Acts 2:1-4/I Cor. 12:1-13 5.15.16
Gifts given by God are meant to be used for the good of the community, that means not for self preservation or prestige, but so that we can impact the world outside of the church. Since we are at the tail end of our 50 day attempt to better care for God’s creation, let me share with you an example of using gifts for the good of the community at large: a community solar system. That is not a solar system that revolves just around one community. It is a system of solar panels, a solar panel array, built by and for a community, not just one home or one business.
Community solar is an effort to use economy of scale to make solar energy available to households for whom it otherwise would be out of reach. We have neighbors who rent their home or live in an apartment, neighbors who cannot afford to install their own solar panels, neighbors who do not have good enough credit to buy solar panels, neighbors who have too many trees or their roof faces the wrong direction. There are lots of reasons people are unable to access solar energy alone. Now there is a way to access it as a group. It is an effort to pull various community players together to do something positive for our environment and to reduce energy costs. It turns out that Hunting Ridge actually does not have enough flat space to be an effective host for a community solar system. Our roof is too steep. The cost of the project goes up if a carport has to be constructed over the parking lot, and the lot is not large enough to be effective. Hosting the solar panels for a community is not our gift. But we do pay our bills and have good credit (in general). Those gifts, or resources, put us in a place where we can potentially be an sponsoring partner with other institutions to help locate the right place to install the panels, and to work together as a team on setting the parameters of who will be able to subscribe to the project. As a subscriber to the project ourselves, our church would receive the benefits of energy credits on our monthly bill as well. Our Maryland legislature just approved a bill this spring to make it possible to create community solar projects in our state, and West Baltimore is one of the first locations for pilot projects. With the right sized solar array, we might be able to service 200 or more households, with a percentage of them being low income neighbors anywhere in the BGE service area. None of us could do this kind of project alone. In addition to physical space and good credit, the capital outlay is huge. Other gifts are needed– investors who will put the money up front in order to get the panels installed, and then subscriber families or institutions who will pay into a fund which will then give them a return on their investment. BGE is required by the State to participate, serving as the energy supplier, keeping track of the amount of solar energy provided to the grid and giving credit on the monthly energy bills of subscribers.
Conversations are just beginning. The search is on for a host for the solar panels and potential sponsoring institutions. Nothing can happen until the fall when the new law comes into effect. Hunting Ridge may or may not be a partner, but community solar is coming to West Baltimore, and is a current illustration of what Paul is trying to say to the church in Corinth.
We have been looking for several weeks at this unruly group of Christians in Corinth, Greece. Throughout this first letter, Paul is trying to rein them in alternately with words of encouragement, words of instruction, words of chastisement and words of praise. That they are a multicultural congregation we have already established. That they are having some conflicts with one another we have already noticed. At this point in his letter, chapter 12, Paul is reminding them of the source and the purpose of these gifts with which they have been blessed. These same gifts which have caused some competition and resulted in hurt feelings.
Seems like they had forgotten that a gift can never have been yours to begin with, it is always something you receive. You can’t take credit for a gift you get for your birthday or for mother’s day, even if it is what you asked for. A gift comes from someone else. Paul is speaking of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Again and again he repeats, emphasizing that each gift is from the same Spirit. For Paul, the purpose of the gifts are to create unity in the community, a unity of diverse members, but a unity which becomes visible to others and invites others in.
That was the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day, when a group of wimpy disciples huddled together in a room suddenly received the gift of being able to communicate, to speak the news about Jesus in a way they had never been able to before. People took notice that day, for sure. You took notice this morning, didn’t you, as the languages filled our sanctuary during the reading? If you read on in chapter 2 of Acts, the church was born that day because the Spirit enabled the story to be told in multiple languages, people paid attention, and at least 3000 decided to join the church. Some of the crowd were skeptical, and there always will be some of those, won’t there? If we let skeptics have their way all kinds of amazing projects would never take off.
The Spirit pours out many gifts, because many gifts are needed. Paul lists nine of them here–wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. He has another list at the end of the chapter, and yet another in Romans chapter 12. Teachers, preachers, helpers, givers, leaders. And none of his lists are exhaustive. Like any good preacher, he gives you a few examples so you get the point. Perhaps recognizing our own gifts is not as important as acknowledging the gifts of one another, finding ways that our gifts can complement one another as we together make up a community of faith. More important is giving thanks for the gifts of one another, empowering one another to put those gifts into practice. You received a flame in your bulletin this morning. It describes a gift given by the Spirit. Maybe you resonate with it, maybe you don’t. My challenge to you on this Pentecost day is to identify someone you know who has exhibited this gift and pass the flame along to him or her. You might see them in person, you might send them an email, or just call them on the phone to tell them about it. Sometimes you see a gift in another person that he or she totally misses when looking in the mirror!
The gifts from the Spirit are power. We use the metaphors of wind- power and fire-power, the colors of flames and the rushing sound of a strong wind. These metaphors are taken from the images we find in the book of Acts from that birth-day. But all the metaphors point to the gifts as the awesome power of God. The gifts provide power for the recipient to keep on keeping on in the everyday work of God right here. The gifts provide power for this community, this family, to attract others. The gifts are given for the life and health of the community as a whole, not for the individual alone. If you have the gift of speaking but have no one to speak to, it is kind of useless. If you have the gift of healing, but are not a part of a community which needs healing, you have nothing to do. If you speak in ecstatic tongues and have no one to interpret them for you, it is just between you and God, with no meaning for anyone else.
Wind power is nothing special unless it is put to work. Gifts of the Spirit ignored create a powerless community, or maybe a non-community of isolated individuals who can’t see giftedness in anyone. Gifts of the Spirit are to be used and shared. So too, flames burning unattended cause damage, not heat for warmth or cooking. Gifts of the Spirit always run the risk of becoming an obsession, a weapon, a divisive tool. Gifts of the Spirit must be attended so that they are used to unite a community of believers. And, remember, gifts of the Spirit are free. Happy Birthday, church!