On Sunday, I took a service at Cottesloe Uniting Church. This was my first service at a Uniting Church, and I had to put the service together – not knowing what a Uniting Church Service consisted of. I think I did ok. Anyway, I thought I’d publish my sermon from Sunday. The bible readings for the day were Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; and John 20:19-23. I’m backing up this week, I’m preaching at Floreat this Sunday. I think I’ll be building a bit off of this sermon as well as the one that Lt. Gareth preached at Floreat.
Pentecost – What do we do with these gifts?
What a wonderful day in the life of the Church this is. This day of Pentecost, where God sends his spirit to come and be with us until Jesus returns again. There are three events that I’d like to tie together, Transfiguration, Ascension and Pentecost.
Transfiguration, Ascension and Pentecost – Coming down from the mountain
Great spiritual events
These three events are incredible spiritual moments. In the message translation of Mark 9, the Transfiguration, it says
“His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.
Peter interrupted, “Rabbi, this is a great moment!” He then goes on to blurt out something about building tents and staying there, but the first part he got right – it was indeed a great moment, although they didn’t quite understand what was happening.
Similarly, with the Ascension, it was a great spiritual moment that the disciples didn’t quite understand what was happening. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus is taken up to heaven, and the disciples stand there looking up. Then two men in white say, ““Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
And finally, the day of Pentecost comes. The spirit descends, and they all start speaking in different languages, languages of all the different people that were there. At this time, Peter redeems his Transfiguration blurting, with a sermon that told all about Jesus of Nazareth, and his great works. Three thousand were baptised that day.
What did the disciples do?
There are significant differences in the actions of the disciples after these great spiritual events. After the transfiguration, the disciples are instructed to stay quiet. After the Ascension, they walk to the Mount of Olives to pray and choose a new apostle. And finally, after receiving the Holy Spirit, they start to act. Now they tell others all about what they have experienced.
Keeping the flame alive
Now, I’m not criticising the disciples actions pre-Pentecost. See, they were not only doing what they were told, they were following the steps that we all do in our spiritual lives. They did what was necessary to keep their spiritual flame alive.
I got married in September, and in the lead up to that, my wife and I were looking for a place to live. The house we ended up moving into has a slow burner wood fire. Having never had a wood fire before, it took us a while to figure out how get it working best. We need at first a firm base of good wood. Around it some kindling, and then finally some quick burning fuel such as newspaper. The newspaper looks great when it’s on fire, but as there’s not much in it, it burns out really quickly. With the kindling there, it catches its light from the newspaper, and helps build up the temperature. However, while having more fuel than the newspaper, the kindling alone doesn’t have enough of a base to warm the room. It’s only the good wood that can effectively warm our house, and it needs the help of the kindling and newspaper in order to get it to a temperature where it will keep the flame alive.
Our spiritual life, and the actions of the disciples, is just like that. At the Transfiguration, they didn’t yet have the fuel to tell others. They were like the newspaper – just starting out, but could be burnt out easily. Hence, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone about what they saw. At the Ascension, they were more like the kindling. They had an understanding of everything that had happened, but weren’t yet ready to tell others. They took themselves apart to pray, to get their flame brighter and hotter. Finally, at Pentecost, they became the logs. They had that spiritual base – their knowledge of Jesus, their prayer life, and the key ingredient, the Holy Spirit – that allowed them to finally share that warmth with others.
Different Spiritual Gifts
I used to have a lot of trouble with Pentecost. I guess it comes from a bad experience. I was busking in the city, and there was someone from some very Pentecostal church handing out tracts, and she placed one in my case. I said “Thanks very much, but I’m already a Christian.” She asked me, “Do you speak in tongues?” I said no, to which she replied, “Then you’re not a proper Christian.” It didn’t occur to me at that time that music could be considered a tongue – a language – in itself. But I think since that time, I have always struggled with this Pentecost reading from Acts. I have never spoken in Tongues, and when I have been prayed over with someone speaking in tongues, it has made me uncomfortable. I don’t mean to take away from this spiritual gift, but for me, in my experience, the act of speaking in tongues hasn’t brought me closer to an understanding of God.
