A sermon for Pentecost Sunday – 8 June 2014

SCRIPTURE:    Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19–23

In I Corinthians 12, Paul writes about the various gifts of the Spirit. And out of this chapter and similar passages in Romans and elsewhere, a large industry has developed to help us discover our gifts. Fill out this form; take this quiz; answer these questions, and you will discover the gifts the Spirit has given you.

Assessment industry
Of course it is all part of the massive assessment industry. We have interest tests to determine what career we should pursue, aptitude tests to determine cognitive abilities, psychometric tests to check all sorts of things from IQ and EQ to management potential and job fit.

Now these are very useful tools in the business world. But the problem is that they all work on the basis of averages. The majority of sales people fit into this pattern. The majority of great managers fit this profile. Your profile suggests that you will have trouble in this area.

Such assessments are very helpful. But if you want your business, your NGO, your school, to be better than ordinary, then you want your employees to be better than ‘normal’. You don’t want ordinary employees that fit the ordinary profile; you want to find some extraordinary ones.

An apprentice
Let me give you a couple of examples from different ends of the employment spectrum. We were employing apprentices, and we settled on one particular person who simply didn’t fit the normal boxes for selection as an apprentice. She was a woman (a first in that position), ‘old’ for an apprentice and married. However she flew through every interview we had and impressed all the males who were interviewing her.

Trial period
We took her on for a trial period of three months to assess her before spending money sending her to college. During that time I sent her for formal assessments including numeracy and technical ability tests. The main test used by the industry has five areas of assessment, and she failed. I said to the managers that the test strongly suggested that she would fail her college exams. If we took her on and sent her to college, we would be wasting a huge amount of money, and a lot of our time, as well as about a year of her life.

The overwhelming response from the factory floor, from supervisors to senior management was, ‘We want her.’ She had made such an impression in the couple of months she had been with us, that they were all rooting for her. We decided to take the chance.

College
She went to college, struggled a bit, did a bit better and then sat her first exams. Her mother died the day before she wrote her first paper. And I thought, well that’s that. She might have pulled through by some miracle, but that chance has gone. However, the family held back the funeral; she continued to write that week, and passed comfortably. When I left the organisation, she was still flying and she was an asset to the company.  She didn’t fit the norm, but if you want your business to fly, employ someone better than normal.

A general manager
In an NGO I’m involved with we were looking for a General Manager to run the show. It’s an educational NGO so educational boxes had to be ticked; but it’s an NGO, so fundraising is critical. The person we liked didn’t have fundraising experience. We decided to take the risk. And you know what we have discovered over the past ten years? If your organisation is flying, if your organisation is doing extraordinary things, people want to be part of it. Through her passion for the children and her passion for education she has been able to draw an extraordinary team around her creating extraordinary results that (so far) donors have not been able to resist.

Better than normal
Our very normal concern for the very normal area of fundraising could not foresee that her extraordinary mix of passion and abilities, which wouldn’t fit onto a nice normal graph, would enable her to be better than normal and to achieve extraordinary results.

Paul says something similar in his message to the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit. And he says the same thing to the Romans and the Ephesians and anyone else he writes to about the gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on the Spirit
The confusion over the gifts and the work of the Spirit that has led to so much anger and bitterness in the Church doesn’t come from Paul. Paul is very clear when he writes about the Spirit. We are the ones who have confused matters. Paul, you see, doesn’t focus on the gifts. Paul focusses on the Spirit who gives the gifts; the Spirit who equips the people of God.

We focus on the gifts
We, on the other hand, focus on the gifts. We think it’s the gifts that are important. (It’s certainly the more spectacular thing; and we love the spectacular.) So we look at what everyone else has got and what everyone else is doing, and we assess ourselves against we think is the ‘norm’; what we think we ought to look like if we have the Spirit. Do we fit the pattern? Do we fit the graph? Are we ‘normal’?

