Affirmative action. It’s a term most people our age are well aware. In post-war America, the servicemen and women began to build a new country as they had just engaged in a world-wide struggle to defeat fascism and imperialism, fighting to free people who were being oppressed and subjugated. Women and minorities fought and contributed in the war effort just as their white male counterparts did. Other women and minorities filled the jobs in America while its young men were off at war. Women and minorities experienced opportunities that they had only dreamed were possible. Europe and Asia were saved from the axis of evil but things were changing in America. America was a world power and player and could not go back to the way it was before World War Two. Then the Korean War exposed us to a new threat and tyranny with a new oppressor in the rise of communism. Court cases demanding the end of segregation in public schools were litigated such as Brown vs. the Board of Education. Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced the desegregation of schools and the right to vote. People wanted and deserved an equal opportunity to enjoy what everyone else had and what many took for granted.
These are all principles we embrace as United Methodists which are delineated in our Book of Discipline. Our own version of Methodist affirmative action if you will. Article 4 of the United Methodist Constitution, Inclusiveness of the Church, says, The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members of any local church in the connection. But, more importantly, through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have an equal opportunity to serve God and his people.
Our scripture reading today comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The congregation was experiencing some growing pains and divisions were beginning to develop. Some of the members were beginning to think too highly of themselves and what they were bringing to the table. It was more about them than it was about the mission of the church. Paul points out that there are different kinds of gifts, but that those gifts all come from the same Spirit. He says there are many kinds of service and ministries, but there is one Lord. He reasons that there are different kinds of works and activities but that the same God works all of them in all men. Paul explains that the Spirit is given to each of us for the common good of God and his people. Paul says that a word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and interpretation of the tongues to another. All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person. I think the point Paul is trying to make is that all of these works and gifts are of the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. We are one body with many parts all baptized by one spirit into one body, the body of Christ regardless of our status in life. What Paul wants his readers to understand is that all spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit, and their purpose is to build up Christ’s body, the church.
In the 7th chapter of John we learn of Jesus teaching in the temple during the Festival of Booths which was one of the three pilgrimage festivals held each year in Jerusalem where Israelites were commanded to attend. Jerusalem would have been filled with Jews from all around the region with many of them attending the festival at one time or another giving them an opportunity to hear Jesus’ teachings. In verses 37-39 we learn that it is the last day of the festival and the most important day when Jesus stands up and shouts, “All who are thirsty should come to me! All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow out from within him.’” Jesus said this concerning the Spirit. Those who believed in him would soon receive the Spirit, but they hadn’t experienced the Spirit yet since Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified. Those who were paying attention recognized the passage and realized Jesus was quoting from the prophet Joel, 2: 28, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” Jesus is predicting the coming of the Holy Spirit which will remain with the people as their companion and counselor.
Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2: 1-21 describes what happened that day when the Holy Spirit came upon the people. It was 50 days after Passover during the Feast of Weeks which was also one of the three major festivals for the Jews. It was a festival of thanksgiving for the harvested crops and Jews of many nations had gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration. It was, for the Apostle Peter, a target rich environment as the gathering represented a world-wide harvest of new believers, the first converts to Christianity. As we know, Jesus had forgiven Peter for denying him just prior to the crucifixion and had restored his faith. Through the Holy Spirit Peter gained confidence and became a powerful and dynamic speaker and was the rock upon which Christ built his church. What these Jews from many nations and lands witnessed that day was the Holy Spirit coming down upon the disciples who then began to speak to the various visitors in their own language. The people were amazed because these men were all Galileans who did not know the language in which they were speaking. These people, the visiting Jews from other countries, had probably never heard of or had seen Jesus. They now heard the gospel message that Jesus Christ offers salvation to all people without regard to nationality. After hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ these new converts returned home taking the gospel with them thereby spreading the gospel to others and unwittingly growing the church.
As members of God’s family, the beneficiaries of the expansion of the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit, we may have different interests and gifts, but we all have a common goal. That goal is to take affirmative action as we seek to identify and utilize the gifts God has given us, we need to make loving God and loving fellow Christians our highest motive. It’s about them, not us. We need to recognize that our gifts and ministries may overlap, but each believer has a specialized God-designed role in the building of Christ’s church. Part of the exciting adventure of following Christ involves discovering one’s service contribution and then making it available to God.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious God, the creator of all people, help us to understand when it is said that we were created in your image that such an image does not mean people just like us and only us. The image of you, O God, is one of a loving and caring Father who loves his children regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, or sex. Your image is one of love, compassion and forgiveness and as ones who were created in that image we should be a reflection of you here on earth as we strive to serve your people and be good stewards of your creation. Thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit who you sent to guide and instruct us as we strive to do your work and your will until the return of your Son. Move us to take affirmative action when we see injustice and inequality being suffered by your people. Cause us to reflect the love, joy, mercy, compassion and forgiveness as exhibited by your Son, our Savior. In the name of your most precious Son, we pray, Amen.