Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, February 24, 2013

life and death, 2.24.13

Psalm 46:1-11
1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
            Friday night we had a really nice movie night here. It was a good reminder for me of some of Laurelton’s strengths. It was relaxed and comfortable, like Laurelton. Our challenge is making sure we’re always actively reaching out to include new people in the intimacy and family feeling that makes this such a fun place to be.

            The reason I mention that now is that I want to bring that relaxed spirit to our time with scripture right now. Ritual and worship are important in the Christian life. Sermons help us learn and grow but they aren’t always the best way to engage with scripture. That’s why I like to spend some of our “sermon time” outside the box of traditional sermons.

             The church is a community shaped by love, trust and truth. Today we’re talking about death, about aging, about facing the end of life, both our life and the lives of those we care about. The end of life can be a scary topic. I suspect fear of death and questions about the afterlife are some of the most important reasons people come to church and run away from church.

            Because the topic is already surrounded by anxiety, I think it’s going to be more helpful for us to have a relaxed conversation about life and death than for me to just stand up here and preach a sermon. I’ve done some thinking and writing in preparation for this moment, but I want your questions and thoughts to guide us too. This is only going to work if we can trust each other. Different people have different beliefs about death and the afterlife. The point isn’t getting the right answer to intellectual questions about Christian teaching. We’re here to listen to each other and to bring our questions and fears to God’s word, trusting that God speaks through scripture and through us.

It’s OK if someone believes something that we don’t think is true: we are always learning and growing, so there’s no need to correct each other right now. And it’s OK if you don’t have the “right” answer. You can share your thoughts and fears here without worrying what someone else will think. So I want us to promise here and now that we will listen to each other without judgment, that we will share honestly and that we will respect each other. OK?

            Great. So let’s start with a question: What was your first experience with death? Not everyone has to share, but let’s hear from a few people.

            What emotion do you feel or think of when you think about death?

            That’s the warm up. Here’s the big question: What is your biggest fear about death? Think about that for a moment then get into groups of three or four and talk about it for a couple of minutes.

            Now I’d love for you to share your fear in a word or sentence.

            Hold onto that word while we listen to God’s word from Paul’s second letter to the Corinithians: 2 Corinthians 4:5-18; if you’re reading along, that’s page___.

5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

            Are there any ideas or words that jump out at you from that passage?

            Any areas of the passage that spoke to the fears we talked about?

            Is there anything there that touches how you think about life and death?

            There’s a tension in Christian faith between life and death. This is certainly not the only place we see that dynamic at work, but it’s on full display here. Life and death are related, not opposites. And life and death are not all or nothing; there’s a continuum, which I think we know from our own lives, right?

            Part of aging is the power of physical life in us getting weaker. We get achier and our bodies are less able to do the things they used to be able to do. So in that process of getting older we see a side of death. That’s part of why we do things like dye our hair or buy anti-aging creams. Our culture worships youth and a superficial kind of beauty connected with youth. Along with that, we worship speed and wealth and other signs of outward power. In popular culture life is about success, about having it all together. When we don’t feel like we have it all together, when we don’t feel fast or successful or young we feel the threat of death creeping up on us. That can be as major as a cancer diagnosis or as minor as a cold that slows us down and keeps us from doing what we “have to do.”

            Paul sees it a different way. He looks at the story of Jesus, how the Lord Jesus Christ gave up the infinite power of divinity to become fragile and human and weak. He not only faced all the normal challenges of life, he faced the pain of torture and death to bring us closer to God. The life of God, true life itself, showed up most clearly in a man willing to die.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

facing conflict, 2.17.13

David fled from Naioth in Ramah. He came before Jonathan and said, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin against your father that he is trying to take my life?” 2He said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. My father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me; and why should my father hide this from me? Never!” 3But David also swore, “Your father knows well that you like me; and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, or he will be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as you yourself live, there is but a step between me and death.”

4Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” 5David said to Jonathan, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at the meal; but let me go, so that I may hide in the field until the third evening. 6If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city; for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ 7If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant; but if he is angry, then know that evil has been determined by him.

