Friday, June 17, 2011

The Day of Pentecost, Year A, June 12, 2011

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox

I want to tell you the story of a hat. But not just any hat. This was a very special hat.

This Hat was created to be like no other hat, ever.

She had a small oval face, pleasant but not particularly notable. Rather empty and vacant-looking, in fact. On either side—Antlers! Swirling up into the air, swooping and sweeping and swinging around to create all sorts of exuberant patterns. Or maybe they were flames of fire. Or ribbons. In any case, there was a lot of energy there in those swooping, sweeping, swinging sidebars.

This Hat was made for a purpose, to make others take notice. And they did.

When she would go out, all the other hats would notice her, and look at her with that sneaky sideways squinty look, you know… “There she goes again. Who does she think she is, making all that hullabaloo? She needs to learn her place.”

The Hat didn’t mind. She knew who she was, and what she was about. So she just let those other hats give her those sideways squinty looks.

And then one day, an invitation arrived, to a Very Important Wedding. A Royal Wedding, in fact. All the Very Important Hats would be there, with their Very Important People below them. And this Hat was invited.

So on the day of the wedding, she went into church on top of her Very Important Person. As they entered, the other hats saw her, and gave her that sneaky sideways squinty look like they always did. “Look at her, making such a commotion. Who does she think she is? She really ought to learn her place.”

She went into the church , and was seated behind a VERY VERY Important Hat indeed. And every time the photographers and television cameras turned to look at the Very Very Important Hat and her Very Very Important Person, the other Hat was in the picture too.

She had a purpose for being there, you see. She was there to remind all those other Hats about a Hat who was absent, who had not been invited to the Very Important Wedding. Every time she was seen, and someone wondered “What is SHE doing here?” they had to remember the other hat—and the other person—who had not been invited. Who had not been welcomed. Who had been ignored, and kept away.

That hat was there to make those Very Important Hats—and their Very Important People—a little bit uncomfortable. Or maybe more than a little bit. She was there for a reason.

By now you are wondering, what on earth does this hypothetical hat have to do with the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrate today?

Listen again to the Epistle…

(1 Corinthians 12:3b-13))

No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
Now 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. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
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. 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.

Each of us was given some manifestation of the Holy Spirit, for the common good.

We didn’t earn these gifts. We didn’t go out and buy them, or pick them off a tree, or find them in the washing machine when we cleaned out the lint trap. There were given to us, free and clear and not even the least little bit because of our doing.

“To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom …”, and knowledge, and faith, and healing, and so on… and all with a purpose. All this with a single goal in mind: that God’s people shall be made more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. More and more converted and transformed into the body of Christ in this world.

Your gift is your gift. You did not choose it, but it was chosen for you. (As Jesus tells the disciples in the Upper Room, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16) And it may be that you’ve looked at some other gift, someone else’s particular (or even peculiar) adornment with that same sideways squinty look, wishing that you could have had that gift. That you could have worn that hat instead.

Do not wish it. Your gift is your gift, it was chosen for you. That hat was made just for you.

Every gift, every skill, every experience, even every struggle and challenge, has a place. I do not believe that God desires anyone to experience suffering; I do believe that God can, and does, act in and through any experience, including suffering and disaster. The image of the healthy well-functioning body, the complex psychological and physical system which knows instantly of distress in the extremities or deep within the core, gives us an image of what this “Body of Christ” business might be about. All the parts are different—they do different things, they look very different from one another. All are necessary; all the parts are “for” one another. In just a few sentences, Paul reminds his hearers that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (I Cor. 12:26)

When Jesus speaks to his friends in the gospel reading, we are told that it was evening, “on that day.” What day?

The day of Resurrection—Easter Day. We’ve gone through the fifty days of Easter season and we’re right back where we started from: With the disciples in the upper room, locked inside, windows shuttered, in fear of what might happen next. And Jesus is there, right there with them. What does he say? “Peace be with you!” No recrimination, no blame, no “Look what you did to me!” He does show them his hands and his side, but not to put them on a guilt trip—they’re already doing that well enough to themselves!

Peace be with you. Not once, but twice. And then the giving of the Holy Spirit—this is John’s version of the story of Pentecost.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
(Peterson: If you forgive someone’s sins, they are gone for good.
If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”)

This gift, he gives to everyone. Not just the select few.
All can forgive sins.

Not all have wisdom, or knowledge, or healing gifts, or all the rest. But forgiveness is for all.

On the day of Pentecost they were together in one place. On the day after Pentecost, they all went in a thousand directions, as the Spirit led them out to tell the good news they had received. To share the gifts they had been given.

There are lots of different ways of being Christ’s body in the world. Lots of outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace which is ours, not by our own doing, but as gift.

What is your outward and visible sign? What does it look like, that unique, particular, even peculiar hat, specially crafted and chosen for you? And…what will you do with it?

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