Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, February 23, 2013

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.

            The other side of spiritual gifts Paul wants his readers to understand is that they are not just about our individual life. While following Jesus is an individual decision, we do not do it alone. He writes that the spiritual gifts we have are given for the common good: God’s gifts are about strengthening the community of faith, not just strengthening us as individual believers.

            Each of us has gifts from God, and our calling is to use those gifts to strengthen the church and minister to the world. Paul lists several gifts, some of which might sound familiar; others might sound quite exotic. Paul writes: To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to 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.” Paul’s list isn’t the whole story, though. Paul is suggesting the variety of God’s gifts, not giving a complete list. There are lots of gifts from the Spirit that Paul doesn’t talk about.

Some people are naturally gifted at working with their hands, whether cooking or wiring a house. Others have a knack for explaining an idea or sharing a skill with someone else. Some people instinctively make others feel at home, while others have the ability to feel comfortable in all kinds of different environments.

Think about your own life. What do you love doing? What activity just makes you come alive, so you completely lose track of time? That skill, that ability is a gift from God. God gave you that ability for you to enjoy and for you to use it to make the world better. Your gift might feel too humble to be important, but God can take your talent and your openness to make the world a better place.

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine taking something you love and using that for ministry somewhere in the world. Ministry doesn’t have to be in the church, but it can be. Ministry just means connecting God’s love with something you do to serve others. Open your mind; free your imagination for a moment and see yourself showing God’s love by doing something you love.

Now turn to your neighbor; if you’re not sitting close enough to someone, get up and move to someone else sitting alone. Now share your dream for ministry. Don’t worry if it’s practical right now; don’t worry if it sounds crazy or trite or silly. We’re just sharing a dream for a moment.

If you’re not finished sharing, that’s OK, you can find each other to follow up at coffee hour or another time. I’d encourage that, in fact. God has given you that dream for a reason. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to become a reality in exactly the way you imagine it now, but be open to the possibility that God wants to use your gifts, your personality, your interests in new ways. Sometimes your dream will trigger a dream in someone else and your dreams will come alive together in a way neither of you could have imagined on your own.

A little more than two years ago at Laurelton we started talking about how we could use our building to minister to the community in a new way. A few people started exploring starting an internet cafĂ©. As they talked, the idea changed and something new grew. For the last two years we’ve served a free breakfast to our neighbors each Saturday. It’s really simple, but it’s changing our relationship with the neighborhood. People come every week and have made meaningful friendships. On Saturday mornings, Laurelton is now a community center for many people who would never seek out a church. God is using seemingly humble gifts like space and heat and pancakes to fuel a spiritual and social transformation. We don’t know exactly where God is leading us, but it’s clear that she is doing something.

God made you the person you are, with all your quirks and all your blessings. And God has placed you in this congregation, this small, storied, wonderful congregation to nourish each others’ gifts, to enlarge each others’ dreams, to seek new possibilities and new visions together.

So often we look at ourselves and our churches, especially in small churches like Lakeside and Laurelton, and we think about all the things we don’t have. We don’t have enough money; we don’t have enough members; we don’t have enough time; we’re too old. Those challenges are real; believe me, I know they are. But they are not the whole story.

We are rich because we have community and we have God’s Spirit. This room full of people is an incredible collection of stories and abilities and passions and experiences. This room full of people has members who have been in this neighborhood and congregation for many years, who know the history and the evolution of this place like the back of your hand. It also has people who are newer, who have different perspectives on life and a different view of the neighborhood. Not only do you have newer members in the congregation, you’ve got a day care full of parents who bring their own gifts and stories to learn from.

Here in Rochester we are doubly blessed because we have a wonderful network called Urban Presbyterians Together. There may be dreams that feel important, that feel like God is moving, but seem way too big to do alone. You are not alone. You have nine other churches seeking new ways to serve this city for God together. Don’t let the numbers and gifts at Lakeside limit you; you have hundreds of other Presbyterian brothers and sisters you can share your dream with too.

God gives us gifts and dreams for a reason. We can’t do everything at once, but with the Spirit’s power we can do more than we expect. All the variety, all the different gifts and personalities come from one God, the God we know loves us deeply. We are different and we are united. We are uniquely God’s, and God is one. Listen to each others’ hopes and dreams; share your own vision. In the conversation and in the silence God is working. The Spirit leads us forward together. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Your gift is important; together in God’s grace we are strong.

Thanks be to God.

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