'There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.' I Corinthians 12:6

Something we take for granted today was still a hot, debated topic when Luke composed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

We presume anyone can be a follower of Jesus. Race or social status make no difference. We need only have faith in Jesus.

There's just one problem: Christianity didn't start that way. In the beginning - immediately after Jesus' death and resurrection - all of Jesus' followers were Jews.

Unlike ourselves, they looked at Jesus as a reformer of Judaism, not as the founder of a system of faith distinct from Judaism. Being Jewish was essential to being Christian.

That's where the Holy Spirit stepped in. From Acts and Paul's letters, we know this Jewish requirement was challenged by some liberal disciples of Jesus. They began teaching that anyone could be baptized into the faith of Jesus without first being required to convert to Judaism.

Except on rare occasions, the historical Jesus expressed His faith in the context of Judaism, so it was hard for some of His followers to begin to share His faith with others.

Non-Jews lived in circumstances and traditions quite different from that of a Galilean carpenter. Why should they be required to accept Jesus' context before they accepted Jesus' faith?

But Christians followed the risen, not the historical Jesus. As Paul reminded his Galatian community, the "new creation" who rose on Easter morning was just as much a slave as free, just as much Jew as Gentile - and people from any culture, social status or gender can identify with the risen Jesus. He left His historical context in the tomb and rose into ours.

Since the early Church carried on the ministry of Jesus, it was guided by the same Spirit which had guided Him. This eventually led them to take the huge step of baptizing Gentiles as Gentiles.

That seems to be one reason Luke mentions (Acts 2:1-11) the native lands of the people gathered on Pentecost. All were Jews, but most lived in non-Jewish places: "We are Parthians, Medes, Eleamites...." They're amazed to hear these newly-Spirited Christians "speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God."

Luke employs this phenomenon as an introduction to his theology that the risen Jesus can eventually be proclaimed in all cultures.

Keep on giving
Though parts of Paul's I Corinthians passage have been omitted from today's liturgical selection (I Cor 12:3b-7,12-13), one classic line has been included: "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit."

Jesus' Spirit enlivens all His followers - but this gift somehow benefits the whole community. We're gifted in order to be a gift for others.

John's theology of the Sprit dovetails with Paul's (John 20:19-23). If Jesus didn't send us out as God sent Him out, we wouldn't need the Spirit. It's an essential part of our carrying on His ministry.

Thankfully, the early Church left some traditions behind and gave itself over to a Spirit who guided them down those uncharted roads.