The play that our members performed this morning focused on seven gifts of the spirit. While the play emphasizes that these are really Christ's gifts, I think they are also our gifts, though, as was pointed out, they look different than we might expect. Riches, for example, as a gift from the Spirit, doesn’t look like material wealth, it looks like a wealth of spirit and a wealth of community, a wealth of faith, a wealth of trust, love, grace.
So while I do not believe that we should have faith based on what we hope we can gain from our faith, what we hope God will give us because we believe (that may be common theology, but it is bad theology by the way, to believe because that’s the way to manipulate God into giving you things…), I do think that Pentecost is a time to celebrate the gifts that God does give, not only to us as individuals, but to each community, to the Church as a whole, to the people.
We can celebrate that community is itself a gift, as are faith, the ability to love and grow, the ability to forgive, the ability to trust and to love. These, too, are gifts of the Spirit. We can celebrate friendships, connections, the ability to be grateful, appreciation, vision and understanding are also gifts of the Spirit. We can celebrate that compassion, grace, insight, understanding, discernment and wisdom are also gifts of the Spirit.
Today as we celebrate the birthday of the church, the gifts of the church, the gifts of the Spirit, we also recognize that one of the deep gifts we are given is our diversity. On Pentecost, all voices were heard – but more, all voices, with their different languages, different cultures, different view points – all were understood. One of the things I love about this is that people did not become something else. They weren’t all speaking the same language, they were just understood speaking in their different languages. We, as Pentecost people are invited to do the same – to hear and to understand one another, despite our differences. That includes people of different ages, of different languages, cultures, different orientations and genders, and view points – we are invited to listen to their words and their ideas, and to take them seriously.
Are there people that you have trouble understanding here? If so, Pentecost is a great time to recommit to listening, hearing and loving one another.
I think about one of the learning and listening experiences of our last church that actually had to do with Jasmyn joining the church. When new people join the church, the session is required to “examine” them to make sure they are “fit for membership.” Usually this just means that we ask them why they want to join and then bless that joining. I think there is an assumption, probably based on our own experiences and our own ways of being in the world, that says that when someone joins the church, they don’t want to be pushed too hard, confronted, challenged or to feel threatened by our questions. Jasmyn told me though, when she joined the church both here and first in Ohio, that she really wanted to be taken seriously enough that the interview, the examination for membership was real – not token. Convincing the session, though, to listen and to understand that request took some work. They had to hear in a different way in order to trust what she was saying and ask questions that had some depth in them.
I also think of a story I heard recently from a pastor who noticed one Sunday a couple women who had been fighting for years in the church huddled together in a corner, hugging and crying. One had just lost her spouse, the other had lost a spouse years earlier. They connected over something they both now shared that allowed them to hear and support each other despite their differences.
I served as organist/music director for a small church while attending seminary. After I left, I received a call from the new music director who felt that the pastor's wife hated her. Shortly following that phone call, I received a call from the pastor's wife saying she did not know what to do because everything she did was interpreted by the new music director as a slight. While both had good intentions, while both wanted the relationship to work, both were struggling because they had trouble seeing, hearing and understanding each other. With help from me and others, though, they were able to work through some of it to understand that they just communicated and expressed themselves differently.On Pentecost, we celebrate our diversity within the church. We honor that by celebrating the gifts the Spirit gives us. And we honor it by striving with those gifts of compassion and grace and forgiveness to really hear and understand one another.