Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 6, 2017

Directed By The Spirit

I Corinthians 12:3-13


3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 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. 13 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.


Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the day we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit in to the world and the birth of the church. It’s called Pentecost because it occurred 50 days after Easter, and pente refers to 50. Many Jews were in Jerusalem on that 50th day because it coincided with the Festival of Weeks, which was a celebration that happened at the time of the wheat harvest, and it commemorated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai seven weeks after the Exodus.


You might say there was a mighty convergence that occurred on that day. People were in Jerusalem to commemorate their religious heritage and to celebrate their harvest when all of a sudden this mighty wind swooped through town and established a new channel of communication with God. In many ways it disrupted the city and the Jewish community, but it wasn’t just disruptive – God sent the Holy Spirit to bring people together in a new way. It was God’s effort to establish a new form of unity between people and with heaven. It was an event that would change the world forever.


There’s a nice article in this month’s edition of Arkansas Living, which is a publication of the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corporation. It’s an interview with a good United Methodist woman named Laurel Ellis, who is someone I’m acquainted with from Wynne. She will have her 102 birthday in August, and Mrs. Ellis currently lives in a retirement home that my father lived in for a period of time after he had a stroke. She grew up and lived in what’s known as the Jolly Ellis community which is on the west side of Wynne, and this article focuses on her experience with the arrival of electricity to that community.


That part of Cross County is served by Woodruff Electric Cooperative, and she can remember when they first put up the poles and ran electricity to their home. This was in the late 1930’s and she was married with one young child at the time. They were living in a house that was lit with a kerosene lamp and heated with a wood stove. The only refrigeration at the time was provided by a hole in the ground lined with cardboard that would hold a large chunk of ice. Their first electric device was a single light bulb that hung from the ceiling, which was amazingly helpful to them, but she said the first appliance she got was a washing machine – which turned a day-long project in to a relatively automatic process.


It was interesting to read of the way the arrival of electricity changed their lives, and how grateful she was for how it had effected them. It’s amazing to me how close we are to a world that was largely unelectrified. The arrival of electricity was such a good thing for so many people, but I guess we’re currently dealing with the downside of this progress. We’re heating up our atmosphere generating all of that electricity, and our next challenge is to figure out how to keep our cherished appliances going without doing ourselves in.


It seems like there’s almost always a downside to the advancements we make. In addition to all of the great appliances and devices that we enjoy, one of the most amazing things we have is access to information. It’s unfathomable how easily we can gather information about whatever it is we want to know. You might say we’re bombarded by information, but there’s a downside to this as well. We’ve got access to a world of information, but our access to the truth remains very illusive, and the largest obstacle between us and the truth is largely self-imposed. Our access to the truth is deterred by what we think we already know.


When we already think we know something it influences where we go to learn more about what we are inclined to believe. This has become a terrible problem for political discourse in our country. Our appetite to know more about what we already believe motivates some of our most popular news organizations to deliver the news with a clear bias. Right leaning news outlets provide information that right leaning consumers want to hear and left-leaning news outlets provide information that their constituents want to hear. Our most respected news organizations try hard to present the news from an unbiased position, but what that means is that we become suspicious of anything we hear that conflicts with what we believe to be true.


It’s an unfortunate pattern of behavior in our country, and it isn’t serving us well. I hate to mention the all-too-familiar phrase, fake news, in my sermon this morning, but that has become a popular way of labelling any information that we don’t find to be convenient. I’m not saying that there isn’t such a thing as fake news, but one person’s fake news has become another person’s gospel truth. We as a nation are huge consumers of information and terrible discerners of truth.


But I had an experience this last week that put me in touch with the difference between seeking information for justification and seeking information for knowledge. It happened because I’ve embarked upon a project that I don’t understand.


After hearing of my affection for sailing my little 8’ plastic rowboat, Jim McLarty very graciously provided me with a 16’ Hobie Cat sailboat that had been parked out at the airport for a few years. It’s a 1976 model, but it’s classic design that hasn’t really changed over the last 40 years. But between the trailer and the boat there are a few issues that need to be addressed, and I’ve been trying to get it both roadworthy and seaworthy.


Jim gave me the original handbook and a few other materials that are helpful, but as you know, the internet has all the information you would ever want about anything, and I’ve found some really helpful videos about all sorts of things. I haven’t gotten to the point of watching a video on how to sail a boat like that, but I’ve been able to see how to take things apart and put things together. I’ve also been able to find and order the parts I need. If I happen to get it all together and if I learn how to operate it I’ll try to organize an event on Greer’s Ferry Lake one day. There are some significant if’s in that sentence, but maybe everything along with the weather will cooperate one day.


But my main point of this little aside is that there’s a far difference between searching the internet for information that you know you need to have and scanning the internet to find further evidence to support what you already think. One is motivated by your need for knowledge you know you don’t have and the other is to bolster sense of righteousness.


Now I’m not saying it’s a terrible thing to pursue information that will feed your righteous indignation about one thing or the other. I know I can’t keep myself from some recreational reading of articles that will feed my appetite for outrage. But it’s such a different thing to approach a subject with desire to learn than it is to gather information to build a case for what you believe.


And I’m thinking there’s a powerful lesson here in regard to the way we engage with something more amazing and all-encompassing than the internet. I think it’s hard for us to imagine, but the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world was more life-changing than the coming of electricity to a rural community, and more empowering than the internet. Like so many other things we take for granted, I don’t think we recognize the kind of influence the Holy Spirit can continue to have on our lives. While it entered Jerusalem in a spectacular fashion, it’s enduring presence isn’t so dramatic – at least not in an obvious way. It doesn’t call attention to itself, and for this reason we are often oblivious to it’s presence.


And even when we think to acknowledge it and to seek it’s guidance we are often more interested in gaining it’s blessing and support than we are in hearing it’s call and responding to it’s promptings. I think we often approach the Holy Spirit in the same we approach the internet when we are engaged in political advocacy – we think of it as a tool to provide us with more information to support what we already think. When we try to use the Holy Spirit in this way we aren’t truly accessing it’s power and presence.


I believe our challenge as Christians is to maintain the attitude of those who make no assumptions about our knowledge of God. This is not to say that we can have no knowledge of God, but we must never assume that we know too much about what God intends. I believe God seeks to use us and that God directs us in powerful ways, but God’s ways aren’t like our ways, and it’s easy for us to forget this.


I think this passage from Paul of the way in which the Holy Spirit uses us is a powerful testimony to the beautiful way in which we are to work with each other in order to function in this world as the living presence of the body of Christ. We aren’t all to do the same thing, but God has provided a way for us all to be guided by the same spirit that was in Jesus Christ.


We can’t really imagine what life was like before the Holy Spirit came blowing in to the world, but I think we can tell the difference between when we are actually listening for the Holy Spirit to guide and empower our lives and when we are trying to use the Holy Spirit to justify our self-generated agendas. If we are genuinely seeking we may find our lives as transformed as was the daily life of Laurel Ellis when electricity came to the western side of Cross County. But if we are using the Holy Spirit in the same way we often use the internet we are simply be puffing ourselves up with meaningless words and creating distance between ourselves and the truth.


The arrival of the Holy Spirit is a big and beautiful thing. It’s more life changing than electricity and it’s more expansive than the internet. If we as individuals and as a community of faith can learn to truly listen and respond to it’s powerful presence there’s no limit to what we can do. This is the biggest if that there is, but by the grace of God, we can and will.


Thanks be to God. Amen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: