6/08/2014 Filled with the Spirit


Pentecost/Endowment Sunday
Acts 2:1–21; Psalm 104:24–34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b–13; John 20:19–23

From the 2011 ForeWords archive:

I finally got my small vegetable garden planted last week. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that, at least to myself. My dad would not have approved waiting so long into the growing season–after Memorial Day, for heaven’s sake! Even though he died way back in 1982, I can’t help but think about him just about every time I dig a hole and plant something in the ground.

It’s one of those simple facets of life: Dad was a gardener, so am I (and, I might add, my son has been known to get his hands dirty with plants, too). Dad wasn’t a fisherman, and it’s only in the past year that I’ve taken up fly fishing. It’s not a major pastime for me, at least not yet, but there’s potential.

Anyway, as the trees in my backyard and in the adjoining neighbors’ yards have grown, my unshaded garden space has become a bit more limited. And so now there’s just two raised beds I use for vegetables. There’s room for cherry tomatoes and regular-sized ones, along with a couple trellises for cucumbers and butternut squash. I suppose I could grow more, but we’re sometimes gone a week or two at a time in the summer. With western Missouri’s scorching heat, that makes it a challenge to find methods to keep everything watered.

With such a limited array of vegetables I’ve found it to be extremely important to rotate the tomatoes, in particular, from one raised bed to the other summer after summer. Leaving them in the same place opens the garden up to diseases hiding in the soil as well as depletion of particular soil nutrients. For the same reason, farmers with hundreds or thousands of acres to plant each year rotate corn, soybeans, and wheat. Monocultures (the prime example that comes to mind are russet-potato farmers in Idaho; russets make for the very best french fries, though,and our fast-food nation must be served) require more and heavier treatments of chemicals to fight pests and diseases. The down side, of course, is a crop filled with chemicals that may have who-knows-what kind of side effects. The soil itself becomes ever more deadly.

The church, however, was never intended to be a monoculture (yet admittedly it is still the most segregated place in America on Sunday mornings). Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians continues to be an important and challenging word to us today:

Now 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 everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For 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. -1 Corinthians 12:4-13 NRSV

Apparently the Corinthians not only took to heart Paul’s earlier teachings about the gifts of the Spirit but went way beyond by thinking there was a distinct pecking order of importance with those gifts. Each individual, it seems, considered his or her own gift to be the most important; those of the other folks, less so.

Paul’s central point is that while there is a diversity of gifts, all of them come from the same source: the Holy Spirit. Focus, therefore, on the source not on the individual expression. Keep in mind always that it’s the Spirit that comes first; the individual offerings of gifts flow out from the Spirit.

All of this, of course, originated on that first Day of Pentecost, arguably regarded as the birthday of the church. Fifty days after Easter the earliest believers were gathered together when everything started happening at once: mighty winds blowing, tongues of fire hanging over people’s heads, and the mysterious sounds of multiple languages spoken by Galileans, with interpretations of those tongues offered in turn.

What would it be like to show up at church on Sunday, every Sunday (or even any Sunday), and experience that kind of commotion? Granted, it’s a far cry from the (dare I say it) sometimes downright boring worship experiences I’ve been a part of at various times in my life. I’m as much to blame for that as anybody else. Anyway, would we really want that kind of amazing, baffling, and erratic behavior going on in our church sanctuaries? Isn’t that sort of thing what those crazy Pentecostals do in their worship services? Well, yes and no.

My purpose here is not to dissect and judge “holy rollers” but to raise a simple question: If we’re really a people of the Spirit, how come our worship experiences are so often dull and ordinary? Not all the gifts of the Spirit are exuberant, showy ones. The Spirit speaks just as effectively and powerfully in a “still, small voice.”

But what would we do if, instead of the same old monocultural worship this Sunday, the Holy Spirit showed up in power and abundance to amaze us?

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About Rich Brown

Rich Brown is a writer and editor, husband and father, minister and semi-voracious reader, gardener and novice fly fisherman, American and Canadian citizen, living in the southeastern corner of the Kansas City suburbs.
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