It is now time to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This marks the end of the main Narrative Lectionary calendar as well as the beginning of summer, at least church-wise. What are we celebrating? In a word: a gift.
What Is Pentecost?
Our word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fifty.” In our Christian calendars, it is the fiftieth day after Easter. However, unlike Easter, Pentecost didn’t start out as a Christian festival. The apostles, disciples, and the crowds were gathered for a Jewish celebration, the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot. This was measured as a “week of weeks” (seven days times seven weeks or 49 days). Shavuot was a dual celebration. As commanded in Deuteronomy 16:9-12 (and others), the feast began as a harvest festival. Later, it took on the additional meaning as a celebration of God giving the Torah (law) to Moses on Mount Sinai.
A Special Gift
Today (as I understand it), the focus for this holiday leans toward the gift of the Torah. Some of us—Protestants especially—may find it hard to think about the Law as a gift. The apostle Paul, and therefore many of the church reformers, seemed to see the Law in a negative light. The Law shows us how sinful we are so that we know we need forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. That’s not the whole story though.
First, the Hebrew word for it “Torah” means “instruction” more than “law” (though this instruction is basically made up of commandments). God was teaching a people born in slavery how God expected them to act in this new land. Jesus (and many before and after him) summed it up as “love God, love your neighbor.” Second, some say that the format of the Torah mirrors that of a marriage covenant. It is through this covenant that God gives Godself to the people and claims the people as God’s own. What better gift can one give?
The Gift of the Spirit
Now we come to the first Feast of Weeks following Jesus’ death and resurrection. It also comes shortly after Jesus’ return to heaven and the promise of the Holy Spirit. God chose, on this particular festival day, to give Jesus’ followers the gift of God’s self again, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was God-with-us (Matthew 1:23), but the Spirit is even more so, living within us. God promises to never leave us or forsake us, and through the Spirit, we are made children of God.
Gifts from the Spirit
Our second reading for today is from 1 Corinthians 12:1-13. We are backing up in this letter to before the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. You may remember that the Corinthian church was suffering from divisions. One of the divisions was about specific gifts given to people from the Holy Spirit. Paul agreed that the Spirit gives gifts, but he had some things to teach them:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.1 Corinthians 12:1
Spiritual Gifts 101
Throughout the next three chapters, Paul teaches the basics of spiritual gifts. To start out with, in our reading, Paul teaches:
- All the gifts come from one Spirit.
- The gifts are given for the common good.
- They are gifts, not rewards showing who is superior.
- Skipping a section, the very best gift is love, along with faith and hope.
United in the Spirit
We see in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 that the Holy Spirit gives us all a gift: unity. However, unity is not sameness. To get this point across, Paul uses a metaphor: the human body. The different parts of the human body are different from each other. And these differences are not only good but critically important. For us to be all the same, it would be like all parts of the body being an eye. That would be ridiculous and kind of gross. Our eyes require the rest of the body to stay safe, receive nutrients, and mean anything (especially if there isn’t a brain). The different parts of the body must be different, likewise each of us must be different from each other and have different gifts. The Holy Spirit unites all our beautiful diversity into one body: the body of Christ.
Inner and Outer Unity
We are the body of Christ. Our unity runs far deeper than anything we can ever know. It’s not just the unity we can find with people working for a common purpose, the same mission statement. That’s not bad (it’s good in fact), it just doesn’t describe the body of Christ. Since our unity comes from the Holy Spirit, it cannot be broken by distance or disagreement. This is the inner unity of the body of Christ. As with all gifts, this comes with a responsibility. Paul summarizes it as:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.1 Corinthians 12:7
Later, he dives much deeper into our responsibility:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
Our gifts, our unity, are to be used to help everyone. There is diversity, and each person must help the others. There is no room for selfishness in the body of Christ.
May the power of the Spirit and the love of Christ fill your hearts and minds.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
When you download the free Sharing God’s Story @ Home devotional insert, linked below, you will have a resource to guide daily devotional time. Using this resource and your own creativity, design devotions for yourself and your family or friends.
With the end of the Narrative Lectionary comes the end of this Church at Home blog series and the Sharing God’s Story @ Home devotional inserts. I will be continuing a blog post and creating a summer devotional insert based on the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary instead.