May 25, 2012


Filed under: Lectionary,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 7:46 pm

Who are all these people? Jerusalem is a major city, so a diversity of languages and a lot of people bustling around isn’t really a surprise. Yet there’s something about Luke’s tone that just feels like this isn’t an ordinary day.

It’s not.

The scene we come in on in this week’s reading from Acts is the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Occurring 50 days after the second day of Passover, Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of God’s giving the Torah to Israel on Mount Sinai. The link between Passover and Shavuot represents Israel’s transition from slavery to freedom, from freedom to a nation committed to serving God.

Shavuot also marks the end of the reaping season for grain farmers. It is the first day on which first fruits from the crops of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates may be presented in the temple.

Shavuot is one of the three “pilgrimage festivals” in Judaism—not only is pilgrimage encouraged, but work is forbidden on this day. So imagine it: Farmers flush with the proceeds from a harvested crop, with a day off work, entering the city to make their presentations at the temple and celebrate a major festival—Jerusalem was bustling with tourists from every corner of the region.

In the midst of the crowd and the revelry we find The Twelve. Once again, they are sticking together, working to figure out what’s next. Jesus has ascended (He’s really gone this time.), leaving them with fairly sketchy instructions for how to make this work. Their mission is at its tipping point: Will Christianity remain a little sect of Judaism limited to the region of Galilee, or will it grow to become the world’s largest religion, confessed by one-third of the earth’s population? Will Jesus fade into obscurity and be forgotten by history, or will he be a living presence in the hearts of 2.2 billion people 2012 years after his death? It’s a fragile time.

Then all of the sudden—WOOOSH!

Never one to miss an opportunity, the Holy Spirit swoops in with the roar of a mighty wind.

We all know what happens next: a cacophony of languages, tongues of fire, gifts of the spirit….

But this year I caught something I hadn’t noticed before in this familiar reading. Each person in the crowd is able to hear and understand the Apostles’ message in their own language. But in addition to that, each is aware that everyone else is having the same experience! It’s one thing to find it curious that I can hear a stranger in my home language; it’s quite another to realize that the person standing beside me also hears this same stranger in his home language!

Thus in this dramatic turning point, in the incredible rush of wind and fire, in the confusion and noise of so many still, small voices, we find another example of how we are called to uphold one another in the discernment and exercise of our spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts aren’t easy. We don’t get to line up alphabetically and put on a sorting hat. We don’t draw slips from a little satin bag. We don’t even get to sign up for first and second choices. If we’re lucky, our gifts come to us gently, grow with us, and sit comfortably with our way of being in the world. More often, I think, they take us by surprise. Or they get stuck on us like a “kick me” sign—others can see it clear as day, but we have no clue.

And for as much as they might frighten or baffle us, spiritual gifts are not negotiable, nor can they be ignored. We can’t bargain with God, “I’m happy to teach and I could probably take on miracles, but this prophesy thing is creeping me out.” Tough. Go prophesy.

And have you ever tried to run away from your gift? It finds you. Remember, other people can see that tongue of flame hovering over your head, even if you can’t—or won’t.

So how do we know? How do we name our gifts? And once we figure it out, what do we do with it?

First, of course, we pray. Then we take an honest—and generous—look at our lives, at what feeds us and gives us energy even as it exhausts us. We allow ourselves to see how we are gifted. When we take that inner work and share it with others who would journey with us in faith, we gain some perspective and our understanding takes shape. And when we let it shine, when we weave our gifts into our regular offerings of time, talent, love, compassion, effort, dedication, prayer, presence, funds, and service, they become a natural part of our being in community, a natural extension of the Body of Christ of which each of us is a part. That’s when it gets exciting.

The Holy Spirit is unpredictable. It moves where it will and in its own time. That Shavuot crowd gathered in the streets of Jerusalem included people of all ages, all walks of life, all levels of income and education. None were exempt from the work of the Spirit in their lives. The roaring wind blew over all of them; the tongues of flame rested on each of them.

All are called. All are chosen. Through baptism, all are sealed as Christ’s own forever. I invite you as we enter into this Ordinary Time to commit yourselves to an extraordinary journey. Pray. Journal. Engage with a fellowship group and encourage one another in discernment. Seek out a spiritual director. And when you find your gift, offer it with joy and gladness, that together we may strengthen the Body of Christ in this day.



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