A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Year C ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”
That’s how The Message Bible translates the first verse of 1 Corinthians 12, and that’s precisely what I want to talk to you about today.
“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”
I hope you notice that it starts with an assumption that I take as a fact. It’s not a maybe, or a hopefully. It’s a truth. A reality. It’s not, “Gee, I wonder if God’s Spirit might actually be part of my life?” It’s, “God’s Spirit absolutely DOES get worked into my life – and in various ways. That’s the fact Jack!”
It’s not just one way or one aspect of my life – and it may be decidedly different for the person sitting beside you – but even though it may look different and manifest differently there is no doubt at all in my mind that that Spirit’s working in our lives.
There are all sorts of things working on you right now. Some of them you may be actively participating in and cooperating with – some of them you might be outright resisting – and some of them you may have never given a second thought to.
Worship is working on your life right now.
Relationships are working on your life right now.
Democracy is working on our lives right now, but I doubt we think about it much apart from elections.
The social safety net and universal healthcare are working on us as Canadians, whether we’re accessing them currently or not.
To be ridiculous, gravity is working on us or we’d be floating away.
To be completely serious, love is working on us, whether we are aware or not.
I really like this translation, the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives, because it avoids some of the baggage and interpretive problems of the usual language – “spiritual gifts”.
The NRSV translates v.1 as,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
Spiritual gifts kind of sound like Christmas gifts. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes it’s just what you wanted, sometimes it’s not quite the right fit and you wish you could exchange it!
But that’s not how spiritual giftedness works. At all!
A spiritual gift sounds like it’s a self-contained package of skills or abilities or passions that you then take and use to help people or love people.
Really, what it’s talking about is our general state of blessedness. We are constantly being blessed by the Spirit.
We are in a never-ending, never-interrupted, never-diminishing stream of blessing. The Spirit is working into and through our lives just as assuredly as oxygen is! Spiritual gifts don’t come and go like Christmas – they constantly flow like your bloodstream!
Now there are varieties of gifts or blessings, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services or ways to engage in ministry, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities one can faithfully engage in, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
So there’s all this variety but for some reason Paul felt the need to put in bold italics and underline the part about all of it coming from the same Spirit. I suspect that’s because before being Christians these Corinthian folks were likely pagans worshipping many different gods each of whom had their own thing to offer. With Jesus’ God, our God, there are many, many gifts but only One God! It also helps us to remember that there’s not just one way to serve or be faithful.
And then we get what is, for me, the most important verse in the reading.
v.7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Three big things in that one short verse.
First is the idea that each and every person is blessed and gifted.
Second is that the Spirit is manifested through us – meaning the blessings and gifts aren’t just silent, and personal, and internal – they’re meant to be seen, to be enacted, to be used. And how are they to be used?
That’s the third big idea – our gifts and blessings are for the common good! Each and every one of us is blessed and gifted to do faithful things, to do ministry, for the common good. Every one of us!
Look around this room.
As you look I bet you can catalogue all the wonderful ways various people here do ministry – how they love God, and love people, and love one another – how they show compassion, and kindness, and care.
The Message Bible puts it brilliantly.
v.7 Each person is given something to do that shows who God is!
This is why I don’t like the word volunteer very much.
When it comes to describing things that you all do in the name of your faith it isn’t just volunteering, it’s ministry!
And it’s not ministry just because you’re doing it inspired by Jesus, it’s ministry because these things you do shows who God is!
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is!
YOU are given something to do that shows who God is!
The things you do reveal God’s loving Presence!
YOU do that. All the time!
That should strike you as both a great responsibility and a humbling privilege!
This is the holy shoulder tap. The holy nudge.
Each of us is tapped on the shoulder by God and given something to do in the world that shows who God is.
Nobody gets to sit on the sidelines and watch. Every one of us is in the game!
Whatever your age or stage, whatever your life situation happens to be, you have a ministry.
But not every one of us has the same job. Obviously. That’s the variety part.
We’re all gifted differently, because we’re all different.
So what kinds of gifts are “spiritual”? Conveniently, Paul gives us a list.
It’s verses 8-10.
As I go through the list I bet you can think of people in this community of faith who express and manifest these gifts. This is a marvellous church and the giftedness here, the expressions of ministry here and beyond here, are truly remarkable.
Things like the sharing of wisdom (wise counsel, clarity, insight), the sharing of knowledge (clear understanding), the gift of faith (simple trust), the gift of discernment, and gifts of healing (we do healing prayer here, but I think this also means compassionate caring which happens in spades).
Then Paul mentions some gifts that might at first challenge us modern, rational, educated, scientific types. And these are the gifts that if you take the language too literally you might get tripped up on – which is why this scripture passage has ironically become divisive when it’s meant to bring the body of Christ together.
I’m talking about things like what Paul calls the working of miracles. The Greek words here literally mean “energizing powerful acts” or acts done beyond our own abilities because we draw on God’s power. I don’t know about you but I’ve found myself doing all kinds of things that on my own I probably never would’ve done but I found a greater spiritual strength somewhere to do it. That is one way to think about working miracles!
Another of the contentious gifts is the gift of prophecy and proclamation. Prophecy doesn’t mean foretelling the future. It means having spiritual insight into God’s ways and communicating it to people in such a compelling way that it sounds like the very voice of God talking.
And, of course, there’s the most misunderstood and contentious gift of all – tongues and interpretation of tongues.
Some denominations and churches use this gift as proof that you’re really a believer – which is kind of weird when the whole passage clearly says that different people get different gifts.
For me, this gift made infinitely more sense when I heard it interpreted not as the ability to spontaneously speak foreign languages but the ability to speak and communicate deeply and beyond mere language – the ability to speak right to the heart, to show who God is in such a profound way that language would seem to be transcended. That’s the gift of tongues!
Every preacher prays fervently for that gift!
Please note that this list from Paul is not meant to be exhaustive – like these are the only spiritual gifts and expressions there are. I’m talking about things like the gift of service, the gift of community, the gift of giving generously, the gift of listening, the gift of compassion.
1 Corinthians 12:11 – All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
Just as the Spirit chooses!
That means we don’t get to choose – we’re chosen!
We don’t get to look at the list and decide which gift we’d like the best.
The holy shoulder tap decides.
And frankly, that’s better because if we only chose expressions of ministry that were easy or comfortable we’d never grow very much.
And then there’s another bunch of spiritual gifts that never get mentioned in the bible but are every bit as powerful, and every bit as faithful, and every bit as effective at showing who God is.
I’m talking about things like the gift of welcoming, the gift of hospitality, the gift of praying for people, the gift of gardening at the church, the gift of running the dishwasher in the kitchen, the gift of stacking chairs, the gift of serving on a church committee!
Our friend Cameron has been up here doing weekly encouragements for participating in the body of Christ at Faith in a structured way.
It’s not exactly a holy shoulder tap, it’s more of a human shoulder tap! – but it’s pretty close to the same thing!
It’s January – it’s a new year, a new season. What might the Spirit be nudging you toward in this season?
What blessing can you offer?
What expression of ministry might fit you this season?
What shape might your love take?
Remember, in the body of Christ no one sits on the sidelines.
Every single one of us has been blessed and gifted by the Spirit, and as we put those gifts into motion God is revealed and made known.
I don’t know how your house works, but there are times when as I’m sitting on the couch the last thing I want to do is to get up and do any chores or tasks that need doing. But when I see a family member unloading the dishwasher, or prepping a meal, or doing a house job, I find it remarkably hard to continue to sit on the couch. And that isn’t because I feel guilty – it’s because I know that part of my benefit in the relationship and the household comes from my sharing in the tasks.
There’s a difference between guilt and conviction.
Guilt means you made an error and are properly feeling bad for the poor action or choice.
Conviction means to be persuaded to act because you believe strongly in something.
I don’t want to guilt anyone into anything. Instead, I ask these questions:
What is the Spirit convicting you of this season?
What are you being nudged or persuaded to engage in for the purpose of sharing God’s love?
What ministry is the Spirit whispering into your heart? It may not be one that you’ve ever considered before.
That pesky Spirit just might be calling you to take a risk and let yourself be led into something new.
When I felt called to this kind of an expression of ministry I resisted like crazy.
I wanted the Spirit to suggest something else – like being a famous worship musician who sold lots of albums and held massive concerts!
But that’s not how my holy shoulder tap manifested itself. And I’m glad!
You can only ignore that persistent tapping for so long. But I hope you won’t resist it.
I hope you’ll take a deep breath, pray a deep prayer, and let the Spirit move you.
Each and every person is given something to do that shows who God is!
Consider yourself tapped!