1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – The Same Spirit

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“The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does.  Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.” (Contemporary English Version)

As you well know, it’s easy to take things for granted.  For instance, we don’t typically think too much about our toes… until we stub them, drop something on them, break them, or need a podiatrist to operate on them.  Then, we not only know they’re still there, but our entire body (along with the mind and emotions!) feels the need to give a lot of attention to lowest end of our body that enables us to stand and walk without thinking much about it.

The body is an apt metaphor for how to think about humanity and its various systems and institutions.  We might see the face of any church or organization, but there are scads of people behind the scenes doing all kinds of good work.  For example, the golfing profession understands the importance of caddies; lawyers know the need of paralegal persons; healthcare facilities and organizations rely not only on nurses and social workers, but also on cooks and housekeepers; schools need the coordination of teachers, parents, students, volunteers, and the entire community to effectively realize the education of children.

Also, as you well know, it’s easy to take for granted services we receive… until we don’t receive them, or in a way to our liking.  Then, we pay attention.  We want action and resolution.  We want our food now and to our exact specifications.  Sometimes we might even forget that we are dealing with people, not cogs in a machine or parts in a system.  Millions of people labor every single day, sometimes even seven days a week, just to make ends meet and provide for their families.  When we neglect to understand this, or see it right in front of our eyes, we have done our fellow human beings a disservice.

It’s also awfully easy to forget how extremely radical the Apostle Paul’s words were for 1st century folks, especially in religious circles.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew community was God’s people.  If you wanted to worship the one true God, you came to Jerusalem and learned from Jews.  But Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit changed things in such a profound and organic way that the world would never be the same again.

It was firmly established by the early church, and preached with fervor and flavor by Paul, that there would not be a separate Jewish church and Gentile church.  They have become one Body of Christ through the redemptive events of Jesus.  Both Jews and Gentiles have the same Spirit – not different Spirits for each group.  Jesus Christ did not die so that people could be fragmented from each other; He was crucified to end once for all the segregation, discrimination, and ostentation of one group of people above another.

The cross was the ultimate radical act of justice against the powers of this dark world that seek to rank people according to their relative importance and worth.

The power of the resurrection is the energy of God raising Christ from death to triumph over the realm and system of evil throughout the earth.  All kinds of people everywhere are to rise with Christ in a great demonstration of God’s power to subvert the status quo of discriminatory racism, extreme individualism, gender inequality, social and economic class-ism, and any kind of “ism” which places one group of people in subjection to another in misguided notions of superiority.

The church is to be a community of redeemed people that reflects the diversity of God’s big world.  No two groups of people could have been more different than Middle-Eastern Jews and Greek Gentiles.  Yet, Paul insisted that they together, not separate, make up the one Body of Christ.  It isn’t easy listening to another group of people who think and act differently than you and me.  But listen we must.  And respond we must.  It is our responsibility as believers in the way of Christ.

“God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (Contemporary English Version)

There is no ability to look down your nose on another person if you are already kneeling on the ground in humble prayer at the foot of the cross.  There is only the chance to look up.  There is even the opportunity to allow someone less privileged and fortunate to assist you.  Yes, we all need one another – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.  It isn’t our job to colonize other people’s culture and society to make it more like our own.  It is our duty to share the Gospel, make room at the Table, extend love in the Name of Jesus, and work together as the one people of God, formed by the Spirit.

Almighty God of all creation, I understand that we don’t struggle merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep separations alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.  Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by human constructed categories of power disparities.  Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.  Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people everywhere we live, as well as those around the world.  Heal your family, God, and make us one with you, in union with our Lord Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Pentecost

 
 
            Just this morning a group of us guys from church had a large grill session of burgers, brats, and hot dogs in preparation for a Sunday celebration.  This time of year is hugely significant when we attune ourselves to Holy Time because it is Pentecost.  Ten days after recognizing Christ’s Ascension, and fifty days after our Lord’s resurrection from death, the Christian Calendar observes the day of Pentecost (which literally means “fifty” in Greek).  The day coincides with an established Jewish festival, the Feast of Weeks.  Back in the day, Jerusalem would be filled with all kinds of different nationalities and ethnicities during the festival.
 
            Pentecost is often known as the birthday of the church.  It marks the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the fledgling believers in power.  The account is found in the New Testament book of Acts:  “On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers [120 believers] were together in one place.  Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind!  It filled the house where they were meeting.  Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.  The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak” (Acts 2:1-4).  The upshot of it all was that Peter, once an up-and-down follower, was filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.  His call to repentance and faith in Jesus led directly to three-thousand persons added to the little band of one-hundred twenty.
 
            But it didn’t stop there.  We live in a tremendous age in which all believers in Jesus have the same Holy Spirit as our spiritual ancestors.  It is an era of the Spirit empowering the church to reach the world with the good news that there is forgiveness and grace through the person and work of Christ.  So, then, the church possesses confidence and security in knowing that the Spirit’s enablement and power is available for the mission of proclaiming Christ to the nations.  It is an immense call, a calling that befits the bigness of God.
 
