A Difference Making Difference
May 31, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 20:19-22 Acts 2:1-21 1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.” I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could. Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.
There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else. But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck.
But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.
Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift. You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word. And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit. And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus. And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost. And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.
2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary. The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way. Everyone changed. Everyone was empowered. Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God. We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday. But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all. Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked. Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors.
But all that changed at Pentecost.
In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless. And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete. With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.
But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?
It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?
And the answer, again, is everything.
In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost. But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them. The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago. As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today.
In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good. We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work. Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood. We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others. But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.
On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational. Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed. The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them. Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.
So, what difference does it make?
The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.
The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.
So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.” Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how. The answer is simple. God has given you gifts. Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given. And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.
You can make a difference.
God intends for you to make a difference.
God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.
Let’s get busy.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8_PAutzONiM
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