24So David hid himself in the field. When the new moon came, the king sat at the feast to eat. 25The king sat upon his seat, as at other times, upon the seat by the wall. Jonathan stood, while Abner sat by Saul’s side; but David’s place was empty. 26Saul did not say anything that day; for he thought, “Something has befallen him; he is not clean, surely he is not clean.” 27But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the feast, either yesterday or today?” 28Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem; 29he said, ‘Let me go; for our family is holding a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your sight, let me get away, and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

30Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. 34Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.
Today I want to talk about conflict. Sometimes we face conflict in our families or our workplaces. Sometimes we face conflict with neighbors or friends. Sometimes we face conflict within ourselves. Conflict is universal and challenging, but it can be hard to talk honestly about.

            The passage Gary read from Samuel tells the part of the story of conflict between David and Saul. On the one hand, this story feels kind of irrelevant. After all, none of us is dealing with conflict over who will be the next king. On the other hand many of us face conflict because our goals conflict with someone else’s. Or we worry that someone else’s success might be a threat to our position. Or maybe you have a boss that doesn’t treat you fairly because they are threatened by your abilities. David’s story touches all those feelings.

            Most of us are pretty familiar with the story of David and Goliath. After David kills Goliath he becomes one of King Saul’s military commanders. He also becomes Saul’s son Jonathan’s best friend and before long Saul’s daughter, Michal, falls in love with David.

As David gets closer to Saul’s children and gains the respect of the other leaders in the military, Saul starts feeling threatened. He worries that David’s success will undermine his authority and threaten his kingdom. In Saul’s case, his worry is well founded. The Prophet Samuel, who had anointed Saul as king, later confronted him with disobeying God. He told him that God had rejected him and was going to seek a “man after God’s own heart” to rule Israel. So when David appears on the scene so obviously full of God’s power and gains popularity quickly, Saul concludes that David is the one God has found to replace him.

As readers, we know that Saul is right: David will be king and Saul will lose the throne. It’s classic epic tragedy: Saul can recognize what’s going to happen, but he can’t do anything about it. Everything he tries to defend against the threat from David strengthens David’s position and weakens his own. In the end, Saul will die, his family line will become mostly irrelevant and David’s legacy will define the rest of Israel’s story.

Unlike Saul, most of the time when we feel threatened by other people the threat is not that real. We are threatened because we are insecure. We worry that people will like someone else and forget about us. Or we worry that someone else’s success will somehow set us back. Fortunately, we are not living in an epic tragedy.

But as different as our stories are from Saul’s story the basic core of conflict is often the same. The real problem for Saul is not David, it’s that Saul has broken faith with God and God is going to remove him from the throne. David is the means of that, but God is the one opposing Saul. Saul blames David, but the problem is really Saul.

We often see a problem and we blame it on someone else. Then we try to solve the problem by putting up defenses against the other person, when the problem is actually within us. Even when the problem starts with something someone else does, our response contributes to the conflict. When we put up our defenses, usually the other person responds defensively too. We both say words that fuel the conflict and we misunderstand each other because we’re too defensive to really listen and much too defensive to talk openly about what’s going on.

Misunderstanding reinforces our fears and negative feelings about the other person, and their fears and negative feelings about us. Everything new we learn about each other person gets filtered through the darkening lens of our conflict, so it gets harder and harder to see the situation and our role in it accurately. The conflict spirals downward, and before we know it the walls between us are too high to imagine taking down.

At the same time, the trouble inside us that caused or contributed to the conflict goes unrecognized and unaddressed, so we are likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over again while blaming other people each time.

Conflict puts up walls; misunderstanding makes those walls higher and harder to see through. Then, our natural reaction is to talk to our friends about what the other person has done to us. More often than not, that reinforces our negative feelings and brings someone else into the conflict in an unhelpful way.

In contrast, there is Jesus’ approach to conflict:

Matthew 18:15-35
15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
You’ve probably heard me talk about this passage before because I think about it any time there is a problem, misunderstanding or conflict. Our first instinct is usually to talk about a conflict with a friend, with someone we count on to agree with us. Jesus says our first move should be to talk with the person we’re having a problem with. That’s hard to do and it requires a frankness and honesty that is not common in our culture.

Our culture values politeness almost to a fault when it comes to face-to-face conversation. Whether it’s work place feedback or fashion advice with friends we struggle to give honest, constructive criticism. It is hard to tell someone straight out when they have hurt us. It’s even hard to tell someone when we disagree.

