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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Gift You Wouldn't Want


1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Acts 2:1-21

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Have you ever gotten a gift you didn't want?

I mean, not like you got the wrong gift. Not as if you told him, "Size six," and he came back with size 14. That can be solved with an exchange. Of the clothing, I mean. Maybe him, too.

And not as if it's a gift you just don't enjoy. Like, you get a subscription to a magazine you don't read. Soldier of Fortune, or Oprah's O. Different readership.

And it's not as if it's a gift you're expected to re-gift. Your son gives you the Wii video game he's been wanting for months. You might actually like Super Mario Kart, but that's not the point. The gift is something you can and are supposed to give away.

So I don't mean the WRONG gift. I don't mean a gift you just don't LIKE. I don't mean a gift that you're expected to RE-GIFT. I mean a gift that you simply do not want.

Oh, and, one more thing I forgot. It's a gift you can't get rid of. It's a gift that can't be sold. A gift that can't be pawned off. It's yours, and only yours, whether you want it or not.

Have you ever gotten a gift like that?

You remember last week we talked about the Apostles. We talked about how they were huddled together in one place, as the Bible says. They were scared. They were alone. They had seen their leader, Jesus, publicly executed by the occupying dictators of their land, the Romans. They had seen him turned out by his religion. They had seen him turned upon and spat upon by the same fans who just a few days earlier hailed him as a conquering hero.

The Apostles were scared. They were alone. But there was more. Really, really weird things were starting to happen. They began having unexplained visions. They started seeing Jesus, resurrected and alive. At least one of the Apostles, Thomas, thought the other 10 had gone mad. In the Gospel According to Luke, who also wrote the book of Acts, Jesus had to eat a piece of fish in front of them to prove that he wasn't just a hallucination, or worse. In today's scripture, we hear that people thought Apostles were a bunch of drunks.

The Apostles were scared. They were alone. They were seeing things no one else had ever seen before. So, you remember how Jesus tried to calm them down? He promised them... a gift.

Acts, verse 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus doesn't ask them if they want this gift. Now imagine. You're scared. You're alone. You've seen your best friend, your teacher, your friend - killed. And now he's come back - at least you think he's come back - to give you the gift of... talking about him. Jesus' gift to his Apostles... is the gift of doing... the one thing in the whole wide world they're most afraid of doing.

This gift - if you can call it a gift - will get you called names. This gift - if you can call it that - can get you put in jail. This gift can get you kicked out of your religion. It can get you abandoned by your family. It can get you denied by your best friends. This gift in all likelihood in first century A.D. will get you killed in a horrible, protracted, insulting way.

Oh, and, yeah, this, too. Jesus isn't asking the Apostles if they want the gift. The gift is on the way. And they will get it.

So I want to ask you, if you were an Apostle, is this a gift you want?


In the first scripture lesson today, we heard about the gifts of the Spirit, and they all sounded lovely.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits...

Wisdom. Healing. Knowledge. Faith. Miracles. Prophecy. Sign me up. Those are awesome gifts.

But in Acts, in the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit shows up as a very unanticipated and even unwelcome gift.

Tongues of fire. Smoke and winds. Nonsense babbling as if in a seizure. The sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood. And something else: foreigners! People from Phrygia and Pamphilia and who knows where else. People who don't look like disciples. People who don't sound like disciples. People who eat unclean foods and who smell like they're unclean. Foreigners crashing the party. Undocumented aliens knocking on the door.

Imagine if it were your door. Imagine if you started preaching about Jesus in a foreign language and imagine you no longer could control your own body. Your mouth was moving, words were escaping, and you couldn't stop. Imagine the city council standing across the street, looking very angry, looking like you needed forcible rehabilitation.

Now, is this a gift you would want?

If you can't exchange it, if you can't ignore it, if you can't give it to somebody else... if you can't refuse it... is it really a gift?


Two weeks ago, we celebrated Memorial Day. We talked about the freedom we enjoy, the gifts we enjoy of being able to get on the lake, go to the pool, barbecue in the backyard... we talked about how these things we celebrate came at a cost.

Every gift has a cost.

We talk about spiritual gifts. A lot of time, when we celebrate the gifts of the Spirit, church sounds like Blue's Clues. "You can be anything that you want to be." A preacher, a teacher, a doctor, a fireman. We don't mention the cost.

When Jesus talked about the gift of faith, he said we have to die... and be born anew. We have to die and be born anew in order to begin to appreciate, and in order to begin to celebrate, these wonderful, miraculous gifts of the Spirit. We forget the cost.

We're so lucky in our freedoms in this country. We don't have to think of our faith as a life or death choice. But a lot of you, if not most of you, received your faith in life or death situations. You had a hint of faith, faith enough for a happy life. And then you or someone you love got a doctor's report that changed everything. You realized that you were not in charge of your own body. A job disappeared. A foreclosure appeared. A car went off the road.

Maybe you think you were cursed; I'm sure there were times when the Apostles felt that way.

Maybe it was a gift. A gift that you did not want. A gift you would never want. A gift that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

The breakup is not the gift. The tumor is not the gift. The tongues of fire were not the gift.

The gift is life.

The gift is life with depth. The gift is life with purpose. The gift is life with appreciation for life. The gift is knowing that even though the sun turns to darkness and the moon to blood, the gift is knowing that life goes on. God is the God of resurrection. God is the God of new life. And new life always has a cost. The price of new life is the cost of the old.

If that's kind of scary, it's supposed to be.

Every mom in the congregation will tell you, giving birth to new life isn't nearly as fun as it looks. But amazingly, miraculously, the pain of birth is eclipsed by the gift of life. If it wasn't we'd all be only children. One and done.

And so on Pentecost, this day 50 days after Easter when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, we need to be reminded that maybe this gift wasn't something you'd want, if you were an Apostle. And maybe the gifts of the spirit aren't something we'd want, if we had a choice.

The thing about God that we almost always forget is that God's in charge. We don't get to choose our crises. Not that God's sending the crises. But God is sending the new spirit, the deeper spirit of life and the gift of life, born out of the pain of life, that can, with care and intention and hard work, grow into a gift.

It's a gift you might never want. And a gift you wouldn't want to life without.


- James