Summary: A sermon for Pentecost Sunday about the uniting power of the Holy Spirit.
We are dealing with a major problem of division in our modern culture. Even if you have your head stuck in a hole, it’s not hard to take notice of the rifts that are popping up in every facet of society. There’s division between rich and poor, between conservative and liberal. We are divided along racial lines and religious convictions. Ken and I were talking the other day about how the gap between the rich and the poor is starting to feel more like the Grand Canyon. Except, it’s not the rich on one side and the poor on the other; instead, it’s the rich on either side of the Canyon and the poor drowning in the river at the bottom. And that’s just one example. We are facing these chasms in every part of our lives and in our relationships with one another. There has been a lot of chatter in the last two weeks about a schism in the United Methodist Church. Again, a reflection of what is happening in our wider culture. And it’s not just that we are divided in so many ways, we are also very malicious to those who stand “on the other side.” We act as if we are better because of our beliefs, or our lot in life, or the ball team we cheer for, or whatever. It’s really, really awful; scary even, especially when we see these divisions infiltrating even our churches.
When Paul was writing his first letter to the Corinthians, he was dealing with a problem of division there, too. It turns out the Corinthians had fallen into this worldly trap of creating a hierarchy where there was no need for one, and some people were setting themselves over and above the others. The young Christians placed a high premium on the gift of speaking in tongues; they had come to view this as the supreme gift of the Spirit. As a result, those who could not or did not speak in tongues were considered to be inferior. The Corinthian church was dividing, but the thing is the Church was never MEANT to be divided. The Church was intended to be like Christ himself continuing to work in the world; one body serving and bringing glory to God’s kingdom. By the power of the Spirit, the Church was created to be Christ’s hands and feet. And the thing is, for that to work, it takes all members cooperating in harmony; the feet to do the walking, the hands to do the healing, the mouths to do the teaching. Without any of these parts, the church’s work is incomplete, and that is why EVERY GIFT used for the common good is “a gift of the Spirit;” no more, and no less important than any other gift!
For the Corinthians, it was division about what was “truly” spiritual. In our day, churches divide over all kinds of things. We could play “fill in the blank” for hours; who can take communion, whether to baptize infants or adults, who can be ordained, what color the carpet should be, and on and on and on! The problem with this is the fact that the Church shouldn’t be like the culture, especially when culture is divided. The church is intended to be a united front, reflecting God’s kingdom of wholeness in the world.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost, an extremely important day in the life and history of Christianity and the Christian church. Just as Christmas celebrates the day of Christ’s birth, and Easter his resurrection from the dead, Pentecost is the day which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit among believers. Before his ascension, Jesus had promised his followers that he would not leave them “as orphans,” but that he would send a Companion to be with them forever. Well, on that first Pentecost, that’s exactly what happened, and the Holy Spirit has been the Companion of believers ever since!
But the thing about Pentecost is that when God gave the Holy Spirit to that first gathering of believers, it was God’s Spirit not just for the INDIVIDUAL believers, but for the WHOLE Church. The story of Pentecost as recorded in Acts tells us that, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, [the believers] were all together in one place.” Did you hear that? They were all together. And what we hear this morning from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is that the power of the Holy Spirit is revealed most clearly in how it unites a diverse body of believers under the headship, the Lordship, of Christ!
Paul’s metaphor of the many “parts” (or members) of the body is one of the most powerful in scripture. It’s so easy for us to see in our mind’s eye the picture of a body working in perfect harmony. The ears listening to the sounds as the eyes take in the surroundings. The brain processes the information, while the hand writes—taking notes, and the mouth speaks, sharing the experience. Without any one part of our body, our whole life experience suffers.