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Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
"Now concerning spiritual gifts…"
Do you wonder… what was the concern about spiritual gifts? A letter had been written to Paul with people very concerned about Spiritual gifts.
The concern was not that there was a lack of people with Spiritual gifts or passions… there seemed to be plenty… – some could speak in tongues- I used to think this meant some sort of strange and intelligible babble thanks to the popular images I’ve been given of people who speak in tongues… but the Greek word for tongues is languages… they had the gift of interpreting the message to people of another language… the one who could interpret tongues could communicate to the others what was being said… – some could heal… that’s a good gift to have… don’t you think … there are times when I wish I had that gift… – some could work miracles… that’s a good gift to have floating around a church… sometimes I’ve been known to pray for a miracle in a very difficult situation… (usually around stewardship or budget time!) – some had the gift of wisdom… the ability to bring special insight into problems or situations… the church needs them…
– some had the gift of discernment… they are the members who listen, take in the facts, pay attention to God… and discern where God is leading… every church needs discerning members… – some had the gift of prophecy… not fortune telling… but the ability to bring God’s message to the people in their time and place… a message that sometimes bring comfort in times of anxiety or distress… sometimes a disturbing and challenging message when the church and the people were going off course… That’s a good person to have around. They are the ones who know when to stroke you and when to poke you for your own good. They are simply trying to align your life with God’s will for you and the world.
– some had the gift of knowledge… they likely were very biblically and theologically literate people (SS Teachers, professors)… you needed them around the church to make sure you were well informed by your faith… and in your faith… Presbyterians seem to have this gift in abundance- church always needs knowledgeable people…
Those are just a few of the gifts Paul has heard are present in the congregation at Corinth… and I doubt they are all of the gifts…
So it is clear to me that the concern, if you will… the concern… is not that there is a lack of gifts or passions or work or ministry in the life of these Christians. They had all the gifts they needed.
The concern is not the problem of "firing them up"… any church with all of those gifts is an active, a very active congregation. I imagine every committee was working hard… excited about their ministries of healing… of prophecy… ministries of education… ministries of Spiritual discernment… ministries of interpretation that help the church cross the cultural and ethnic borders that divide us by language… The concern is obviously not a lack of gifts or a lack of ministries or activities.
So, do you know what the concern is? I have a couple of suggestions for us.
Perhaps some in the congregation are beginning to wonder if they have any spiritual gift. If you went to this church and saw all of those gifts being used… you could easily attend this church and wonder, "what can I offer?" I’m not that smart… (I can’t name the 4 gospels) ..I can hardly speak English… I don’t know how to heal… I can’t discern… I cannot even decide what I’m cooking for supper… Wise? Not according to my teenagers. Besides, my gifts pale in comparison to those I meet at the church. I can see where someone might doubt their giftedness in a highly gifted church like Corinth… or frankly like the Kirk. The Kirk is an amazingly gifted place. And if you are new you might wonder… do I have a gift to share?
For Paul the answer to that question is simple. Of course. Of course you have a gift… "To each is given the manifestation of the spirit" To each… not to some… but to each. Everybody has a gift from the Holy Spirit. Everybody. Don’t let anyone tell you different. You may not know what the gift is yet, but we can help you with that. But you have a gift… a gift to be shared. That’s the easy concern to address.
The harder concern for Paul has to be what this variety of gifts and passions and ministries is doing to the life of that congregation. It is HOW those gifts are being used. That’s the concern. It seems that those gifts and passions are not building up the body of Christ… but tearing them apart.
To me, it looks like there is pride, ego and tribalism running rampant in that church. I think there is a rampant individualism going on in this community that is about to divide them. There is a lot of fighting going on in this church family. My Momma would have told them something like, "why is it we treat strangers better than we do each other" in this family. I heard her say that to us once or twice in my life. If Mom was in Corinth, she might have said that to her church family.
And you know the problem, don’t you? Everybody thinks their gift and their ministry and their passion is the most important one… the one ordained by God. (Oh we know there are different, gifts but we know which one God likes the best!)
And if you are not on our team or share our gifts or our passion for ministry in the church… well, then, something is wrong with you.
