Sunday, May 11, 2008

Empowered for What? -- A Sermon

Happy Pentecost.  And Happy Mother's Day.  One quick word about Mother's Day.  It's a day we tell Mom we love her and maybe take her to lunch -- for most folks, it's a fairly happy day.  For some, those who have had difficult relationships with their moms, or have lost them recently, or mothers who have lost a child -- it can be a difficult day.  But one thing we can remember -- whether your experiences have been beautiful and loving or distant and painful -- all moms have at least one significant role in our lives -- they give birth to us.

And each of us is here to live life as God desires.  So live that life well.

Now, speaking of giving birth, we know that the feast of Pentecost is the "Birthday of the Church."  We call it that because it was this day when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and empowered them to be more than a mere collection of believers.  They went out into the world preaching, teaching, healing and really and truly being the church.

But look at the different things we get out of this infusion of the Holy Spirit, this rush of wind and this fire.  We get disciples speaking in different languages -- sort of an anti-tower-of babel where everyone can be understood again.  (Like the internet today where anyone anywhere can make themselves heard anywhere else in the world).  We get, as the prophet Joel says, prophesy from pretty much everyone.  We get, as Paul says, a variety of gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing and so on.  And of course, Jesus tells the disciples of perhaps the most important power, the power to forgive.

So, in this one moment, these disciples -- and by extension, you and I -- get a wide range of powers.  We are empowered.  You have at least some of these powers.  I have at least some.  We -- the church -- have them together.  And what shall we do with them?  

Because power -- even wonderful power -- can be squandered or abused if it's not understood.  

Paul gives us a hint about what we are empowered for.  In his letter to the Corinthians, he's addressing that very question:  Who has what power?  What power is better?  And What do we do with it?

Specifically, he was dealing with one group of folks who felt that their ability to "speak in tongues" made them extra special, more holy.*  To answer that, he said, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

That is, no matter how God has blessed you, no matter how holy you are, no matter what gifts you have -- as wonderful as they are -- your gifts are for the common good.

This week at our Confirmation Class we talked about ethics.  We said Christian ethics are different from just plain old ethics in that we have the great commandment as our bottom line.  Everything we do must first ask, "Is it the loving thing to do?"  We batted around the word "Love" for awhile but came up with a working definition that "Love seeks the highest good for everyone involved."

In other words, the common good.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that we are empowered -- more powerful than we probably know -- but not nothing.  This day when we once again remember that we are tied together by the Holy Spirit, that we are filled with that Spirit, that we are empowered -- it's also a day when we remember what all that power is for.

To help this family be healthy in its life with Christ, and then to share that highest good with the world.  Think of all those gifts:  languages, healing, prophecy, teaching -- they are meant to be shared, they are meant to lift up and strengthen not just our own family but those we've never seen or met, those who are near and those who are far.  Because Pentecost tells us that we are all connected like a rosary by the string of the Holy Spirit -- so everything we do through the Holy Spirit is for the common good.

Happy Birthday to the Church.  We have the power of the Holy Spirit and we know how we're meant to use it.  The next steps are up to us. 

*(If you don't know what speaking in tongues is, it's basically a form of ecstatic spiritual experience where the person starts speaking in a nonexistent language.  Problem is, the more people thought it made them special, the more people who miraculously got touched with this gift.  Paul essentially said, unless you've got an interpreter and a message for the whole church, do your speaking in tongues at home).