What Does This Mean?

June 8, 2014                                                                  I Corinthians 12:3-26

Have you ever thought about the fact that all of us in this room, every single one…has been surrounded by enough air to keep us living, our whole lives long?

Most of the time, I’m willing to guess, we don’t even think about it.

We simply get up in the morning and go about our business without a thought given to the air that we breathe.

We tend to take air for granted, even though without it, our life expectancy shrinks to minutes.

We depend on air to live. Yet we don’t really think about it until it begins to move, right?

There’s nothing as refreshing as a gentle breeze on a hot and humid day.

At the same time, I can testify that few things are as terrifying as driving through Missouri on a summer evening, virtually dodging one tornado after another with other cautious drivers on the road.

Simple air; it can be refreshing like a breeze, but it can also terrify us with its power.

I could say all the same things about the Holy Spirit.

It’s all-encompassing like the air we breathe.

It moves something like the wind, sometimes inspiring us, other times provoking us to respond to its movement.

When we see the Spirit moving, I would suggest there are two basic, human responses.

We find them both in the story of the first Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.

You might know the story…the earliest followers of Christ were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, gathered together in one place when suddenly there came the sound like the rush of a violent wind.

It filled the house where they had gathered, and tongues as of fire appeared among the people, and these tongues of flame came to rest upon each of them who were gathered.

They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak, each one in a language they presumably did not know, presumably for the benefit of the onlookers, who heard their words, each one in their own native tongue.

We’re not told the content of what they spoke…only that they spoke of “God’s deeds of power”.

Towards the end, we are told that some of the onlookers turn to each other and ask, concerning this mystery “What does this mean?”.

Others proclaim with certainty “They are filled with new wine” (which is a first century way of saying “they’re drunk”).

One seeks to discern the meaning of this strange event, recognizing the potential for a life-changing discovery and enlisting the help of others who are witnessing the same event to help them in their understanding. “What does this mean?” they ask…and you get the sense that they mean it.

The other response seeks to dismiss the strangeness as well as the Spirit behind it, writing the whole thing off with the phrase “They’re filled with new wine”.

It’s not a question, actually it’s an explanation, isn’t it? And behind it is desire to walk away unaffected, to keep things as they are and to rely more upon the individuals own reasoning than allowing other people and their perspectives to influence their thinking and their lives.

We are meant to construct meaning, not just in our isolated bubbles, not just with like-minded family and friends who share our point of view, but with all who are experiencing the same phenomenon, all who ask the same question “What does this mean?”

This question is a hallmark of those seeking the Kingdom of God, those who tend to their own response before the Holy Spirit before trying to influence the response of other people.

I would like to suggest this morning, that asking questions first is how we honor each other as members of the One Body of Christ, as Paul gets at in I Corinthians 12.

One way we honor each member of the body is by showing interest in them and in their perspective, not in offering explanations, making statements, or jumping to conclusions based on our own experience.

Unfortunately we live in a time where questions are seen as threatening. This makes conversation difficult, if neither, or only one party is willing to truly listen, and truly ask “What does this mean?”

Discernment takes two to listen, not just on the issue of same-sex relationships, but on all issues that carry theological weight…all of the issues where we seek the Holy Spirit to move us deeper into understanding and action. It takes a willingness to enter a very dark place, to leave our biases and our assumptions and the conclusions we’ve already made, leave all that at the door and dwell in the mystery of the moment with people we might not even like very much…intent on hearing them, intent on waiting to hear something from the lips of God, very often spoken through the mouthpiece of the “other”.

Anything less might be called democracy, but it’s not Christian discernment, and it does not produce the spiritual fruit that Paul mentions in Galatians, or the spiritual gifts that he talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.

There are a variety of gifts, but only one Spirit that gives them. The church to a body consisting of many members, all of whom need the others to honor and respect them.

So a big problem that I see, according to the vision given by Paul, and our current ways of doing church is that we’ve stopped needing each other. We surround ourselves with like-minded people in a similar socio-economic plane, people who more or less look like us, smell like us, and think like us, and we call it church!

We have become members unto ourselves. Sure, we’re not all or eyes, or ears, or mouths…but look under the hood of any one congregation and I’m guessing you’ll find more ‘heads’ or more ‘hearts’ than complete, healthy, full bodies complete with feet and hands…and unmentionables that should be honored above the rest.

Can we dare to hear each other? Can we dare to seek to understand more than to be understood? Can we practice the patience of God as we pay attention to the Spirit’s work among us?

I’m going to be honest with you. I care more this morning about how we hold our beliefs than I do about which particular beliefs we actually hold.

Even a belief in peace can be used as a weapon if you hold it right…and I’ve spoken with a few retired military personnel who are far from pacifists, who seem to me more interested in Shalom (that is, God’s peace), than many pacifists I’ve known.

We can become so intent on being ‘right’ that we fail to be loving, respectful, hopeful, or kind.

It’s interesting to me, that when you read I Corinthians chapter 12, Paul talks a lot about spiritual gifts, and the exercise of those gifts for the benefit of the community, or the whole body.

He talks about each member honoring every other member, about the impossibility of the foot saying “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” We all have a function within the body, and so we all have the responsibility to respect and even honor the stories, the experiences, and the perspectives that we bring.

Paul closes the chapter by instructing the reader to “strive for the greater gifts”, which in some circles has come to mean striving for certain expressions of the Spirit’s work, things like the gift of speaking in tongues.

But in the same verse, he continues, saying “And I will show you a still more excellent way”. So opens one of the more well-known chapters in the Bible, the “love” chapter, with it’s reminder that “faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love”.

The Holy Spirit and the gifts that it offers, lead us deeper into faith, hope, and love. Not just individually, but together as a church body.


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