Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Today is Pentecost, the day on which God gave his people a mission, and the gifts to accomplish that mission, pentecostal gifts. And in the process God played with his people’s perception of reality to get their attention in a new way.
A violent windstorm: pay attention.
Tongues of fire over their heads: look here.
A babble of foreign words, words spoken by the disciples in languages they had never learned, words understood by the greatly diverse population all around them. I’ve got a big job for you to go do: guess where?
What task do you think God wanted those with the flames above their heads to do? And with whom?
This story is very familiar to us Christians. We call this day Pentecost, the “Birthday of the Church.” So we have cake and sing “Happy Birthday to us” and blow out all 2,000-plus candles, metaphorically speaking.
On this day we also:
- Have the kids wave bandanas with the image of fire on them. Pay attention!
- Wear read and bring flame-colored balloons to remind us of the tongues of fire. Where shall we look?
- Read our second lesson in many languages to remind us of the gift of
multi-lingual-ism, the gift of many languages, the gift of our diversity. Right here at Resurrection.
I *LOVE* our traditions, and I am very glad that the members of our Worship Committee have ensured that these traditions are part of our worship today. As helpful and as fun as these traditions are, though, they definitely are NOT the real thing. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts—pentecostal gifts—to enable us to do things. And then the same Spirit agitates us into doing whatever mission God has for us to do.
In our Acts lesson today the Holy Spirit had a big job for the disciples to do: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” So why, do you think, the Spirit gave them the ability to communicate with the:
- Mesopotamians • Judeans • Cappadocians • Asians
- Phrygians • Pamphylians • Egyptians • Libyans
- Romans • Cretans • Alexandrians • Arlingtonians
- Annandalians • Woodbridgians • Fairfax Countians • and the like?
Among the spiritual gifts, the pentecostal gifts, are “speaking in tongues”—the gift that God gave to these disciples—and “interpretation of tongues,” the ability to speak the God-story in ways understandable to people of different languages.
God draws us together as a community, not just to care for each other, but to do the mission that God wants us to accomplish together. So knowing which spiritual gifts God has given to us gives us a hint about what wants God us to accomplish collectively. So knowing which spiritual gifts that we, Resurrection, have in abundance is a clue to our mission.
I was startled to note that our newest members these past three years have had largely the same spiritual gifts in great abundance: leadership, teaching, service, and interpretation of tongues.
Leadership is not meant here in a business sense, but in a spiritual way. Here leadership is not so much “being in control,” but the ability to see God-goals and communicate those goals in such a way that people voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish those goals. Yes, we have many leadership gifts here. What shall we lead?
Teaching is the special ability to communicate information relevant to the health and welfare of all people in such a way that others will learn. Yes, we have many teaching gifts here, and many retired teachers. Who and what is God trying to “un-retire” us to teach?
Service is the special ability that God gives to certain people to identify unmet needs involved in a task related to God’s work, and to make use of available resources to meet those needs and help accomplish the desired results. What service project does God want us to undertake?
Interpretation of Tongues is also a special ability, given by God, to make known in understandable ways the message of one who speaks the God-message.
I had expected the first two, leadership and teaching, and maybe even service, but interpretation of tongues? I hadn’t seen that one coming! This gift is not commonly found in abundance in Episcopal Churches, at least not in Episcopal churches with no charismatic members. In other words, we don’t speak in tongues in our tradition, so why do we have here at Resurrection the special God-given ability to interpret and teach God’s message across many cultural barriers?
At first, when pondering these results, I speculated that perhaps having a huge percentage of our congregation who speak many languages somehow skewed the outcome of the text. Yeah: a testing flaw! But after looking at the test questions again, and then looking at who our neighbors are here in the Beauregard Corridor, I’ve changed my mind about that.
So I’ll claim our corporate spiritual gifts here at Resurrection of:
- Leadership and service:
We are people with the spiritual gifts that enable us to innovate new answers and get people to work together to make those new answers work.
- Interpretation and teaching:
We are people with the spiritual gifts that enable us to hear and translate God’s message and share that message across many cultural barriers.
And the flame is over our heads. If you were here for our celebration of new ministry on May 11, you will know that Pentecost—KABOOM and all—isn’t just a historical event that we remember each year. Pentecost happened here, just two weeks ago. God told our whole City of Alexandria Episcopal Church: Look here. Pay attention. I’ve given these Resurrection people a mission and the gifts with which to accomplish that mission. And they told us back, “We’re right here with you.”
What task do you think God wants us, his disciples, to do with our God-gifts, our pentecostal gifts? And with whom?