I am fairly confident in assuming that the spiritual gifts we study today have never been practiced in our church. This morning, as we continue with the Revelatory gifts, we come to the gifts of tongues and interpretation, which are linked together, as I Corinthians 14:28 says If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
The first time I heard someone speak in tongues was in college, when I was working in the cafeteria one evening during a meeting of the local chapter of the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship. During their meeting some of the men began speaking in tongues, and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. A few years later, while Student Minister at Bethel Christian Church in Jonesboro, Tennessee, I witnessed speaking in tongues on a number of occasions. The choir would often travel around the northeast Tennessee area and some of the churches we visited were rather charismatic in their worship, including the practice of speaking in tongues. At one church, there was a long banner proclaiming the ten things necessary to be a Christian. I don’t remember the first eight, but number nine was that one must possess the Holy Spirit, and number ten was that possessing the Holy Spirit would lead to speaking in tongues. So much for the Holy Spirit being present in my life, if that’s true.
Speaking in tongues is found in a style of worship we call charismatic, which is from the Greek word charisma, which means favor or grace. Worship that includes speaking in tongues is also called full gospel, as some of the practitioners believe one does not preach the full gospel unless all spiritual gifts are included.
I tend to believe the gift of speaking in tongues is a gift that was given for a limited period of time. During the era of the early church, the need for crossing barriers of language and offering important spiritual truths was especially important. I don’t believe the same conditions that brought about the need for tongues in the early church exist today. The gift of tongues, while a gift of grace for the early church, is one that is no longer needed, in my opinion (though I should, in all fairness, mention that plenty of people would disagree with me).
Today’s Scripture reading, from the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, tells us that people heard their own language being spoken. There is a great debate in scholarly circles about whether or not the miracle was in the speaking or the hearing. Were people speaking in a variety of languages, or were people hearing in their own language? In the end, I guess, it probably doesn’t matter. What mattered was that communication about God was taking place, which is the important point.
It is on the point of communication that I wish to concentrate our attention today. Obviously, we do not speak in tongues in our worship. We do, however, understand the importance of communicating important truths about God to one another and to our wider world. The gift we are considering today, then, is really the gift of communication.
Some people are very gifted at communicating even very complicated subjects in an interesting and understandable way. Others, not so well. If I had passed Algebra I might be an engineer. I couldn’t understand what letters had to do with math. How does 3x=2y? I still don’t understand how you can put letters and numbers together, and my teacher didn’t seem to know how to communicate that concept to me (to be fair to her, I probably wouldn’t have understood the concept anyway).
The root of many of our problems in today’s world stem from the difficulty in communication. Someone has written a version of Murphy’s Law for communication –
1. If communication can fail, it will.
2. If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way that will do the most harm.
3. There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message. That one reminds me of a Sunday some years ago, when I was greeting people after worship. As one person shook my hand they said, I really liked when you said…I agree with you 100%. Actually, I had said the exact opposite of what he heard. But that’s not as bad as what happened to my friend Carl Rucker, who for years was minister at Campbellsburg Christian Church. One Sunday morning one of his members greeted him after worship and went on and on about how much she enjoyed his sermon and how much she got out of it. Just a few steps away she turned to a friend and said, loudly enough that Carl heard, you know, I never have a clue what in the world he’s talking about.
4. The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.
I think churches today have a communication problem. What people often hear from churches are things such as intolerance, anger, and judgmentalism.
What are we to communicate to others about God? Well, there are many things, but I’ll mention just a few today.
I guess this begins to sound like a broken record after a while, but until humanity learns to practice love we’ll just have to sound like a broken record. Of course, within the church we sometimes have a lot to learn about practicing love as well. There are some voices from within the church that don’t sound as though they have much love for people. Even a small group, such as Westboro Baptist Church, tends to make us all look bad, as some will believe they are representative of all churches act.
We must cling to love always, and demonstrate love, until people see that is what we are truly about.
Love should allow us to speak across all the matters that bring division to our world. Love should allow us to reach across all the differences that threaten to separate us.
2. Each person is of incredible value to God.
There is a lot of Calvinism in the world of religion today. Calvinism is a theological point of view based on the writings of John Calvin, who lived in the 16th century. Calvinism is most famously known for the idea of predestination, which is the idea that God chooses some for salvation and some for damnation, and there is nothing you can do about it; you have no choice in the matter. It also sees almost everything as being predetermined. If you have ever said something such as I guess it was just meant to be, you have a bit of Calvinism in you. I don’t like the idea of predestination. I also dislike on of the other tenets of Calvinism – the Total Depravity of Mankind. This tenet says there is nothing good about humanity. Nothing. We are worthless. A lot of preaching today is founded on this idea. It’s the kind of preaching that tells us how bad we are. I find it discouraging and depressing. I am not a Calvinist. Never have been, never will be. I believe that because we are created in the image of God we all possess a measure of the divine spark and that we possess goodness and can help bring beauty to our world because we reflect the image of God. If you tell people they are bad and worthless, they eventually believe it and act accordingly. If you tell them they are valuable and loved, they eventually believe it and act accordingly.
I’m the kind of person who has only a couple of themes in my preaching. I think I preach the same basic sermon over and over, with a bit of variation. Most everything I have said this morning you have heard me say before, and you’ll hear me say it again.
I believe in grace. We live in a world that doesn’t extend much grace to people. We live in a world that builds people up, but seems to have greater joy in tearing them down.
How do we talk across the liberal/conservative divide? The red state/blue state divide? The Republican/Democratic divide? The UK/U of L divide?
When I was a junior in college, one of my best friends arrived on campus and we were roommates. That is also the year when Tanya and I began dating. My friend is a great guy, but for some reason he decided he should go with Tanya and I on all of our dates. If we were going to a movie, on a picnic – or anywhere else – he would suddenly appear in my car to go along with us. One day, when Tanya and I decided to go on a picnic, we were determined we would slip away from campus without him. I picked Tanya up at her dorm and we made our way through campus in my car. When I stopped at the stop sign just before turning onto the highway, the front door suddenly opened and in jumped my friend. He was breathing hard from running down the hill after us. Breathlessly, he said, it’s a good thing I caught up with you before you left! You almost missed me! I did have much of a sense of grace at that moment. My idea was to drive far into the hills of east Tennessee and drop him off in the middle of nowhere. That’s not grace – and he is my friend!
If we have a hard time extending grace to those we love, imagine how hard it is to give grace to all people. And yet God calls us to lives of grace. He calls us to value all people, and, most importantly, he calls us to love all people. This is what we must communicate.