When I was in my curacy my supervisor, Harold Roberts, came into my office just before Pentecost with a picture of the outpouring of the Spirit. “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked me.
I took a good look at it. It was a picture of the upper room, filled with people, men and women, and over each one of them was a tongue of fire. It seemed to me to be a pretty reasonable and accurate depiction of Pentecost, so I said to him, “Not a thing! Looks good to me?
“But there are women in the picture,” he said to me. “Was he bating me?” I thought to myself.
“Indeed there are!” I remarked. “I have always understood that the whole community was gathered together.”
And so we began to read the passage of Scripture from the Acts of the Apostles. Harold decided at that point that it was just the inclusive nature of the New Revised Standard Version of Scripture from which we were reading. So I got out my Greek Testament, and sure enough, in Greek there is a clear distinction between the first chapter which is recounting the events of Jesus and his disciples, and the second chapter which makes it clear that the whole community was gathered together. “They were all there,” it says. Women, men, children, all of the faithful assembled for worship. The Spirit of God moved them in an astounding way. The Spirit moved all of them, these beleaguered people who had been hiding out in fear ever since the execution of their leader. And it had an astounding effect on them. They were suddenly transformed. In fact, the transformation is so great that Luke can scarcely find the words to express it. It was a sound, he says, “like the rush of a violent wind.” Then the sound gave way to tongues of fire that settled on each person. Each one was filled with that gentle spirit which swept through the place that day.
And what a difference it made in their lives! They were inspired to speak in other languages. They were freed up to preach the Gospel. They understood the risen Christ to be the Lord of their lives. They proclaimed the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ who is risen is alive for evermore. So awesome an experience was it that they never looked back. Two thousand years later the Church still proclaims Christ, risen, ascended, glorified. Pentecost truly is the birthday of the Christian Church. It is the culmination of the Easter story.
It is fitting that on this Feast of the Pentecost we should celebrate. We celebrate through our liturgical acts, through our hymns and prayers, the coming of the Holy Spirit. But it seems to me, that is not truly what Pentecost is about. The gift of the Spirit has always been given to God’s people. What we should be celebrating at this time is that fresh outpouring of the Spirit set loose in the world. Pentecost has happened to us. We do not need to sit around and wait for supernatural signs of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit has been given and continues to abide within the lives of those who follow Christ.
So today we are going to celebrate the gifts that God has given to us. It is a wonderful day to do that for this year it falls on Mother’s Day. And so that secular celebration takes on new meaning for us as we cherish the gift that motherhood brings. Consider the gifts that our mothers bring into our lives. As I look back on my own mother I realize what a gift she was. She loved and nurtured us as we were growing up. She had strength of character that taught us that no matter what life brought, we could handle it. She may not have the scholarly intellect of our father, but she had a curiosity about life, common sense and a quick wit. She had a beautiful faith which sustained her throughout her life. Today I celebrate the gifts that she shared so freely during her lifetime.
And then our Diocese sets this day apart as one in which we honour our cultural riches and the diversity of our community of faith. Just as the people of God of every description, male, female, young and old, rich and poor, were gathered together in that upper room on the first Pentecost, so we in all of our diversity are gathered in communion all over the globe. In this congregation we are truly blessed. We come from all parts of the world. Yet we share in common our love of Christ and the traditions of our Anglican communion. We are reminded at Pentecost about who we are and about how we are called to be Church. We look forward to the time we can realize the vision that Christ makes possible. Christ transforms our life together, so that no one is a stranger, but all are members of the household of God.
So how do we allow the Spirit of God to transform our lives? What would happen in our churches and in the world if we did? If we were truly alive in Christ … If we were passionate about our faith … If we were fired up with enthusiasm … How could our gifts transform the world?
The answer to that is endless. It depends only on using the gifts that God has given us. We come to church to renew ourselves, to awaken ourselves to all that God is doing in our lives, to open ourselves to the gifts of the Spirit. Sometimes we think a gift of the Spirit has to be amazing, supernatural. Or we confuse gifts with talents. That is because on the whole the world values talent and skill far more than it values gift. Skill has to do with our role in life, what we have learned to do. Gift has to do with who we are. We need to discover in ourselves how God has gifted us. That is far more difficult to do than to assess our skills.
We all have gifts, attributes that make us truly who we are. Gifts are things like joy or hope or compassion. Our gifts define us as humans. They are gifts of God’s grace alive in us. As a community it is up to us to affirm one another in the gifts that we see, to draw out in each other that spiritual gift that is uniquely ours.
Take a moment to consider how God has gifted you with grace. Think about someone you know in our congregation. What word would you use to describe that person’s gift? You may even find yourself sharing your thoughts with that person. It may be something he or she needs to hear to spur them into action.
Pentecost has happened to us. The Holy Spirit has been given. The Spirit continues to work within our lives. And so we pray, Holy Spirit, move within us that we may know you to be at work in our lives and in our hearts. Amen.