Rev Frank’s June 7, 2014 sermon

I Corinthians 12:4
June 7, 2014
Westmount Park United Church

In the second chapter of the Book of Acts Luke tells us that fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, when his disciples were gathered together, they experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, first as a noise like the rushing of a mighty wind and then as what looked like tongues of fire. The Gospel of John has a different version of how Jesus’ disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He relates how the risen Christ came into their midst in the evening of the very day of his resurrection and then breathed upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [John 20:22] It is not surprising that the spirit of God should be associated with a mighty wind or a gentle breath for in both Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Bible was written, there is but one word for breath, wind and spirit, and there are lots of places in scripture where the actions of God’s spirit are described as breath or wind. For instance, in the opening verses of Genesis, God’s spirit moves on the face of the waters, blowing across the formless void. [Genesis 1:2] Then God breathes into the first humans and they become living beings. [Genesis 2:7] Job says, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” [Job 33:4] And Ezekiel has a vision of God breathing life into the dead bones of the House of Israel to bring them back to life.
It’s not surprising that the Spirit of God should be described as wind or breath, and it’s also not surprising that there should be two very different descriptions of how the disciples of Jesus received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, because people’s experiences of God have always been greatly varied. That’s why Paul, in our reading from First Corinthians, speaks of there being a great variety of gifts from the one spirit of God. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” [I Corinthians. 12:4 7] People experience the presence of God’s spirit in their lives in many different ways and the whole community of faith is enriched and strengthened when everyone’s experiences and gifts are honoured, when the variety of gifts which God has given are shared, as Paul says, “for the common good.” The more we are able to share of ourselves with one another the richer our fellowship will become. God has blessed every one of us with the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit, although we may have experienced God in quite different ways. For some the analogy of a gentle blowing or a quiet breath may be most appropriate, while for others an analogy of a noisy rushing wind with flashing flames of fire may best describe their experience of God in their lives. But whatever our experience and history might be we must remember that nobody’s experience of God is definitive or superior. God’s spirit touches each of us, therefore everyone has gifts to share and everybody’s story is worth telling.
That’s the point of a tale that is told about what happened in an old parish church somewhere in Britain. The story goes that a church was preparing to celebrate its 500th anniversary so, of course, a planning committee was set up and many events were planned, with former rectors being recalled to take part in the festivities. But the highlight of the celebration was to be a series of three consecutive Sunday worship services culminating on Pentecost Sunday. Naturally the key question for the committee was, “Who will be asked to preach?” Eventually the bishop was consulted and he quite enthusiastically recommended Brother Stephen, a monk from a nearby monastery with a very deep sense of spirituality. The bishop felt that he would be the ideal person to preach on the three Sundays leading up to and including Pentecost. The committee gladly accepted the bishop’s advice and invited Brother Stephen to preach at their three special 500th anniversary services.
Soon the months of preparation were over and the time of celebration was upon them. People came from far and wide to worship on the first special anniversary Sunday and everything seemed to build to the moment when brother Stephen mounted the pulpit. After a time of silence he spoke. “How many of you know what I’m going to say today?” All eyes were on the monk. No one moved. Finally Brother Stephen spoke again. “Well, since you all have no idea what I’m here to talk about there isn’t much point in my continuing. Let’s just be silent for a moment.” And he sat down.
After the service the bishop drove the monk back to the monastery. No one spoke in the car until brother Stephen went to get out and the bishop said, “Brother, I hope you will spend adequate time in the preparation of next Sunday’s sermon, especially the content.” “Oh yes, your grace,” said brother Stephen, “I certainly will.”
Meanwhile back in the parish things were buzzing, particularly in the planning committee which came up with a scheme to ensure that Brother Stephen would preach a sermon the next Sunday. When it arrived another large crowd of worshippers had assembled and everyone held their breath when Brother Stephen mounted the pulpit to deliver the sermon. The monk paused for a moment of silence and then spoke. “How many of you know what I’m going to say today?” Instantly hands shot up all over the church. Brother Stephen looked out over the sea of raised arms and then spoke again. “Well, since you all seem to know what I’m going to say there’s not much point in my saying it. Let’s just be silent for a moment.” And he sat down.
On the way back to the monastery that day the Bishop said, “Brother Stephen, I am very concerned that you do a great deal of preparation for your sermon next Sunday.” “Oh, don’t worry your Grace,” said the monk, “I will certainly prepare myself well.”
Meanwhile the planning committee had another emergency meeting and came up with what they were sure would be a foolproof plan to ensure that Brother Stephen would deliver a full sermon on Pentecost Sunday. In no time at all it seemed the next Sunday had arrived and with it the time of worship that was to be the crowning event of their anniversary celebrations. There was tense anxiety in the air as Brother Stephen mounted the pulpit for the third time and looked out over the assembled multitude. As was his custom he paused a moment before beginning and then he spoke. “How many of you know what I’m going to say today?” This time all the hands on the right side of the church shot up and all the hands on the left side stayed down. Brother Stephen surveyed this rather curious division for a moment and then he spoke again. “After the service would those on the right side tell those on the left side what they know.” And he sat down.
After the service on the way back to the monastery all was silent in the bishop’s car until Brother Stephen went to get out. At that point the bishop turned and said, “Brother Stephen, that was an excellent sermon you preached today.”
We have all been gifted by the Holy Spirit, and the common good of all is best served when we all share our gifts and experiences with one another.