First Corinthians 12 is the best known, but there are also lists in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  All of those lists should be read as representative of the gifts of the Spirit, not as exhaustive lists.  There are certainly other ways in which a person can be gifted to serve God and build up the Body of Christ.

 The real point when it comes to Spirit gifts is verse 7:  “A gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the whole Church.”  Each of us is gifted by God’s Spirit.  Each of us is enabled to serve God and build up the Church.  There is no place in the Church for any of us to lament and say “But what can I do?”  We are all gifted to serve God and build up the Church.  The real question is not “What can I do?” but “What has God enabled you to do?”  And then, “Are you doing it?  Are you using the gifts God has given you to bring glory to God and build the Church? 

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