June 12, 2011

Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

The wind was blowing yesterday. It was slamming the screen door and rattling the blinds of my house. It was pushing my little red car as I drove along the freeway so that I had to hang on tight to the steering wheel. It was rustling through the branches of the trees and sending out showers of seeds through the air. And up above, it was streaking its way across the sky, playing with the clouds and creating an ever-changing display of God’s glory.

It makes a lot of sense to me that the Spirit of God should be compared to a rushing wind… an invisible force that seems to come out of nowhere, but that makes its presence and power seen and heard by its effect on whatever it blows upon.

I remember a friend in my church membership class years ago trying to describe what the Holy Spirit was. She said the Spirit is the “umph” I need to do and be what God is calling me to do and be. The Spirit is like the “divine shove” that disturbs us out of our resting places and moves us to start doing God’s work in the world.

That definition fits pretty well when you think about the Spirit being poured out on the gathered disciples on that first Pentecost day after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They described the Spirit as a rushing wind swirling around them, as tongues of fire resting upon them. It was a sudden, surprising, and powerful interruption of their quiet waiting, and the effect was that they got going.

I can imagine the wind of the Spirit blowing open the doors of the house where they were gathered. I can imagine the flames of firey Spirit flashing about and encouraging them to get moving. And out they went. Into the streets. And the Spirit somehow gave them the ability to tell of the mighty acts of God and to be understood by all the people of the world.

I often think about the Spirit when we’re trying to recruit volunteers in the church. Whether we’re looking for new elders or Board members, church school teachers or hospital visitors… we pray for the Spirit of God to help us think of the right person. And we pray for the Spirit to prompt that person to know whether they are, indeed, the right person for the job.

It’s easy in the church to get really worried about whether we will find enough willing volunteers to do all the different jobs we think we need to get done. We end up with a sheet of paper with slots to fill, and we have to find people willing to fill those slots.

But the danger is that we might stop thinking about the people because we get so wrapped up in filling the slots, of making sure that we have someone assigned to do all the jobs. For example, right now I’m looking for someone to take on the job of serving as the treasurer of Presbytery. It’s a very specific task, requiring a certain set of mathematical and organizational skills. And it’s a slightly different set of skills than is required of our nursery caregivers, for example.

But even if we think carefully about who we might ask to do certain ministries within the church, and even if we pray and ask the Spirit to lead us in our search, we’re still kind of going at it backwards, I think.

We’re starting with the job, and then looking for the person to do it. And I wonder if we really should be starting with the person, and asking God’s Spirit to show us what each one should be doing, what each one is being called to do, what each one has been gifted by the Spirit to do.

When I think about my own call to ministry, that’s the way it worked. There wasn’t someone who phoned me up and said, “Amanda, there’s going to be a minister needed in Saskatoon. Won’t you consider going to school and becoming a minister? We’re really going to need someone to fill that pulpit.”

Instead, my decision was part of a long process of discerning gifts, and listening for the Spirit, and preparing for ministry long before there was a slot to be filled in Saskatoon.

Now I suppose it doesn’t always work that way. When I became the Clerk of Presbytery it was the other way around. I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a clerk. I wasn’t feeling called to take the minutes, and keep the records, and take on the administrative role for the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan or for any Presbytery. But there was a need. And I thought about whether I COULD do it, whether I had the organizational skills required, or whether I could develop those skills. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt called by God to respond to that need and to trust the Spirit to help me get the job done.

One of the things that I noticed about the Pentecost story this week was that when the Spirit rushed into the house in Jerusalem that day, it didn’t pick one person to become the preacher or teacher of the Good News. Instead, the wind blew through all the gathered disciples, and a tongue of fire rested on each and every one of them.

Sure, as the church grew and developed, Jesus’ followers took on different tasks and responsibilities. But they were all filled with the Spirit, they were all gifted with the power of God, and they all used that power to spread the news about God’s goodness and love far and wide.

The Apostle Paul made it clear to the Christians at Corinth that God had an important part for every person to play in the church. He told them, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And that meant that the Spirit was filling each and every follower of Jesus, whether they were speaking in tongues and wowing the crowds, or whether they were simply and quietly caring for their sick neighbours.

Paul said, “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 every one.”

One of the topics that came up during our congregational planning retreat in April was spiritual gifts. And we dreamed about the possibility of doing something to help each other to figure out what gifts we have so that we can make good use of them for God.

The Stewardship Committee has a goal for next year to focus on Stewardship of our Spiritual Gifts. They’re going to invite everyone to join a small group and participate in a short program – probably just 2 or 3 gatherings – on spiritual gifts. It will be an opportunity to learn about different gifts and to discern what gifts we have been given… so that we can celebrate our gifts, and develop our gifts, and so that we can make good use of our gifts within the church and in our daily lives as God’s people.

Today I’m wearing my red stole for Pentecost. The embroidered doves on it are a symbol of the Holy Spirit, whom I trust is in me and around me, gifting and equipping me to do the work of ministry to which I have been called.

But I also invited YOU to wear red or orange or yellow this morning as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in your life and in our midst. Some of you heard that invitation, and some of you remembered. And as I look around, I see a church full of people who are filled with the Spirit, gifted by the Spirit, and sent by the Spirit to do the work of ministry to which God is calling you.

As Paul writes, “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.”

As we share in the holy meal of Communion with one another and with our Lord Jesus Christ, may the wind of the Spirit blow in and among us, and bind us together in unity and peace. And may the Spirit’s fire rest upon each one of us, and send us out with courage and power to use our many gifts for the work of God in the church and in the world. Amen.