            There are a wide range of Christian celebrations of Pentecost. Some churches do not recognize the holiday at all. Most churches at least mention it in prayer, song, or sermon. Other churches go all out, with worship focused on remembering the first Pentecost and praying for a similar outpouring of divine power.  Churches that employ liturgical colors generally use red on Pentecost as a symbol of power and fire of the Spirit.
 
            Pentecost reminds us that Christians are meant to live in the presence and in the power of the Holy Spirit, all day, every day, 24/7.  It is a chance to confess our shortcomings and failures because of fear, apathy, and selfishness, and to ask for a fresh infusing and infilling of God’s wonderful Spirit.  Pentecost flings every single believer into a congregational whole, the church, and lets us know that we are not to be rugged individualists acting alone but are part of the Body of Christ.    Thus, we must renew our commitment to the church for whom Christ died and the Spirit is ready to use.  Pentecost throws disparate people together in a unified whole, made up of every kind of language, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and race.  We are all to use the gifts of the Spirit given to us for the benefit of building up one another.
 
            The church is the church because of the Holy Spirit.  We are to do the work of spreading the gospel in passionate outreach using the power of the Spirit, equipping and encouraging each other displaying the fruit of the Spirit, and worshiping the person of the Spirit for always being present with us.
 

 

            Pentecost was and is a watershed event.  Worship, community, and outreach are the logical extensions and the collective responsibility of each and every church around the globe.  In solidarity, let the day of Pentecost be recognized and observed with heartfelt thanksgiving and renewed impulses to exercising our spiritual abilities graciously promised by Jesus and given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Warming Up for Pentecost

 
 
The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.  Christians do not earn the right to have the Holy Spirit; they are given the Spirit.  Therefore, our main responsibility as Christians is to receive.  Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving.  The reason for this is that the Christian life cannot be lived by one’s own strength; it is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The only function of faith is to receive what grace offers.  We are saved by grace alone through faith.  And it is equally true that the Christian life is lived by grace alone through faith.  God lives in and through us by means of his Spirit.  The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person.  It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
            We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, me included, to be a certain way and to do certain things.  The result is that we are tired.  And every time we catch our breath, someone else needs something else.  But what if Christianity were not mostly about giving, but about receiving?  What if the Christian life were really all about putting ourselves in a position to receive what God has for us through prayer and humility?  You see, the opposite of receiving is not giving but pride. 
 
            Maybe this kind of talk makes you feel uncomfortable.  I am not talking here about being passive or lazy, but about receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit and allowing God the Spirit to do what he wants to do in and through us for his own purposes and glory.  Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit!  The question then becomes:  Will we let God do this?  Will we participate with God, and allow the Spirit to do his work?  Will we, as individuals and churches, petition God and, in essence, write him a blank check so that he can do whatever he wants to do in and through us?
 
            The Spirit is elsewhere in Scripture described as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter.  But not at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like wind and fire.  Not a gentle breeze, nor a warm campfire but a violent presence.  The Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is not some gentleman caller coming politely into our lives when invited.  Instead, he appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes and big ruckus.  There is nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost.  He is electric and volcanic, causing a huge upheaval.  This is a big God with a big Word looking to expand out into a big world.
 
            Because of Pentecost, true believers are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit.  So, what does God want to do?  He wants to pour out his Spirit on all kinds of people.  He wants to fill people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy” (Acts 2:14-21).  By “prophecy” Joel and Peter do not mean predicting the future, but inspired speech and words coming from a spiritual heart full of the Spirit.  Just as an inebriated person says and does things he/she would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things that they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage do not come from themselves but is a result of God within them.
 
            God transformed this little band of people in Acts 2 from learners, to ones sent out with a mission.  Being on a mission from God is not about feeling adequate; it is about being filled and sent.  First time parents may learn and read and find out all they can about parenting before their child is born, but when that little bundle comes into the world and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out you feel pretty inadequate for the task.  Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you learn and pray on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything. 
 
            God has sent us into the world to make disciples and we may feel pretty inadequate for the task.  But this has more to do with receiving the Spirit.  The Spirit comes looking to impact the world not in some small way but with turning the world upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ. 
 
            In light of Pentecost, God’s agenda for his people is not to simply have nice worship services among nice people so we can live nice lives in the world.  The Spirit came to shake things up and do among God’s people what they could never do on their own.  The church in the New Testament was not formed as a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership.  The church in Acts 2 is more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit. 
 

 

            It all begins with receiving.  If our hands are continually making fists and fighting other believers then we are not in a position to receive the Spirit.  But if our hands are open, palms up, then we are ready to have the Spirit come and be the Wild Person he came to be, just like a tornado and a blazing fire.  If there is something the Church needs more than anything else today it is someone:  the Holy Spirit.  Come, Holy Spirit, we need you.