Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21
I heard a story the other day about a boy who was wandering around Durham Cathedral one Sunday morning and stopped to look at a large bronze plaque that was hung on the wall near the entrance. What are all those names up there? He asked one of the ushers. Those are the names of people who died in the service, the usher replied. Appearing very concerned and agitated, the boy asked the usher – the 9:30 service or the 11 o’clock service? I have no intentions of putting you to death in this morning service, but I want us to talk about birthdays because I absolutely love them. But I don’t want to talk about my birthday; I want us to talk about the birthday of our church -not the URC, but the birthday of the universal church of Christ – the birthday of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the birthday which we celebrate today.
Every year we celebrate Pentecost -that day when God poured out his Holy Spirit upon all flesh as he promised through the prophet Joel. But it strikes me that for all our talk about the gift of the Spirit and how it creates, upholds, and sustains the church as a whole, we often miss the full significance of what God has given us – we miss it because we fail – in all our talk and in all our listening – to ask ourselves: How has God gifted me in particular as an individual? I read a fascinating story the other day of a man called kayienga in south western Uganda in the town of Kasese near the Ruwenzori Mountains. He was a peasant farmer who had been going through a very rough time and the local bank was threatening to sell his land as he was unable to keep up with the loan repayments he had taken in order to pay his son university fees. Sometime in 2006 a seismographic crew arrived on his land and said that there might be oil on his land and could they test drill. After a lease was signed they went ahead. At less than 10,000 feet a huge oil reserve was struck. Two more wells revealed even more oil than the first one contained.
Mr Kayienga owned the oil and mineral rights as they were all in his land. That’s not to say, the government of Uganda didn’t try to steal the land! He had been living on hand outs from a well off neighbour and doing 12 hour shifts of manual labour just to feed his family yet he was a millionaire. Just think about it, he owned all that oil with its tremendous potential, yet he did not realize it. How often are we like this, poor and helpless; unaware of the extraordinary power that we have available to us; that which is lying just below the surface in our minds and our hearts. Each one of us here has been given by God our own special day of Pentecost – a day on which God imparted to us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What God gives us when he gives us his Spirit is more than strength, support, teaching and comfort, those things we normally identify with God’s presence; He gives us more than joy, peace, patience, and kindness, those things which we call the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He gives us gifts designed for the building up of the body of the church, and for the individual ministries to which we are called, and for our spiritual life.
The prophet Joel, in his prophecy of the last days, mentions some of the gifts that have been granted by God through his Spirit: gifts of vision, dreams and prophecy poured out upon our young and upon our old. Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost speaks of the gift of tongues – of languages both angelic and human – to those assembled there so that they will not think the disciples are drunk or mad – And Paul – who in the long run – was the most experienced of all the apostles with the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, lists some of the gifts that God gives and explores with the Corinthian congregation how those gifts can be used and abused. A book that I am reading right now lists twenty-seven gifts of the Spirit – Some of them are – the gift of teaching, the gift of discernment, the gift. of exhortation- the gift of hospitality the gift of intercession- the gift of the word of wisdom- the gift of prophecy- the gift of faith- the gift of administration the gift of helping and the gift of mercy.
Each of these gifts are spiritual gifts – to be distinguished from the natural talent we are born with – they are gifts of our second birth – and can transform an apparently untalented person into someone who has a remarkable ability to minister to others. What gifts do you have? What gift or set of gifts has God poured out upon you so that you might love and serve your God and your neighbour in the way God has intended especially for you? Thinking about this and trying to identify within yourself what God has given to you – to use in his work is a very profitable exercise , because it forces us to think about what God wants to do through us. It forces us to pray and to read the scriptures and to think about what God has done through us in the past and where we feel he is leading us now. And when we do that we activate the Spirit within us, we bring its power to the forefront of our lives.
What gift or gifts has God given you for your second birth? Discovering the answer to this question is so profitable an exercise that I suggest that you get together with three or four of your brothers and sisters in Christ and try a simple exercise. Sit with a piece of paper and pen and have these people name to you one or more of your strengths or your qualities – and write them down. Let each person have a turn as the one in the spotlight. It’s a powerful experience, one in which you begin to see what God has done and is doing in your life. That is kind of what happened with Mr Kayienga in Uganda- someone helped him to see what lay beneath the surface, and he discovered that he was a rich man and his life of poverty and desperation was transformed into a life of abundance and of immense joy I hope.
He found what had always been there, and he used it to change his life and his family if not his village. That is what the Spirit is about, what the gifts are about. They are there to be used in the work of God, a work to which all of us are called, and which, when we all serve as we are intended – transforms us, our church, the communities we live in and the wider world into what God intends us to be. So on this day as we celebrate the birthday of the church, may the spirit be with you! Amen.