“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body
—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—
and we were all given one Spirit to drink.”
(I Corinthians 12:13, NIV)
What does it take to be a people of faith? One biblical commentator, Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, stated, “The more I read the letters to the Corinthians, the more I appreciate the courage and boldness of this community as they wrestled with what it meant to be people of faith.” Apparently it took a lot in the beginning of the movement of Christian faith, and it still takes a lot today as it was a bold new relationship with God and others that blew apart all of the mores of the times then and now. Faith is a challenging and tough task when it comes to living up to the desires of God as exemplified by Jesus.
Thus it is that we are gathered together this morning to celebrate the birth of the Christian movement . . . or, as some would say, the birth of the “church”. We are here to celebrate that day of Pentecost when God bestowed the blessing of the Spirit upon the people . . . the day in which God placed a blessing upon the children . . . the day that God raised the bar on what it meant to be a person of faith. The day that God affirmed all of creation and stamped it as being good . . . all of us.
Now I do not want to spend a whole bunch of time going over the actual events that took place at that first Pentecost . . . the rushing wind, the dancing flames of fire, the ability to understand other language—the pure ecstasy of it all—because we already know that. I think that what is more important is that this coronation was bestowed upon everyone . . . that God intended that this be for everyone. Again, as you recall the story you will remember that there were people from all over the world gathered . . . people of many different races and colors and languages . . . people of different economic statuses . . . men, women, free people, slaves. There was no division, no separation on God’s part of who was and was not invited to the coronation—everyone was included. Everyone.
Everyone was invited to the party just as they were. Most of us, in our personal theologies—our understanding of God, affirm that each of us is a unique and special creation in the image of God. We affirm that we are all different and that we all have our own gifts. We are similar in our love for God . . . our love for others; yet, we are all unique and different in what we bring to the party. Just as it was at that first Pentecost, so it is today.
That is not so easy to accept. It was not easy to accept then, nor is it easy to accept today. Oh, we pay a lot of lip service to the idea of accepting everyone for whoever he or she is, but we are not very good at putting it into practice. And, the reason why is simple enough . . . we want everyone to be exactly alike. We want uniformity . . . we want conformity. Uniformity and conformity cannot happen if everyone does his or her own thing . . . no, that is chaos—or what we think is chaos. Thus it is that the biblical commentator I quoted earlier appreciated the courage and boldness of those early followers of Jesus to wrestle with what it meant to be a people of faith.
Our reading this morning speaks of the variety of gifts that the Spirit exposes in the faithful . . . and, there are a variety of gifts. It almost seems that with each individual there is a unique gifts—the writer basically rattles off the most common ones while acknowledging that there are as many gifts as there are stars in the heavens. Plus, the writer affirms that each and every gift—no matter how big or small—is necessary . . . necessary to the body of Christ . . . necessary for the church. Together they represent the presence of Jesus in the world. And, it takes each and every one of these individuals and gifts.
But we are human in nature. As humans we have a tendency to divide, separate, and assign value to people, places, and things in our lives. With that ability we rank things as to their importance to us as individuals and as a society. Those with the most value are the things that we prize the most, use the most, and ultimately think that everyone else should too. Those that fall way down the list towards the bottom of value . . . well, let us just say that those experience a whole different world. They are forgotten or ignored, and if they cannot be forgotten or ignored they are ridiculed, abused, or denied. We all do it . . . from the cars that we drive to the food that we eat to the people that we associate with.
Yet, as a society and as a people of faith we proclaim that all are equal . . . all are valued . . . all are wanted . . . and, that all are necessary. As I said earlier, we put a lot of lip service into what we say while the reality is far, far from what we proclaim. Therein lies the struggle that the earlier commentator was appreciating in the early followers of Jesus . . . it is tough living up to this coronation—this blessing—flung upon us in the form of the Spirit. It brings up that argument of giftedness.
For the past couple of years my role at the university has been to provide professional development to teachers. Professional development is training in the many facets of education . . . math, English, reading, technology, special education, history, Indian Education for All, and even gifted and talented. There is a lot of areas in which professional development can be offered, but the two that surprised me the most were the Indian Education for All and the gifted and talented. The state of Montana—through the laws it has passed—gives to schools direct and indirect funding to provide education and educational opportunities in those two areas. Just like there is a lot of funding going into the special education programs of all the schools in the state.
Now, I can understand the Indian Education for All . . . we are a state that is smack dab in the middle of the historical lands of many Native American cultures. These cultures are a big part of who we are as Montanans . . . then and now. These cultures should be acknowledge as being just as important and vital as the cultures any of us have grown up in . . . they are a part of who we are. To ignore this part of who we are as the children of God is to ignore nearly ten percent of the whole body. It is just sad that it took a constitutional law to mandate this acknowledgement.
The one that I did not quite understand, at least when I started my job as a professional development provider for educators, was the gifted and talented. I wasn’t quite sure why this small group of students was being pulled out and given special consideration and funding. I mean, come on, these are the smart kids . . . the kids that zip through the curriculum and get all the exceptional grades and academic awards . . . the kids who get all the scholarships. I thought that this was a waste of time and money to provide special programs and methods of teaching to a select group of students. Wouldn’t this funding be better spent in another area like special education? These kids are already ahead of everyone else.
But, that sort of thinking is human nature at work. It is pushing for uniformity and conformity . . . a “one size fits all” mentality. This sort of thinking does not take into consideration the uniqueness of these individuals and the gifts that they bring to the party. This sort of thinking does not affirm the contribution that these individuals bring to the party. This sort of thinking does not acknowledge them as a part of the body of Christ . . . acknowledge them as being a part of who we are.
Man, was I wrong. Terribly wrong.
The writer this morning is telling us that we can never be the body of Jesus in the world if we cannot learn how to embrace the uniqueness and differences in one another that are truly gifts that we have been blessed with by God. The writer is telling us that we are “one body” when we are put together . . . telling us that it does not matter who we are—rich, poor, black or white, educated or uneducated, male or female, we are one together and nothing apart in the eyes and heart of God. When it comes to giftedness in the eyes and heart of God there is no argument . . . it takes us all to be what God desires.
The hymn echoes . . . we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. Someone once said, “Unity, not unvarying uniformity, is the law of God in the world of grace . . .”
What does it take to be a people of faith? Unity in love . . . which is hard, hard work. I appreciate that we continue to work on it each and every day. Amen.
(Every so often I have a sermon that I really like that I feel an urge to throw out into the wider world . . . this is one such sermon. I hope it touches someone's life.)