Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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The Spirit for All

Acts 2:1-21 and John 14:8-17 and 25-27

 Today the Church is celebrating the day of Pentecost.  Pentecost was a Jewish celebration that took place on the 50th day after Passover.  There were two reasons for the holy day.  The first was that it commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  But it was also the traditional date for the beginning of the wheat harvest, so it had an agricultural significance, too.  

 After the resurrection, Jesus continued to appear to his disciples over the course of forty days.  Then, when he ascended into heaven on the 40th day, in Jerusalem, he told his disciples to stay in the city until they received the Holy Spirit, power from above, to carry out their appointed mission.  That happened on the day of Pentecost.  

 In the days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the group of 120 believers gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem, praying and waiting.  And then as Jesus told them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and not just on a few of them.  The Spirit didn’t just fall on the 12 disciples.  He didn’t fall on the men, or on the elders.  The Spirit came onto all of them, young and old, male and female.

 Peter explained that this was foretold by the prophet Joel.  The Spirit is poured out on all:  Sons and daughters, young and old, even on male and female slaves, which is probably the better way to understand this text. There is a radical egalitarianism to this outpouring of the Spirit.  It’s for everyone.  Not for some.  Not for the leaders.  Not for the men.  But for all.  

 And if you look at the story of the early Church, there continued to be a radical egalitarianism.  They all met together.  They all worshipped together.  They ate together.  They shared with one another.  

 Of course, in time, we know, the growth of the Church required more structure, more organization to ensure that all the work was being done.  To make sure people were being taught in the faith, and that the needs of the poor were being met, and so on, the Church began to appoint people to certain tasks.  But it was understood to be a diversity of work, not a diversity of value.  It wasn’t that these people mattered and those didn’t.  It was that these people did this work and those people did that work.  

 Later on, The Holy Spirit was also poured out on Samaritans and Gentiles.  Within 25 years of Pentecost, the Apostle Paul could proclaim that “In Christ, there is neither

Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ.”  That was a revolutionary thing to say in the first century.  I think it’s a revolutionary thing to say today in the twenty-first century:  That we are all one people in Jesus, in spite of any and all differences between us.  But that is the gospel.

 The Spirit continued to be poured out on all believers and to give gifts to all for ministry and service to the Kingdom of God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and reminded them that, “A gift of the Spirit is given to each of us so we can help each other.”  There are gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of the truth, the ability to speak in tongues, and the ability to interpret tongues.  Some are gifted to be apostles, some prophets, some teachers, some leaders, and some helpers.  And those are just some of the gifts Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12.  There are other gifts mentioned other places in the New Testament.

 In the Old Covenant, God also gave the Holy Spirit.  But in the Old Covenant, the Spirit was given only to select individuals, usually kings and other leaders, or priests and prophets.  But now in the New Covenant, there is a broad giving of the Spirit.  The Spirit is given to all, not just to leaders and “religious professionals.”  The Spirit is not just given to bishops, pastors, and missionaries.  The Spirit is given to all.  There is a universal giving and a universal calling.  All are responsible in the Church for putting to use the gifts that they have in service to God’s Kingdom.  

 There is an enormous potential power in the Church.  Jesus said in John 14 that, “Anyone who believes in me will do the same work I am doing and even greater works.”  

 That might sound impossible.  How can we do greater works than Jesus?  Jesus healed people and fed crowds of thousands miraculously?  But it’s absolutely true.  The Church has already done greater works than Jesus did.  Jesus was confined to one body in one place at one time.  

But the Church is everywhere.  The Church has exceeded Jesus’ miracles. Jesus healed hundreds of people.  But the Church has built thousands of hospitals and brought healing to millions.  Jesus fed a crowd of 15 or 20 thousand.  But the church has fed millions.  Jesus brought 120 people to faith in his years of ministry, but the Church added three thousand just on the day of Pentecost.  And in the last 2000 years, billions have put their faith in Jesus.  

Jesus said, “I will ask the Father and he will send you another Counselor,” meaning the Holy Spirit.  The Greek word he uses there is PARACLETE, a word that meant, “Someone who is called alongside to help.”  We each have the Spirit in us.  We each have someone to help us do the work of God.  

Jesus said, “He lives with you now.”  The Spirit was with them in Jesus, on whom the Spirit descended at the beginning of his ministry.  “And later he will be in you.”  That’s what Pentecost was, the Holy Spirit coming and indwelling every believer.  

Because the Spirit is in us, he brings Christ to the world through us.  We are the Body of Christ, the physical manifestation of the presence and activity of Christ in the world.  Jesus may have ascended to the right hand of the Father, but he is also in the world through us and all that we are doing.  

The 16th century Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila, said it this way:  “Christ has no body but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.   Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

I am convinced the Church needs to recapture its conviction that all are gifted for ministry and all are called to ministry.  So I think there are only two questions of relevance for us to ask ourselves.  First, do you believe that you yourself are gifted to serve God by the Spirit and personally called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world?  And second, if so, are you willing to act on that belief? 

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