Springtime has now crossed over into summer here in western Missouri. Record-setting rainfall has meant almost constant flooding along rivers and streams since March, with no end in sight. If there’s a plus side to all that, well, at least the grass will never appear greener. Flowers are blooming throughout my yard. Peonies and irises (inherited decades ago from my dad and granddad) were glorious and now past their prime. A few bedding plants are in, as are my cannas and assorted other bulbs. Once again I’m faced with a decision about what vegetable plants–if any–should go in. And so, there’s a few cherry tomato plants and regular tomato plants getting established in a raised bed at the rear of my backyard.
Tomatoes are one of those crops that must be rotated; otherwise disease can take hold. My yard is pretty small scale, of course, compared to the problems real farmers have dealing with issues related to monocultures. There, no doubt, are limits to how much and how often weed killers and pesticides and genetically modified seeds can be used to ensure bountiful yields on massive acreages. Big chemical and seed companies insist monocultures work and will continue to work. Whether that’s true is a topic for a different type of blog. This one is about scripture, religion, and the church.
The church, in particular, was never intended to be a monoculture (yet admittedly, on Sunday mornings it is still the most segregated place in America). Apostle 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, I suppose. 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 so-called “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?
*Portions adapted from a previous ForeWords post
& My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</emnbsp;