For the Common Good
Based on Acts 2:1-13, 1Corinthians 12:4-13, John 7:37-39
Once upon a time a young adult daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time; frustrated by internet feeds of people her age who seemed to “have it all”. In her mind it seemed that just as one problem was solved, others quickly followed. Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second and ground coffee beans in the third. He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, muttered under her breath while she waited impatiently, wondering what he was up to. After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes and eggs out of their pots and placed them in separate bowls. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.
The father is attempting to teach his emerging adult a life lesson about how we are called to live our lives in community. We all dabble in comparative rhetoric to “other people’s lives” in relation to our own. In fact, the advertising and marketing professionals are constantly providing us with views of what the “good life” is and how we can become one of those who others will envy. It is a seductive lie that they tell, with all the creative tools that they have at their disposal – however, primarily seeking our individual good over the common good is still a sin and a lie.
Our scriptures on this Pentecost, tell us a different story about how the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives should change our perspective and call us into unity in the Body of Christ. This understanding of how we are all called to be one, helps us to understand the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good….” Let us go to God now in a prayer of thanksgiving for the great gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and for the birth of the Church of Jesus the Christ…
The readings from the Gospel of John and from the Book of Acts teach us about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. John’s Gospel has Jesus foreshadowing the coming of the Holy Spirit which will enliven believers to share the life-giving story and ministry of Jesus to all the world. The reading from the Book of Acts details that first Pentecost where the Holy Spirit descended on the believers as a mighty wind and tongues of flame upon their heads. The Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak about “God’s deeds of power” to the assembled from across the known world. Each of the listeners was enabled to hear that message by that very same Holy Spirit power. Thus, the actions of the Holy Spirit that day broke down the barriers of language and delivered a message that “amazed and perplexed” those who heard it.
The Apostle Paul, writing what we have come to call the first letter to the believers in Corinth, is reaching the main thrust of his letter as we come to the twelfth chapter. He has previously admonished them for not loving others in the community of faith as they love themselves – not sharing fully and well. In this chapter he begins to teach them once again about how it is that they are all connected together through the power of the one Holy Spirit which they received from God through their baptisms. No matter how one is gifted and called into service, the source of the gifts and calls is the very same God. Paul says directly, “…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good….” They are not given the gift of the Spirit for their individual success, rather they are gifted so that they can work together with each other to seek the welfare of all.
Let us return to our story…the father had just taken the potatoes, eggs and coffee from the stove and placed them before his daughter. Turning to her, he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?” “Potatoes, eggs and coffee,”she replied with some exasperation. “Look closer”, he said, “touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma and taste brought a smile to her face.
In the intervening decades between that first Pentecost and when Paul wrote the letter to the believers in Corinth, much had changed in this new movement. Initially, as we can read at the end of the second chapter of Acts, “…All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need….” By the time that 20-ish years have passed, and the movement spread out beyond Jerusalem, Paul and the other leaders were encountering problems with how people understood what it meant to be the Church. Paul reminds them that, “…in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…” No matter what station or physical location in life one is born into, through the baptism of the one Holy Spirit we all receive membership in the same Body of Christ. As members in the same Body, therefore, we are called to work together, using our gifts to work for the common good of expanding the Body throughout the world.
Our father-daughter story is reaching its climax, let’s hear from them one last time. The daughter had been asked to assess what had happened to the potatoes, eggs and coffee grounds which had been subjected to the trial of boiling water. She had noticed the changes and then asked, “Father, what does this mean?” He explained that the potatoes, the eggs and ground coffee beans had each faced the same trial – the boiling water for 20 minutes. However, each one reacted differently. The potato went in hard and unrelenting, but over time in boiling water, it became soft and weak. The egg was fragile, with only a thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior. Once exposed to boiling water the inside of the egg became hard. The ground coffee beans, however, were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new and good. He asked his daughter, “Which one of these are you called and gifted to be?”
We are all gifted and called in unique ways by the power of the Holy Spirit. All this is God’s gift of grace to us, freely given and unearned. When we believe and act like our Spirit-given gifts are actually gifts of our own making or that they are given in some hierarchical manner (i.e., some gifts are better or more useful than others) then we fall into sin. Our sin is that we use our God-given gifts to help only ourselves and our families, rather than using them in coordination with other believers on behalf of the common good of all creation. When we sin, we forget that Jesus told us that when the Holy Spirit came upon us that we would be like living waters for all those who thirst for justice, righteousness, equity and the freedom that comes from obedience to God. Like the emerging adult daughter in the story, we have become frustrated by a world which is seemingly no longer in our control. We are not able to come and go as we would have liked over these last 2.5 months, and it seems like every day there are more problems locally, nationally and around the world. I find myself wondering what is happening with your spiritual gifts and calls? I wonder what is happening through the power of the Holy Spirit lighting a fire within us all, subjecting us to our own trial of boiling water? It seems clear to me from scripture that we are gifted and called to be like the coffee grounds, changing the world around us into something new and better; something that will take us from our previous life of divided loyalties into a new life focused on unity in the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that came upon the people more than 2,000 years ago is the same Spirit at work in us and our world today. How will you allow the Holy Spirit to move you to use your gifts to change the world for the common good? Amen and amen!