Every year in our household birthdays and Christmas are becoming harder and harder to find a gift to give. As children grow older and no longer scream for the latest toy that all their friends have it’s hard to find a personal gift. In this day and age with credit cards we find that people don’t wait for birthdays or Christmas to ask for the gift they want – they just buy it straight away which makes it even harder to find a gift for them. We’ve tried different ways to buy gifts – Secret Santa (where you pick someone’s name out of a hat), buying gift cards which become a burden as you end up rushing to use them before the expiry date.
As we celebrate Pentecost today the central focus of today is “gift giving”. And the gift God gives at Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit continues to draw a lot of confusion and a lot of controversy in the Christian church still today, as denominations differ on what it means to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. And the confusion and controversy happens because we sometimes confuse what a gift is.
When buying a gift for someone you analyse the person. You look at what their interests are. You look at what their needs are. You look at what their age and maturity are. God does the same when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given. As St Paul says when he speaks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. He says: there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. To each is given the Spirit for the common good. All gifts are given by one and the same Spirit, who gives to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
As we look around our church today we all have different gifts. Some have the gift of leadership. Some have the gift of hospitality. Some have the gift of servanthood. These are all gifts of the Holy Spirit given for the common good. No gift is greater than any other gift because it is given according to the needs of the person and the needs of God through that person. In the early church the gift of tongues was very prominent because there were so many nationalities and languages but the Gospel was emanating from the one group of disciples who spoke the Hebrew language. So as we heard in today’s reading – each one heard the disciples speaking in their native language. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Notice that the focus of the gift was the hearing rather than the speaking. The people needed to hear God’s message so that was the gift.
As time went on the gift of tongues lessened because it was no longer needed as much. The message had gotten out – new churches were established in the different countries and the gospel was being spoken and heard in those languages.
So what is the need for the Holy Spirit today that it needs to give to the church as its gift? Well I think there is a timeless gift that is needed in every generation and it was the gift given by Jesus himself when he gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples.
Jesus said: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
As we look around the world today Christians are sent into the world to bring forgiveness into the world. There is so much hatred and anger in the world today that it seems the world is living on the brink of war wherever we look. We look around at the amount of people caught up in violence on the street. We see road rage ever increasing especially the ongoing battle between cars and cyclists. We see the anger displayed between those who agree and disagree with Same Sex Marriage and the hurtful words from both sides of the argument. We see the anger at refugees, the indigenous and welfare recipients. And that’s without looking at the worldwide scene with ISIS, North Korea and American “anti-Trump” protests.
Forgiveness is a gift that God has given to us break free from the anger and hatred that seems to be dominant in our lives.
Forgiveness allows us also to live our lives free from fear, which can cause irrational behaviour and responses to the things happening around us that we don’t understand or that we don’t agree with. Fear of things happening around us can affect our behaviour towards others s we saw in our Bible reading: The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.
A lot of the times our responses to things happening around us are motivated by fear. Our responses can be harsh and very unchristian when we fear the unknown – send them back to where they came from – I hope he rots in hell – lock him up and throw away the key. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean restoring things back to how they were before the breakdown or accepting the things that are happening. But it does mean that we can be freed from our anger and hurt by handing it over to God to deal with. There are some hurts that can never be healed by earthly justice. Even the death penalty won’t restore things back to the way they were. It won’t bring back the life of a loved one. But forgiveness means that we won’t allow that situation to keep hurting us knowing that God is going to deal with it. Forgiveness releases us from the need to take judgment and allows us to heal. And that’s why Jesus not only spoke about the forgiveness of sins but also the retaining of sins where justice is not served. But that is God’s action –not ours.
As St Paul said to the Christians in Rome – Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Jesus himself showed that same forgiveness when he cried out from the cross – forgive them Father, they do not know what they are doing. The gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to live with the peace of God that Jesus brought to the disciples – Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Forgiveness is not an easy thing for us to do. It can make us feel vulnerable to further hurt just as Jesus experienced when he refused to retaliate to the flogging and the mocking when he was arrested. It can make us feel as if we have been short-changed as we let go of taking our own retribution. Sometimes it is easier to hold on to our anger and rage and lock our hearts away. But Jesus continues to find a way in to our locked hearts to remind us of his own hurt as he comes to the disciples behind the locked door to bring them peace and then he shows them his hands and side where he too experienced the hurt that humankind can deliver. But he sends them out not with a message of war and anger but with a message of peace – to announce forgiveness of sins.
And so too; you are sent today into the world to take Christ’s forgiveness which is shown by our own examples of forgiveness. It’s so easy to get caught up in the worldly responses to the injustices and things we disagree with.
But we are sent to announce peace and forgiveness. And God gives us his Holy Spirit to break down those locked doors and to remove the fear just as the disciples who previously fled and denied Jesus now go into the marketplace and tell the world about God’s love through Jesus.
That is God’s gift to the world – that is God’s gift to you – forgiveness even though the world executed God’s own Son and that is also the example God has given to us to enable us to forgive those who hurt us and live in peace.