Today is a celebration of God’s gifts.
I’d like to tell you the story of three really significant gifts I received when I was younger. Since it’s Pentecost, you might be expecting that the three gifts might be tongues, prophecy and healing. But today, I’d like to tell you about my telescope, my microscope and my computer.
I got hooked on astronomy at the age of 7 and pestered my family for a telescope. So it was no great surprise when, a few months later, I received the gift of a 3-inch reflecting telescope. Now, making good use of a gift like this is hard work. A telescope for astronomy works best at night… and then means staying up really late in the summer or getting really cold in the winter. But, with help from Dad, I made good use of that telescope, and laid the foundations of my later career as a scientist, before switching from one heavenly calling to another.
Some time later, when I opened my Christmas presents, I was surprised to discover, among them, a microscope. Now a microscope and a telescope have some things in common – they magnify light and allow you to do scientific things. But, I’m embarrassed to recall, I was really ungrateful – “What do you expect me to do with this?” Didn’t my family understand that I was interested in stars and planets, not plants and animals? I’m afraid that gift didn’t get a lot of use.
Then, for Christmas 1982, I was perplexed to open my presents and discover something called a computer – a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 16 kilobytes of RAM! This time, when I asked “What am I expected do to with thus?” it wasn’t with disappointment but perplexity – I hadn’t heard of personal computers. But as my parents expected, I took to it like a duck to water and quickly learned how to program.
Three gifts. One unwanted, one desired and one unexpectedly welcome. I’m sure there were other gifts, too, things seen on television in December, unwrapped at Christmas, and placed in a cupboard, never to be played with again, by New Year’s Day. But the gifts that were both welcome and well-used were either desired for the right reasons, or discovered to be really useful.
God’s word makes it clear that we are expected to ask for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who is himself a gift.
On a visit to Jerusalem, Jesus cried out: ‘If anyone is thirsty, come to me! Let the one who believes in me, come and drink!’ We have to go to Jesus and ask. Do you want to receive a drink of living water? Do you wish to become a spring of living water? The two invitations go together. Before addressing the crowd in Jerusalem, Jesus approached an outcast woman at a well in Samaria: he began by asking her for a drink, but soon offered living water which would become a spring in whoever drank of it.
God’s gifts come at a cost. The Day of Pentecost followed nine days of intensive prayer. If God should pour into your life a remarkable gift for blessing other people, or speaking words which touch their lives, that will make you a magnet for some and a target for others. God won’t give you that kind of gift unless you’re willing to pay the price. These gifts are given to be used, not to be left in a cupboard.
The words of St Paul which we’ve heard today come from a letter which continues by encouraging us to ‘desire the greater gifts’, especially the gift of speaking words which come from God to build up other people in their lives. In other passages too, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to receive gifts from God, we need to ask, and perhaps ask repeatedly.
Have you received a gift from God which you’ve set aside because it’s disappointed or perplexed you? Maybe today is the day to look again and ask, “God, how should I use this gift?”
Is there a gift you’d like to receive from God which you’ve given up asking for? Maybe today is the day to start asking again?
I’d like to invite you to join me in praying a traditional prayer to the Holy Spirit which is drawn from the psalm we’ve prayed today.
Come Holy Spirit,
Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Bonus thought for web readers: On the first page of the Bible, the Holy Spirit hovers over the face of the water. In the middle of the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah calls God a ‘fountain of living water’. The Book of Revelation concludes the Bible by reaffirming the free gift of the water of life. God has us surrounded by water!