The thing is, honest engagement cuts through the fog of misunderstanding. It’s hard, it’s scary to think about approaching someone we’re having trouble with and sharing our concern. But Jesus is never one to shy away from things that are difficult, and here, as usual, his advice is right on target.

justice and extravance, 2.10.13

Mark 7:24-30
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Mark 14:1-9
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

3While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

6But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

            I’ve been struggling this week with how to preach these passages. They’re very different, and in a way, the only thing that joins them is that they are stories of women in the New Testament. They’re stories of women who spent time with Jesus.

            The story Susan read is always a hard one for me. I love Jesus, and one of the things that’s always attracted me is his welcome, his concern for people on the margins, his preference for the poor, vulnerable and excluded. But in this story he calls the gentile woman and her daughter dogs. He shows the strong tendency of some Jewish men of his time to feel that everyone who wasn’t religiously “pure” was a lesser kind of person. It’s funny because he just finished condemning the Pharisees for their obsession with religious laws, and now he’s acting like a Pharisee.

            It’s tempting to smooth it over. Some people believe Jesus is testing the woman to see if she’s faithful enough. I guess that’s a more comfortable way to read it, but I don’t really buy it. Luke doesn’t include this story at all, and I don’t blame Luke for leaving it out; each writer has their own version of the story to tell. Each version of the story of Jesus gives us a different angle on Jesus, and that’s a blessing.

So when we read Mark, we are stuck with this story. And in some ways, the story fits just fine. The truth is, Jesus left heaven, left the glory of being divine, behind to join the human condition. When Jesus chose to take on human flesh he could have been born in a palace, but he chose instead to be born in a stable to a working class family. And Jesus could have chosen to be born the son of a philosopher or a rabbi, but he chose to be a carpenter’s son.

Jesus chose to be human, really, actually human. He chose to be limited, to be imperfect, to be vulnerable. Often we have the idea of Jesus as a perfect man, and there’s truth to that. He is a great example of faithfulness to God in a human life. But it is human faithfulness. In his human life, Jesus was limited by his circumstances, by his upbringing, by his culture, his time period, his family, his experience. In his wisdom and in his miracles, he often seems more than human, but maybe it shouldn’t surprise us if his limits show through from time to time.

Maybe he was having a bad day and didn’t want another conversation. God chose the people of Israel to be especially close to God, so it makes sense for Jesus to put his own people first. And maybe Jesus feels like he has so many people to heal, so many lives to change, so many outcasts to welcome within the people of Israel, that the time is going to run out before he finishes. The practical, budgeting side of Jesus knows that there are only so many hours he has to spend, so he needs to spend them well.

If Jesus was really human, he must have felt overwhelmed sometimes by the scope of his mission, by the human need that surrounded him and constantly pressed against him. Maybe this was one of those times.

But the woman in the first story is a mother. Maybe she could have lived with Jesus saying “no,” if she was seeking healing for herself, but it’s a different story when we’re talking about her daughter. When it comes to her daughter, she is not going to leave without trying everything. And here’s the lesson for the life of faith, perseverance is part of it, but not the only part. Our culture is all about getting what we deserve, but that’s not the main message of the Bible.

When you read the Psalms, which is the song book and prayer book of the Bible, one thing you notice is that most of the time when the writer asks God for something he or she doesn’t ask based on what they deserve. There are a few psalms where the writer says, “God, be good to me because of my righteousness,” but that’s the minority. When the Psalms ask for God’s kindness the two reasons they give most often are God’s love, or the need of the person asking. It’s much more common for the psalmist to say, “Grant my request, Lord, because I’m desperately in need,” than for the psalmist to say, “Grant my request, Lord, because I’ve earned it.”

I don’t know if the woman in this story had ever read the psalms, but it fits. When Jesus says it’s not right to give the children’s food to dogs, she doesn’t argue or protest. She says, “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” It’s not about what she and her child deserve, it’s about what they need and about what Jesus can give.

Ruth and Naomi: Courage and faithfulness, 2.3.13

Ruth 1:1-11, 14-21
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

6Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.

10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?...  14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20She said to them, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
This is a strange story for scout Sunday, but it is a story about welcome and we’re glad to welcome you here. Thanks to the Girl Scouts for your beautiful music. And thanks to our Cub Scouts for collecting our food offering in a few minutes. This church is better because of what you do here and in the community every week.

