A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on June 12, 2011.
Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and this day is often understood as the birthday of the Church. On that day, as recorded in Acts, God’s showered the Church with gifts of the Holy Spirit. In vivid and graphic language, Luke describe the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples like a rushing wind and tongues of fire which empowered them to speak in different languages. It also enabled them with the gifts of courage and power. If you remember, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, even with Jesus walking beside them and teaching them, the disciples were dull-headed and cowardly. When the going got tough, they deserted Jesus, and Peter went so far as to deny Jesus. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they huddled behind locked doors in fear. But now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples came out of their locked room and they spoke boldly about Jesus in the native languages of all the people who had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. The disciples were so excited, so passionate, so “on fire” that some people thought they were drunk! But Peter said, “We’re not drunk with wine, it’s only nine in the morning! But we are intoxicated by the Holy Spirit! And let me tell you why!” And this same Peter who denied Jesus three times now stood up and preached his first sermon! And on that day, as a result of Peter’s message, about three thousand people received the gift of salvation in Christ.
Since the birth of the Church, the Holy Spirit has showered God’s people with gifts. Now, when I think of gifts, whether for my birthday or Christmas, I often think of presents that are just for me, for my use and my enjoyment. Unlike those kinds of gifts however, the gifts that God gave to his disciples were not just for the disciples. The Holy Spirit gave the gift of different languages to the disciples not so that they could boast about it or use it solely for their own enjoyment. No, the many members of the one body of Christ were given gifts so that they could be used for the common good, so that they could be used to unite all people into the Kingdom of God regardless of the barriers of race, gender, age, social economic class and nationality. Peter, in his sermon, reminded his listeners what they were experiencing was the fulfillment of a prediction by the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh.” The implication was that the barriers that once separated people from each other would be no more. Gone is the barrier of race: for God pours out his Spirit upon all flesh. Gone is the barrier of gender: for your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Gone is the barrier of age: your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Gone is the barrier of domination of one group over another, for God promised that even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. In these last days, God’s Spirit is being poured out to all so that different gifts might be used for the common good.
It is a wonderful vision, but even from the very beginning, the church has struggled to fully live into that reality. In our epistle lesson today, we find the members of the church in Corinth struggling with how they could use their different gifts for the common good. Paul had to write them a letter to remind them that: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In the church of Corinth, the members there were quarrelling over which gift was more important than others; they were boasting that their gift was more spiritual than others. They were unable to honor their different gifts and offer each other the freedom to exercise those gifts for the common good. And it was beginning the tear that church apart.
Now frankly, I don’t see that problem here in Farmville Baptist. What I do see, however, is that some members are wondering if they really have gifts that they can utilize for the common good. “What talents do I have,” they might ask? Perhaps sometimes we think we have to be gifted like Mc Amoss on the organ, or gifted like Sarah Cave in singing, or gifted in administration like Ken Copeland in order to serve the church and promote the common good. But that’s not true. In the past week or so, I’ve seen instances of church members using their different gifts to bless the church and our community. Last Saturday morning, a number of folks spent a couple of hours cleaning our church’s stretch of the highway. On Wednesday morning, three of our members met with the owners of Shogun Japanese Restaurant to help them with their conversational English. Margaret Stombock has been working at the church this week to paint a backdrop for our upcoming VBS. Jim Davis has come by this week to check on our air conditioner units in the parlor and in my office. For years now, Becky Kelly has worked with Meals on Wheels, and others in our congregation have driven routes, sometimes serving as summer substitutes. Finally, many of our senior adults have faithfully signed prayer cards on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. These are just some of the ways that the various and different gifts of members of our congregation can be used for the common good.
As Paul said, there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord, and to each person in the church the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. The body of Christ needs each one of you to offer your gifts. In about a month, we will be hosting a Vacation Bible School, and we still need volunteers to serve as crew leaders. Can you help? Also, our Nominating Committee will be meeting this week to see how people in our church can use their different gifts to support the common work and ministry of Farmville Baptist through our committee structure. Do you like to cook? Perhaps you can serve on our social committee. Are you good with your hands? Perhaps you can serve on our property committee. If you like children and youth, perhaps you can serve on those committees. If you are not currently serving in the church in any capacity, I hope you will prayerfully consider ways that you can use your different gifts for the common good.
But this is not just about Farmville Baptist. We are part of a much bigger body called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) that supports and funds hundreds of missionaries and field personnel among some of the least served people groups in the world. Several weeks ago, I was on a conference phone call with other CBF pastors to talk with Dr. Daniel Vestal, the executive coordinator for the national CBF. Dr. Vestal gave a report on the steadily declining global missions offering receipts that are now threatening the financial support of CBF missionaries. Dr. Vestal challenged our churches to give to the global missions offering at least the same amount we gave last year, and if possible, to increase that amount by increments of $250. As most of you know, we have our global missions offering emphasis in the month of April. As of this Sunday, we’re about $110 short of our goal. After learning about the needs of the CBF, I believe that we cannot afford not to make our global missions offering goal. Missionary lives and ministries are literally counting on us to do our part. Therefore, I’m challenging each family in our church to contribute at least an additional $20 to see if we can make it to our goal. Beth and I will match gifts received for this purpose up to $250. And I welcome anyone else who has the ability to match gifts or make a special contribution to do so.
Now, lest you think that using your gifts is only for the church as an institution or denomination, I want to share with you something I heard from Dallas Willard, one of the foremost authorities on Christian spirituality today. Someone ask Willard this question: “If a person wants to grow spiritually, what would your advice to them be? Where would they start?” Willard answered: “They start by doing the next right thing that they know they ought to do.” Notice Willard didn’t say get on a Bible study, or start going to church, or engage in some devotional practice. Instead Willard said: “Do the next right thing that they know they ought to do. Because that’s what God wants you to do. Nothing will drive you into the kingdom of God like trying to do the next thing that you know is right, and then going on from that. Now when you do that, you may wind up going to church, because you will need help, and you will get it in church, because that’s where God is.”
Your gifts are not just for the church. Your gifts are for the common good through the church. The church was birthed so that it can help and equip disciples of Jesus do the next right thing by using their gifts for the common good. On that first Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit of God empowered the disciples to use their different gifts for the spreading the good news of Jesus to people of all nations. On this Pentecost Sunday, we have the opportunity to use our different gifts for the spreading the good news of Jesus, both here in Farmville and also to people of all nations. May God’s Holy Spirit give us the power and the courage to use our different gifts for the common good to the glory of God’s Kingdom. Amen