4. June 2017

Gift Day – ‘The Gift that keeps on Giving’

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…He will guide you into all truth… (John 16, 13)

Pentecost is the culmination of the ‘Gift that keeps on giving’ - it has brought us into being as image-bearers of our creator; it has revealed to us and to the world that we are loved, come what may by cross-shaped, Calvary love; it has remade us in the image of One who was dead but now is alive by raising us to new life in Him; and now it overwhelms us with the loved filled power of the Spirit of the One who created us, forgave us, redeemed us and restored us; the Gift that keeps on giving is Divine Grace - the Grace of God. And on this Pentecost Sunday the Grace of God dares us to go even further in our response; dares us to promise…

[to] follow Christ and [in so doing to] [re]shape our world; by announcing redemption to a world that [is] discovering just how far it has fallen; by announcing healing to a world that [is] discovering just how broken it is; by proclaiming love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion.” (N T Wright [alt]).

Why? because this is why God, as an act of grace, brought the Church into being at Pentecost; that the followers of Jesus might together hear the message, and suitably empowered, share that message with all who would hear it. Today we receive our mandate; we launch our manifesto; we publish our message; today we invite the world to join us in one great song of praise by declaring to anyone within earshot that, ‘This Jesus, whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ by raising Him from the dead.’ (Acts 2, 36). Which brings us to the day itself: everyone present being able to hear in their own language what Peter was saying. Peter spoke once, one sermon, the same sermon to everyone, they all heard the same sermon, in their own language. In itself a miracle, and I for one am prepared to say that yes, I believe it was as it was. But it is more than that; it has to be more than that otherwise it reduces itself to a ‘conjuring trick with words’

Protestant evangelicalism evidences a Pentecostal plurality: the various Protestant streams testify to Jesus in their own vocabularies, and it takes many languages (i.e. interpretive traditions) to minister the meaning of God’s Word and the fullness of Christ. As the body is made up of many members, so many interpretations may be needed to do justice to the body of the biblical text. Could it be that the various Protestant traditions function similarly as witnesses who testify to the same Jesus from different situations and perspectives?”  (Kevin Vanhoozer: ‘Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Spirit of Protestant Christianity.’)

One message, many languages; one message many interpretations because everyone who hears has to make sense of the message in their own language, in their own way. The Gift that keeps on giving; by God’s grace we hear the same Gospel message, the same Good News and we, each one of us makes sense of it in our own way. You are all listening to me now, you are all hearing the same message, the same words, yet all of you, each one of you is hearing me in your own ‘language’, all of you, each one of you is making sense of it in your own way, and God trusts each one of us to do precisely that - to hear the message in our own language. But it isn’t enough just to listen, just to hear; the message is nothing if there is no response; nothing more than empty rhetoric, a steady stream of self-consciousness punctuated by the odd phrase elevated from its otherwise mundane reality by the use of an eloquent turn of phrase, a memorable sound bite, a snippet of purple prose. No when we listen, we have to hear ‘between the lines’ that we might discern what the Spirit is saying to the Churches, and such is the almost anarchic way in which the Holy Spirit works in people’s lives, if one is prepared to so listen we will hear what it is necessary to hear and we will have no choice but to respond as we ought…for on the Day of Pentecost, after Peter finished preaching, they queued up to be baptized, in their thousands…and the Gift keeps on giving…for if we can bring ourselves to such a point of decision, life can be transformed according to the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit; for some that will be a peculiar experience within which a particular gifting will manifest itself; not for its own glory, nor for our glory alone but rather as a means by which the rest of us are made to realise that even when we are not gifted in an extraordinary way that does not absolve us from responding in a way that is to us ordinary. Extraordinary people, and they are amongst us, demonstrate extraordinary abilities that others of us might respond in the way that is required of us…

“There are spiritual gifts like mercy, faith, or generosity that enable people to set the standard, so to speak. But just because you don't have that spiritual gift doesn't mean you aren't held to any standard at all. Even if you aren't gifted in that way, you're still called to live mercifully, faithfully, and generously. You might not set the standard, but you need to meet the standard. There is a baseline that all of us are called to. When the opportunity presents itself, we need to show mercy, exercise faith, and give generously. In the same sense, all of us are called to take risks. If it doesn't involve risk, it doesn't exercise faith.”  (Mark Batterson: ‘All in, ‘You are one decision away from a totally different life.’)