            In some ways Ruth and Naomi’s story is hard to understand. The customs and places seem very far from our lives. At its root, though, this story is as relevant as the news, especially as our country discusses and debates immigration policy and social programs that support those in need. Naomi and her family immigrate to Moab when a famine threatened their survival. Later Ruth follows her mother in law back to Naomi’s land, where she is an immigrant herself. She left her home and relatives behind to support her mother in law, and they make a life together.

            Women who aren’t married, whether single or widowed like Ruth and Naomi, are still more likely to live in poverty than men or married couples. In those days it was even harder for women to survive on their own. That’s one of the reasons the Bible talks about widows so often; they were one of the most vulnerable groups in ancient times and because of that, they were (and are) especially close to God’s heart.

            We can imagine Naomi and Ruth getting to know each other at a deeper level during the walk back to Bethlehem and as they settle into Naomi’s old house. Soon after they get to Bethlehem Ruth announces that she is going to do something to keep them alive. She is going to take advantage of the harvest season by gleaning.

Gleaning was going through someone’s field and picking up what they had dropped or left behind. It was one of ancient Israel’s social safety nets for people in need. God’s law taught that landowners should only go over their fields or grapevines or olive trees once when they harvested. They shouldn’t work until they got every last morsel; instead the grapes and grain that they left behind were meant for the poor. In addition, landowners were not supposed to harvest the corners of their fields at all to leave something extra for the poor and for immigrants.

Many gifts; one Spirit, 1.20.13

John 2:1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come" 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
            Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth building up a community of believers. After he moved on to other areas of ministry, he kept up a close relationship with the Corinthians through letters and personal connections. In this letter he discusses issues of life in community, marriage, family, food and the resurrection of the dead.

            Most of the Corinthian Christians had converted from paganism, not from Judaism. While some of them knew the Old Testament pretty well, many of them were still learning. Paul wasn’t just teaching people about Jesus, but showing them a whole different approach to life and faith.

            In our passage for today, Paul explores the importance of spiritual gifts and faith in Christ. Christian faith is about following Jesus. When we follow Jesus, God gives us the Holy Spirit. Presbyterians don’t talk about the Holy Spirit a lot, which is too bad. In some ways our challenges with the Holy Spirit today are very different than the Corinthian church’s challenges, but Paul’s wisdom is still just what we need. The Corinthian church had a clear sense of God’s power in them. Some of them had quite powerful spiritual gifts. The trouble was that they focused too much on their gifts and thought of “flashier” gifts as evidence of stronger faith. Sometimes they boasted about their gifts or saw them as spiritual status symbols.

In that situation, Paul’s task was to remind them that the Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts were about God’s will and about the community’s life together. We’ll touch on that too in a moment. For us, the bigger problem is underrating the power of God working in us. We sometimes forget that we have God’s Spirit inside us. We forget that God can do powerful things working through us because of the Spirit. While humility is always important, we need to be less shy about God’s power and our gifts. We don’t often see the drama of speaking in tongues or miraculous healing, but we still have God’s Spirit, part of God inside each of us, guiding and gifting us for ministry.

When we do think about the Spirit’s power we have to remember that power isn’t for us to use any way we want. The Holy Spirit isn’t power we can harness for selfish ends. Because Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up one God, the Spirit’s power in us is part of the God we serve. When we’re full of the Holy Spirit we can’t say, “Jesus be cursed,” because the Spirit and Jesus are united. The Holy Spirit and Jesus are one, so they cannot be in conflict.

In the same way, we can’t truly proclaim that Jesus is Lord without the Spirit working in us. If we call Jesus our Lord, we have to intentionally submit to him in our lives. That means not only claiming faith in God or going to church, but also seeking God’s will in our everyday decisions. It means giving up our claims to absolute independence and seeking something greater.

            Those aren’t decisions we can make casually. It’s serious business to make Jesus our Lord, to trust Jesus to guide us and seek to model ourselves after him. We can’t do that alone; we need God’s Spirit to help us, and God gives us what we need. So the first thing that Paul wants his readers to understand about spiritual gifts is that the power of the Spirit is about seeking Christ as our Lord.