For The Common Good
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Pastor Megan Torgerson
Acts 2: 1-4
1 Corinthians 12: 1-13
I’ve had to stop scrolling through Facebook a lot lately. First it was because of hateful partisanship over coronavirus response, then because of dangerous and heartless misinformation about how to think about this deadly disease. But in the past few days, it’s been because of the waves of grief and anger that overwhelm our communities over the murder of George Floyd and the systematic oppression of people of color that it represents. I want to look away. I need to look away. My heart hurts too much. I am not enough. I can’t do this.
I realize my privilege as I say that. I am a white woman living in the suburbs. I get to choose when I want to interact with fear, violence, panic, and desperation. I get to put down my phone and forget about it for a while. For those beloved children of God who are brown or black, they don’t get to choose. This is their life every day.
But I can no longer allow myself to think I can’t do anything, or I’m not enough, or there’s no way I can address this. I absolutely can. I have everything I need to speak against injustice, to support those who put their lives on the line for their communities, to join in the work of dismantling racism and working actively to create a more just society. And because I am a Christian, one who believes that God has created us in love and still empowers us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Creator, I know I have what I need.
Today is Pentecost, my friends. Today the church recognizes that the Spirit comes to us to give us what we need to continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world. Our readings today point us to the work we can do today, this week, all summer, throughout our lifetimes.
At the very first Pentecost, our first reading today, the Spirit makes its first appearance among the gathered disciples and followers of Jesus. They came together from different parts of the known world for a festival, all speaking different languages. When the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they don’t speak an unknown, spiritual tongue – they speak languages known to other people, as the verses following today’s reading say. They use their new-found language skills to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who had not yet heard.
The Spirit gives people what they need to confidently share the good news of Jesus Christ that gives life and can give hope to others. For you who don’t know what to say, or how to speak, or what could give courage and comfort to a hurting world – the Spirit’s gift comes to you. It gives you the words you need. It grants you wisdom and discernment to use your voice. And through this gift, others hear the good news. The Spirit comes not just for you, but for others who need to hear about Jesus.
In our second reading, from 1 Corinthians, we hear again from Paul’s letter to the beloved church in Corinth. As we’ve been hearing these past few weeks, the church at Corinth was full of division and controversy. Paul encourages them to center themselves in worship of Jesus, crucified and risen. He asks them to consider first the needs of the other when they try to live together in all their diversity. He reminds them that God’s love lives in them when they love each other in patience and kindness.
In this reading, we hear that the Holy Spirit’s been hard at work in Corinth. The Corinthians experience dramatic and incredible shows of the Spirit’s power among them. However, they’ve tended to value the more showy, flashy, ecstatic gifts over the steady, quiet, life-sustaining ones. Paul wants them to remember that the Spirit comes not only with power and pyrotechnics, but in many necessary, under-the-radar ways.
That work should resonate with us. We know the power of someone who dedicates themselves to prayer on our behalf in a way that feels like they have a direct link to God. We know what it’s like to have a person who can just speak truth to you, like they know God’s own heart, helping you redirect and reorient when you need it most. We know what it’s like to see the community at work, putting themselves at risk for the good of the whole, doing God’s work with their own hands.
These and so many more things are spiritual gifts, granted us by the one Spirit, and Paul affirms that they are just as much the Spirit flowing through us in abundance as some more visible, demonstrative acts. The Spirit works in you, and not one of you has been left out. God has work for you and has given you what you need to do it. Be bold.
Because here’s the thing: as we saw in the Pentecost story and as we hear from Paul, the Spirit doesn’t work in you for your own glory or good. The Spirit comes to you because your neighbor needs you.
In Acts, the neighbor needed the disciples to share the good news with them in their own language, in a way they could understand. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds the people that “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”, because “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”. In other words, we need each other. We serve God by serving each other.
We are not the body of Christ if one of us is missing. There is no lesser person or unnecessary piece or less valued gift. All are needed. All belong. All are one.
We hear so much lately about the most vulnerable among us. How can we protect the most vulnerable? How much should we accommodate those who are vulnerable? What risks can we expect the vulnerable among us to take? What if we stopped thinking of people as vulnerable, as if they were distant, expendable, not a fully-functioning and necessary part of the body? What if, instead of vulnerable, they were valuable? When we talk about protection or risk or accommodation, what if we center them as valuable? Because in the body of Christ, if one part is vulnerable, all are vulnerable.
Because we affirm that are all valuable, each individual is valuable. Those most susceptible to illness, those most threatened by hunger, those most desperate for work, those most targeted for violence, those most oppressed by injustice – we are not healthy and whole and cared-for and safe unless all are. Those who are vulnerable are valuable, and we will use every spiritual gift at our disposal to make it so. Each person has worth. Each person is part of the body. Each person has something to bring. Each person bears the Spirit’s gifts for the good of the whole. Each person is valuable.
You cannot deny the Spirit’s work among us. When we think we have nothing to offer, when we pretend we are without power, our neighbor suffers. The Spirit’s many gifts affirm our great diversity and remind us that we are not one body unless all are truly present and valued. Pentecost breathes life to us. Pentecost fills us with a desire for justice, community, compassion, and inclusion. Pentecost gives us what we need so that all will be valued and sends us out to do the work. Pentecost reminds us that we are many, and from many, we are one in Christ. Thanks be to God.