That’s what I believe spiritual gifts are all about – they are there to help you, and to help you help others, develop a closer understanding of God.
My spiritual giftings
As I said, music for me is one of my spiritual gifts. Listening to cantatas by Bach, Concertos by Mozart or Sonatas by Brahms help me gain an understanding of God, as they were often written by deeply spiritual people. I also love listening to modern spiritual singers – anything from DC Talk, Hillsong or Lincoln Brewster to guys like Mark Schultz or Brenton.
I also love playing music, and hope that I can help others come to an understanding of God through my playing. I share this by helping with our Youth Band at Church, and also singing in our songsters brigade.
I believe that I also have a spiritual gifting in teaching. I have applied with my wife to become Salvation Army officers, and we find out in the next couple of weeks whether we’ll be moving to Melbourne to study to become officers. One thing that I look forward to doing as a cadet and an officer is not only teaching others about Jesus, but also studying – looking into the word of God, the thoughts of others, and developing my own understanding of the text, formulating my own ideas, and sharing those with others.
What’s your giftings?
That’s my giftings. They might not be what is said in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, but that’s fine. I’m not able to speak in other languages. I don’t have miraculous powers. But as Paul writes, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” And “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
Every gift, no matter what it is, are the work of the spirit, and is given by the spirit, as he determines, for the common good – that is, to bring others to a closer understanding of God.
What are some of your spiritual giftings? It could be absolutely anything. At my church, we’ve got a lady whose spiritual gifting, whose absolute passion, is her Pastoral work. If someone can’t make it to Church one week, she’ll give them a call, she’ll post them our newsletter, if someone’s in hospital she’ll visit them. She gives of herself so much, to help others when they’re struggling. Then there’s another young guy whose spiritual gift is using technology, and he’ll help through making sure everything technological runs smoothly, to help bring us to a closer understanding. Other gifts might be having a listening ear, being able to have coffee with people (what a nice gift). We’re about to start up a Mainly Music program at my Church, and one of the roles is holding babies so the mums can participate with their toddlers. Having held babies when my wife gets clucky and being absolutely petrified that something might go wrong, I understand what a spiritual gift that is.
Sharing your gift
The great commission
The passage we heard from John is a parallel passage to The Great Commission that is found in Matthew. Matthew’s version is “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” John’s version is far simpler: “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.””
Jesus sends us out as his Father sent him, to tell the world about God, to help them find a deeper understanding of Jesus.
Just walk across the room
I’ve recently been reading a book by Bill Hybels called “Just Walk across the room” because I’ve felt challenged on the E word – evangelism. It was a dirty word in the Anglican church that I grew up in, because it meant that we had to talk about our faith with others. Just as I was leaving there was a movement towards a relational style of Evangelism that Bill is promoting in this book. In a nutshell, it’s all about starting conversations with people, and seeing where the spirit leads you.
One of the things that I’ve taken out of it is that you most likely will not be the person that brings a sinner to being a Christian. You may be, and that’s brilliant, but in terms of a persons spirituality, it’s not a toggle switch. It’s not a “I was a sinner, and now I’m a believer” – it’s more a sliding scale. Imagine a scale of -10 to +10, where -10 is as far from God as is possible, +10 is as close to God as you can get, and 0 is the conversion point. Your role might be to move a person from -4 to -3. It might be to move them from -10 to -1. It might be to move them from -1 to +1. You don’t know. But, by sharing your spiritual gifts, by being open to the spirit and opening yourself up to others, you can help others get a closer understanding of others.
Share your gift
So if you only take one thing out of today, it’s this: Be open to the spirit using your spiritual gifts. Develop your spiritual gifts so that you may develop a closer understanding of God. Share your spiritual gifts so that others may develop a closer understanding of God.