The Spirit Gives Variety

The Spirit Gives Variety

The Spirit Gives Variety            Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21   1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Years ago, I was serving a church in north Idaho. There was a man in our church, Clayton Stoltz, who came to worship every other Sunday. Sometimes he would apologize for missing church so frequently, but he had an appointment with the Alzheimer’s men in the nursing home. Every other day, he would take his shaver and shave these men, while a stream of conversation flowed (even if he was the only one talking). These men trusted him, and they loved having a clean shave, and he loved doing it. So, whenever Clayton apologized for missing worship, I always told him, “Clayton, you have a ministry. Don’t let church get in the way of your ministry!”

Now, the reason I am telling you about Clayton is because I want to hold him up as an example of a unique way that the Spirit both enabled him and used him to do work that is pleasing to God. God gave him “the gift of gab” and his easy talk set the men at ease while his compassion for their situation made him a most useful caregiver! What an awesome ministry!

Today, as we know, is Pentecost Sunday—when we celebrate the day that God’s Holy Spirit filled up Disciples that were hiding in the upper room, then propelled them out into Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ! But it’s also a day to take a look at what the Holy Spirit is doing IN us and THROUGH us 2000 years later. I am excited about exploring the varieties of gifts that God has given us by the Spirit. So let’s take a look at our texts.

Acts 2: Wind and Flames

Every year at this time, we hear the account in Acts of how the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples and sent them out, able to speak in such a way that ALL the visitors in Jerusalem from other lands heard the Gospel in their own language! From this day forward, they are referred to as Apostles—“sent-out-ones”—because Christ had commissioned them to be his witnesses, and the Holy Spirit sent them out into the world. While some in Jerusalem were amazed, there were others who sneered and accused them of drinking before 9 in the morning! (Isn’t it sad that, even in the middle of a miracle, there are people so blind to God’s activity that they just sneer at what is going on?!) But Peter made it clear that this was simply the fulfillment of what God had promised through Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

This tells me two things:

  1. God pours out the Spirit when and where God chooses;
  2. Not everyone will perceive it, even when they are standing in the midst of miracles. (Those who have eyes to see, let them see.)

1 Corinthians 2     Varieties of Gifts, Services, Activities

Paul tells the Christians in Corinth, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” He gives them some examples of various spiritual gifts, all given by the Spirit for the common good. Friends, this is a message we need to hear again and again, because of our human tendency to value sameness—uniformity. We are all aware of churches that insist that all their members hold the exact same core beliefs—valuing homogeneity over variety. But Paul is very clear here—variety is God’s plan, and sameness is not ideal.

Years ago, Madeline L’Engle wrote a book called A Wrinkle in Time. In it, the characters travel to a place where sameness/uniformity are the highest value. All the children come out into their front yards at the same time, play the same game, and bounce their balls in exact rhythm with each other. One little child expresses the tiniest bit of individuality and bounces the ball OUT of rhythm with the others, and the anxious mother has to run out and grab the child and take it inside before this “violation of sameness” is noted by the authorities.

I think of that awful imagery whenever I encounter a rigid expectation of uniformity and conformity, and I give thanks for the testimony of Scripture that variety is divine! It would NOT be helpful if everyone had the same gifts and ministry as everyone else! Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In other words, everyone experiences God’s Spirit in a different way, and each of us uses our God-given gifts in our own unique fashion—thereby giving glory to God, the author of every good and perfect gift.

Paul uses the metaphor of the human body, which is made up of many different parts. Each part has a function which is different from the other parts. But you put them all together, working together in harmony, not worrying that one part works in a different way from the others—and you have a smooth-running machine! This is the ideal for the church.

But one of the problems the Body of Christ sometimes experiences is in how we respond to the Holy Spirit. I have been with Christians who firmly believe that, when Christians gather for worship, everyone should be “speaking in tongues.” They think that if you’re NOT, then you have not yet received the Holy Spirit!

Anytime we try to make one experience NORMATIVE for all, we are succumbing to that natural human tendency to value sameness. It happens with any practice, and with any deeply-held belief—we try to make our preference the standard for all others! And that’s an inclination we have to fight! After all, imagine that someone had asked Paul, “How do I become a Christian?”, and he had told them: “Well, first you go to Jerusalem and persecute the church. Then you head for Damascus to round up some Christians to put in jail, and Jesus will confront you on that road and turn your life around!” We would just laugh, because NO ONE EXPERIENCE of God is normative for everyone else.

So, if you find the Spirit moving you to serve God in a way that has never been done before, or a way that is not being done now, do everything you can to be open to God’s leading.

Let God use all of your life’s experiences and education and passion to be the preparation for what the Spirit is NOW leading you to do! Like my friend, Clayton StoltzJ

I want to leave you with this thought: The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to be separate from each other—physically. But the Spirit has been moving us to connect with each other through other means! I have experienced the beauty and wonder of seeing connections strengthened through this forced separation—and I celebrate, with you, being One Body in Jesus Christ. And I will remind you of that passage in First Timothy that has lately become a recurring theme for us: “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you…fan into flames the gift of God that is within you…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-sacrifice.”

Christ who lives in you has something he wishes to do through you!