s032ae02 Lockleys 19/5/02 Pentecost
"we were all made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Cor 12.13
As I read this passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to move from the general to specific people then back to everyone. So in verse 4 Paul says that "it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone" - with the emphasis on "everyone" So it seems that everyone has a particular and unique gift.
But then Paul goes on to list some particular gifts - the utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation. These seem to be a list of the "professional" gifts - the ones poured out on "special" people - whereas we "commoners" are left to use our set prayers "meekly kneeling on our knees"...
But then Paul goes back to the general. He again starts talking about everybody, Jews, Greeks, slaves, free - all ... "drink of one Spirit".
So my first question is does St Paul move from all people, to just some in particular, and then back to all in general? Or on the other hand are we to look at the list of specific gifts as just a sample of the huge variety of gifts the Holy Spirit pours out on all people. Others may have other gifts, all have got some unique gift, and each and every gift is given not primarily for the edification of the recipient, but that it may be exercised for the upbuilding of everyone.
Indeed it is precisely this last point that militates against looking at that list of "special" gifts for "special" people, for the gifts are for others not for the recipients at all.
So for me, the thrust of the passage is about perceiving the gifts in everyone, and recognising the importance of each of those God given gifts, rather than arbitrarily assigning special status to those listed.
I have always found this passage a difficult one to read, especially in Church, for inevitably the reader has to say the words "Let Jesus be cursed" aloud. I am always uncomfortable saying this, even as part of a reading. And I suspect I am not alone. Why would anyone say these words?
Yet this makes me wonder if we have actually got the drift of the message of Jesus - for sometimes I suspect we are called to find Jesus is some others we would prefer not to, and we are called to recognise the gifts of the Holy Spirit in others where we would prefer not. It is easier to believe that God works through people "like us" and that God cares less for others, for the down and outs or whoever, and doesn't work through them. But the reality is quite different, and we may find ourselves sometimes feeling like cursing Jesus when we realise we are called to recognise that *that* person has something to teach us, that *that* person has some contribution to make to our lives and we can't get out of it. And the expletive which immediately springs into my mind, when I realise this, is from that lovely Toyota tv advertisement, but I will use the sanitised near equivalent "bother" :-) I suppose I'm no different from anyone else here.
The other thing that strikes me is that the gifts of the Spirit seem predominantly verbal. Of the nine, I suppose faith, healing, miracles and discernment could be seen as less obviously verbal. But five in the list are definitely about the words we speak: the utterance of wisdom or knowledge, prophecy, tongues and interpretation.
I have often had cause to point out that the gift of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, was not on the hearers of the apostles enabling them to understand the words of the apostles as they praised God. No, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the members of the Church, so that they could speak the language of the hearers.
So often, as I have come through the Church, the Church has spent an inordinate amount of time teaching "others" the language of the Church so that "others" may *really* appreciate what we are on about. It is no wonder to me if people don't feel edified by this process. In fact, often people feel put down, for the learning of the language of the Church is never ending.
All forms of thought processes of which science is one, seem to categorise things using big words. These big words serve to differentiate one aspect from others, so its a bit like an anatomical dissection. But in the end, I suspect no one can ever expect to understand the complexities of life for all we might be able to articulate a plethora of big words.
In complete opposition to this, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first apostles to enable them to speak the languages of the hearers. So the Holy Spirit is poured out on us, that we may speak the lingo of ordinary people. So while I can appreciate the poetry of the 1662 Prayer Book, as we seek to relate to the real people around us we are given grace to learn their language.
And I am not suggesting that we need to learn Aboriginal dialects and set off for the outback, or learn the native tongues of the people of other non-Christian lands and become missionaries. The mission field I suggest is closer to home.
The mission field for some of us will be to listen to what our children have to say and to begin to understand their perceptions in life. We need to learn to speak their language and understand the issues from their perspective. Only recently the Diocesan Youth Officer spoke here at St Richard's of the different language young people speak.
One of the major lessons all students have to learn is to answer the question - the question set, not the one that you reckon you know the answer to :-) For all you might have the right answer if you haven't answered the question set, it is wrong. So no matter how much you and I believe "Jesus" is the answer to all the questions in life, if the question is what is furry, has a long tail and hops on it's powerful hind legs around outback Australia, the answer is a kangaroo - not Jesus.
One of the things that I've yet to learn is when a female type person asks me something is not to give the answer to the question they are asking, but to reply with a question like "Do you mean ...?" This shows I have been listening, which is often far more important than giving the right answer. While this might be somewhat "tongue in cheek" - the principle of listening is important. When we answer with a question we allow the other person to come to their own conclusions about the problem. Perhaps in just restating the question we inform their own thought processes without imposing our own answer. The trouble is, I'm a typical male and an engineer at that. Of course there is only one answer to a question, and it's not "Jesus", it's "mine!" :-)
While the gifts of the Holy Spirit are predominantly spoken, it is the special gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to listen and learn the language of others - before we speak. It is probably more important that any words we might eventually say.
How many children would be encouraged by their parents listening?
So when we have new people come into this Church, I think I have most frequently felt that new comers were welcome mainly because they were likely to guarantee the continuance of the fabric and structure of things here in the Church as they are at the moment. But this is subtly to insist that everyone speaks our language, and to insist that they consider important the same things we think are important. It is really saying that we expect people's only contribution will be their weekly offering in the collection and their unflagging admiration for what is here already.
However the Holy Spirit bids us look for the unique gifts others can bring, not see in others people to supplement our own ministries or ensure their continuation, world without end Amen.
One of the most frequent things I have "heard" members of the Church say, perhaps not out aloud, as I've gone through the Church, are the words of Martha: "Lord, do you not care that ... has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell ... then to help me."(Luke 10:40). I sometimes wonder if this is perhaps the only reason any "evangelism" takes place in the Anglican Church. And if it is so it is a begrudging evangelism. It is only done because we are forced to, and it is done not out of love for others or respecting the gifts they might bring, but only to "use them" for our purposes. No wonder people don't respond. Fortunately I've probably heard it less in recent times, for this is a rather stronger parish than most. Jesus doesn't accede to Martha's request, because each person has a unique ministry which will not be taken away from them. Martha's ministry is accepted as is Mary's. Martha has to learn to see that Mary has a ministry just like she has, and this lesson is as necessary for us to hear now as it was for Martha and Mary to hear then.
If people do come into our congregation and fellowship and we are not changed - we will have failed the newcomers and the Holy Spirit of God - and they have every right to go elsewhere.
But such changes are not to be avoided, for it will be us who will have learned to speak the language of another, and this is indeed evidence of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the cause for much rejoicing.
As we rejoice today in the particular outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first apostles may we too realise that we are "all made to drink of one Spirit." If we claim the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as ours, we too are all incited and enabled to speak the language of others.
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