But the work of the Spirit is not normal; it doesn’t fit into a pattern that can be measured and sorted and bottled and charted on a graph.

God is doing extraordinary things through his extraordinary Spirit working through ordinary people. In Acts 2, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:

‘(17) I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. (18) Yes, even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will proclaim my message. (19) I will perform miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood, fire, and thick smoke; (20) the sun will be darkened, and the moon will turn red as blood, before the great and glorious Day of the Lord comes.  (21) And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.’

John van de Laar writes about a new understanding of the book of Acts. He says: ‘(Re-reading Acts) has convinced me that the essence of Pentecost is not the outpouring of the Spirit – as if the Spirit was somehow absent before this day – but the simple, profound changes in the lives of ordinary people whose ordinary lives changed their cities and their world.’

Make us better than normal
You see, it’s not about how many prophets there are or preachers or tongues or this gift or that. But will we welcome the Spirit of God to do whatever he wants to do in us and through us? Not give us this gift or that, but to make us better than normal in our everyday lives, and to do his extraordinary work in us and through us, day after day after day.

Measure
And we can actually measure this extraordinary work of God in our lives. Oh no, not on a graph based on the gifts we have or the power of our preaching or how often we speak in tongues. Not even by the number of people we have converted or how long we spend on our knees.

Paul made it clear in Galatians 5: the measure of the Spirit’s work in our lives and in the life of our community is how much the fruit of the Spirit can be seen in us and experienced in our life together. Is love what we experience here? Is there joy and peace? Are we more patient with each other (and with taxi drivers)? Is there kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness? Is there less anger and more self-control?

1 Corinthians 14:12, ‘Since you are eager to have the gifts of the Spirit, you must try above everything else to make greater use of those which help to build up the church.’

And again, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul says the Lord gives these gifts ‘to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ.’

Love one another
You see, Jesus told us how the world would be saved, but we tend to ignore him, or not to take him too seriously. Jesus said that the way Christians relate to each other will determine the way the world reacts to our Saviour. (‘By your love for one another ….’  ‘Father, make them one ….’)

It is when the people of God hate each other and fight each other and deride each other, that the world turns its back on the church and on the God we supposedly serve. And it is when the people of God love one another, care for one another and do extraordinary things together that the world looks on in wonder and says, ‘See how they love one another.’

‘What does it mean?’
And then they will go on to ask the question they asked the disciples on the first Christian Pentecost: ‘What does it mean?’

Of course, they might go on to ask, ‘Are they drunk?’ But that’s okay. They are just trying to fit us into the patterns they know and recognise.

In fact, I would rather they asked us if we were drunk. Because I’m very much afraid that the communities around the church today are more likely to ask, ‘Are they alive?’

What do you do?
My friends, let me ask you. What is it that you do that supports the people of God, that encourages individuals, that helps someone who is struggling to take one more step? I encourage you to pray tonight for God to give you an opportunity this week to do just that – whatever it is that you do so well for him already.

What gets in the way?
And then a second prayer: what is it that you do that gets in the way of God’s love in your life and in your community? Are you prone to criticise people? Is there irritation and anger in you? Do you put people down, gossip or fail to notice people. Normal human reactions, I know. But I encourage you to pray with me tonight for God to give us strength this week to say no to whatever it is that divides or hurts or destroys. Just this week, for God to help you and me to be better than normal in the service of the Kingdom.

[Prayer to follow]

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6 Comments

Filed under Pentecost, Sermons

6 responses to “A sermon for Pentecost Sunday – 8 June 2014

  1. Pingback: A prayer for Pentecost | Wondering Preacher

  2. Bless you Ian for this message – it is definitely Holy Spirit-inspired.

  3. As always, Ian, you bring us a good message. Focusing on Christ and His Holy Spirit is crucial, rather than His gifts. And I love your question at the end, about what gets in my way….I am guilty on all counts, asking God yet again to help me be better at loving the way He loves. God bless you and your family, Ian.

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