Activation Fees

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

If you buy a new phone, you will need to pay what is called, an “activation fee.”

The fee compensates your phone company for connecting you to their network. After you pay it, you are free to use your phone to call whomever you want.

Now the Feast of Pentecost, which we’re observing today is a celebration of the many ways that Christians are “activated.” We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit offers us ways to connect to the power of God. Since the Spirit arrived at the first Christian Pentecost to lead the Church, the church has been blessed with a number of what we call Gifts of the Spirit

We can detect these gifts in the four passages from Scripture that were read today.

The First Lesson from the Book of Acts tells how the church came into being. The disciples of Jesus discovered they would now be led by God’s Spirit. So the Holy Spirit creates community.

Then we heard the writer of the Psalm addressing God; the writer says “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.” The Holy Spirit also gives new life.

The Second Lesson from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians lists a number of blessings that had been given to the early Christians. Some of the church members were given the gift of prophecy, so that they could discern God’s will for their church. As Paul says, “All these are activated by one and the same spirit.” So the Holy Spirit offers wisdom.

Finally, in the Gospel text, Jesus says to his disciples: “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.” So the Holy Spirit offers pardon to sinners; as a result, it brings inclusion.

Community. Renewal. Wisdom. Inclusion. Four ways that the Spirit sustains and enriches the church.

But these gifts aren’t delivered directly to us, like packages from FedEx. They require certain responses on our part. We need to do something in order to activate the spirit in our lives.

Some of the responses we’re required to make are obvious. Take Community.

If you want to benefit from Christian community, you’ll have to make some effort to connect with the church. You can take the traditional path of attending every Sunday. Or you can attend less regularly as you feel moved. Or you can participate in specific church activities, like a study group or a service project.

There is no mystery about how you activate this gift of the Spirit. You just have to discover your own place in the church family.

As for Renewal: here’s an example of how we at Incarnation are activating this gift of the Spirit. The organist, the assistant, and I have been meeting for some weeks to plan a process for Incarnation to strengthen and expand our parish ministries. The Vestry has engaged a consultant to help implement the process; it will enable the whole congregation to participate in planning what we are calling, “Vision 2020.”

Activating the gift of Wisdom can also be challenging. The particular form of wisdom that St. Paul mentions in the Second Lesson was called, “prophecy.”

In the Early Church, prophecies were a kind of ecstatic utterance that purported to reveal the specific decisions a congregation should make: like whether to send missionaries to a certain place or whether to follow the Hebrew rules about diet.

Someone in a congregation might come forth with a pronouncement that the church should take a particular action. Then someone else would claim to be able to discern whether that prophecy was valid or not.

Most congregations today don’t use this method to find the will of God for their mission. But we–like the members of the Early Church–still need to figure out what actions God wants us to undertake in order to serve him. And this wisdom needs to be confirmed by patient reflection. We need to be sure that we are understanding God’s will.

Here, too, we can point to an example of a gift of the Spirit in the life of our own congregation. A year and a half ago, a small stone fell off the top of our church tower. We immediately put up scaffolding to protect the public. But then, our governing board needed to figure out what to do!

First, we commissioned our architects to prepare a study of the stonework. This report told us how we could repair the steeple. Then we called for bids from various companies to do the work. (By the way, the largest of the four bids we received was four times the size of the lowest bid! Happily, we could take the lowest bid—which was from a firm that had done good work for us in the past.)

Then our Vestry had to decide how much of the needed repair we could afford to do right now. We first opted for a minimum project that would allow us to remove the scaffolding, but would require us to do more work in 5 or 10 years.

Then as initial work and advanced fund-raising proceeded better than expected, we found we could raise our sights. I’m happy to announce that just recently, the Vestry decided to make all the necessary repairs.

So we reached this complicated decision by consulting experts, by holding many meetings and discussions, and of course by praying! As a result, we feel the Holy Spirit has led us to make the right move for the future of our building.

Finally, we can mention the fourth gift of the Holy Spirit that I listed earlier, Forgiveness. This gift can of course be activated by seeking God’s pardon when we have done hurtful things to others.

But we can also see this gift as part of a broader pattern of divine action in the world. Forgiveness in the early church meant bringing back into the religious community those who had hurt church members. Thus forgiveness isn’t just about erasing sins; it is a way God expands the boundaries of his Kingdom. Forgiveness brings people the new life of the Spirit.

Inclusion is particularly evident today as we welcome two new members into our fellowship of Christ. Madeline and Joaquin will be baptized into the Holy Spirit and given the gifts of the Spirit.

So we may be thankful too that the Spirit offers us all the gift of community, and the gift of wisdom and the ability to renew and expand our church. For we are all sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.


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