Everyone knows the gift of healing is the most important one to have in a world where so many are broken spiritually and physically… We need everyone in the church to join the healing team…
Not so fast says those who interpret tongues… we are living in a multicultural world with many languages… how are you going to heal anyone if you don’t speak their language… How are you going to have a mission to Pala or reach out to latinos in our community or converse with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters here at the Kirk… We need the whole congregation to learn how to speak in tongues… learn languages…
Wait just a minute says the education team… before you go healing anyone or interpreting for anyone… you better know what you are talking about… you better have a well informed faith…. Let’s make sure everyone is going to Sunday school and signing up for education before we just start going out and healing and speaking…
Wait a minute says the Spiritual discernment committee-before we heal, speak in tongues or even start up a new educational program… shouldn’t we all be still and listen for the voice of God to lead us… there’s a time to do and a time to be… Everyone should simply stop, and learn to discern…
Does any of this sound familiar to you? It does to me… for about 26 years now… and my hunch is that this concern has faced the church for only about 2000 years.
The arguments confront us all the time as we tend to think our passions and our ministries are the important ones… so we set up the battle lines- mission ministry or caring for members….Youth ministry versus ministry to the elderly… mission- local or international… worship-contemporary or traditional… God must love one more than the other… Focus on worship or focus on education…
Name your ministry in any church and I will guarantee you there is someone who is so passionate about what God has called them to do… that they want everyone else to join their team.
Which is a good thing… until… until… you actually believe that your ministry is the only one the Spirit is leading… until, until…you begin to judge others for whom God has not placed that passion for ministry as they are led by the Spirit with a passion for some other ministry. When you begin to think that people who don’t share your passion are less of Christians… then there is something to be concerned about.
I think that is what is really concerning Paul… Which is why he is fairly firm, redundant and insistent in making a couple of points:
He wants them to understand that God loves variety… God never intended the church to be a one gift operation… or one passion operation… God loves diversity and sees it as one of his greatest gifts to the church. They all come from God. Could Paul have been any clearer?
Now there are varieties of gifts, BUT THE SAME SPIRIT
And, there are varieities of services BUT THE SAME LORD
And there are varieties of activities but the same God who activates all of them in every one…
To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good…
All these are activated by the one and same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses."
Paul wants them to appreciate the variety of gifts God has given them. They are blessed! They are necessary for the health of the church.
Isn’t it a great thing that all of these gifts are given to the church. Where would we be without the passions and gifts the Spirit has given others… If everyone sang in the choir, who would teach Sunday School… If all anyone cared about was building Habitat Homes… who would repair the church or mow the lawn?
Instead of complaining, Paul might say, about those who are different… you may want to thank your lucky stars… No, thank God for the variety that enriches our lives together. We need them all. We’re in this together after all.
I love the story of the cathedral in Europe that had a wonderful organ, but it didn’t have all the state-of-the-art electronic computer equipment that organs that are now brought up to date have, it was an old organ that someone had to sit on and pump air that would course through the pipes of the organ. One day, some years ago, the organist came out for a recital. He was a brilliant organist, well renowned in Europe. He came out and bowed before the congregation. He said,"For my first piece, I will play something by Mozart." He sat at the organ with a flourish, pressed his fingers on the keys-no sound. He turned to the congregation and said, "For my first piece, I will play something by Mozart." He put his fingers down again, no sound again. This time, very irritated,he looked at the congregation and said,
"For my first piece," and he’s really speaking to the man who is pumping in the back, "for my first piece, I will play something by Mozart." And he goes back and puts his fingers on the keys,and then he hears a little voice from the man on the pump, saying, "Say ‘we’ or I won’t pump."
The Spirit of God is the spirit that brings us together to work for the good of the whole church… and when we are working together, we never look better.
I don’t know about you, but my favorite moments at the Kirk are when we are in it together. Recently we had a piano concert… not to raise money for the piano… but for Alliance Medical ministry… Music and Mission were brought together for a great cause. $2100 raised thanks to the gifts of Music and mission. I love it in the summer when I see the time of fellowship used as an opportunity to eat Ice cream and raise some money for a mission cause… I think the Spirit is alive and well when one group or one individual is taking their gifts and helping someone else.
That’s when we know the Holy Spirit is among us…guiding us… and leading us to be the people God created us to be… a church working together, on fire to love and serve the Lord. That’s when we are a church that is blessed indeed. Amen.