A minister put a job ad in the local paper. The plan was for an all-round handyman who could fix things around the church and do the routine maintenance.
The very next morning after the ad ran, a well-dressed young man came and asked to speak to the minister. The pastor “sized up” the chap… and then asked him a flurry of questions:
– Can you start the boiler? “Yes!” Can you be here by 7 a.m. every morning? “Yes!”
– Can you polish the silver and do woodwork “Yes!”
– Can you keep things tidy and mow the grass? “Yes Sir!”
And the minister continued: “And, of course, there will be electrical problems and unexpected leaking pipes and toilets overflows and…
Wait a minute! The young man interrupted, “I came here to make arrangements for my wedding. But if it’s going to be like that, I think I’ll just forget the whole thing!”
Well, the Holy Spirit’s coming was a bit like that story. You knew there was a punchline coming, but not what it was.
So, my question – what was the Holy Spirit’s punchline?
Well, the day that the spirit came gives us a clue. For Pentecost was the Jewish festival of harvest long before it had Christian significance. The name itself means 50 days – or 50 days after the Passover. Let’s then look for a harvest within the punchline of the Spirit. Let us look for a good harvest after Easter.
Our reading today from the Book of Acts tells of one fruiting of the Spirits’ bestowal. It was the gift of languages. Of course, we cannot fully understand how all the various Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem could understand the words of the apostles. In fact, it would serve little value to speculate. Nevertheless, the why of the bestowal of tongues is obvious. Since, it was to show that the divisions in humanity were coming to an end. It was to illustrate that the message of the life of Jesus is of everyone. That the power of the risen Christ is available to all humanity. For, the spirit comes to aid, comfort and encourage all who is God-fearing. The tongues then of the Spirit are indeed of fire.
Certainly, this was the very type of language that Paul was using on the Galatians. As we have talked about over the last few weeks, this nascent Christian community was riven down the middle with the desire for rules and regulations. As a result, they were divided one from another. And so, Paul gives them a telling off as we heard last week. Because he writes to them – there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female or slave or free in Christianity only brothers and sisters in Christ.
And to make his case, Paul uses an argument that would have been strange to the pagan ears of 1st century. For they were used to gods being arbitrary, very human and decidedly unruly. This concept they used to explain the vagaries in their lives. Since, to them, this was the natural outcome of being the gods ‘playthings.
Even the Jewish people who knew the true God felt that there was a divine law had to be kept if they as a people were to show devotion.
Paul, however tells the Galatians the good news. For the gospel is always that we are not subject to any perceived divine law. We are not the slaves of a quixotic God. Instead we are a family under a God. Moreover, through his loving concern, we can call him – Abba – daddy in our parlance.
Why is that important. Because no truly loving parent constrains a child with silly boundaries. No mum or Dad express their power through insignificant rules. No father stifles their offspring with shackles simply to show their own control. No- every parent with their salt uses only rules for a child’s safety and well-being. They only direct for the benefit of whole family and its members.
So isn’t then a matter of ‘nanny knows best’ but the Spirit knows better than we do. Moreover, we usually need all the advice we can get.
What then might the Spirit be guiding us into today?
The well-known author and preacher Fred Craddock tells a thought-provoking story. A few years ago, he was a guest teacher at a theological college. Just before the first lecture, one of the students stood up and said, “Before you speak, I need to know if you are Pentecostal.” The room grew silent. Craddock said he looked around for the Dean! He was nowhere to be found.
The student continued with his quiz right in front of everybody. Craddock was taken aback, and so he said, “Do you mean do I belong to the Pentecostal Church?” He said, “No, I mean are you Pentecostal?” Craddock said, “Are you asking me if I am charismatic?” the student said, “I am asking you if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “Do you want to know if I speak in tongues?” He said, “I want to know if you are Pentecostal.” Craddock said, “I don’t know what your question is.” The student said as he stomped out, “Obviously, you are not Pentecostal.”
Well that story reminds in this week, in particular, there are many who would seek to exploit our divisions. There are those who would rather drown out the quiet voice of sense with their own raucous tongue. Moreover, there are even some whose only message is to give a lie to us claiming we are living in a post-truth age.
So, let us again be energised by those tongues of fire. Let the Spirit guide us through the storm of noise to the voices of those who need us most to hear. Let the Spirit aid us to look beyond language, creed or race to what we, the Church, can do and be for them. Let the fiery spirit embolden us to speak for that truth which cannot be superseded; that gospel truth that under Christ we are not slaves but children of God and heirs to his kingdom.
Let then this week, each bare the fruit of our common language. Let each light up with the Spirit’s fire. Let us each be the gospel’s child.
Offering while Don plays