Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"Greater Gifts: Gifted for Others" - Sermon, January 20, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy
“Greater Gifts: Gifted for Others”
Rev. Andrew Davis
January 20, 2019
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

            I don’t know about you, but I love it when the Holy Spirit moves during worship and sets a positive tone for the entire week. I feel like the Holy Spirit has been moving through this church despite some of the challenges we may face day to day, or challenges we face here in the life of the church.  It seems quite fitting that we are spending this month talking about gifts, from the gifts the Magi brought to the toddler Jesus at Epiphany to, God’s gift of grace, to the spiritual gifts that we all have when we consider all of the greater gifts that God gives each of us that empower us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ and are activated by the Holy Spirit.  
            In this morning’s scripture lesson that Bill read for us, we are in the midst of Paul encouraging the community of believers in Corinth to use their spiritual gifts for the common good of the community, to strengthen the body of Christ in Corinth.  One of my favorite reminders in my seminary class on the New Testament the class got from Dr. Carla Works is that if we think there are issues in our churches today, things weren’t all that different in Paul’s time, as conflict happens in the church today just as it did in the church in Corinth at the time that Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  At that time, there were some major divisions happening in the church in Corinth, particularly because as the apostle Paul writes in chapter 3, they still “belonged to the flesh,” and still were not entirely sure who Jesus Christ was, as Paul admonishes them to focus on following Christ, not the pagan idols or gods or desires of the flesh.  Likewise, there was a great deal of greed and selfishness happening, as “Corinth’s reputation for wealth without culture and for the abuse of the poor was so well known,” in which Paul addresses “wealthy people’s behavior [as] disgusting, coarse, and objectionable” which “confirms certain details of Corinth’s ethos.”[i]It doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture, even though in the Gospels, Jesus has a lot to say about how the rich uses their money too!!  
After some of the admonishments that Paul gives to the Corinthians, his tone shifts to one of encouragement and in this case, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts in chapter 12.  Given that there was a lot of division happening in Corinth, Paul is trying to shift the focus from the individual having their gifts and keeping them to themselves to being gifted for others within the overall community.  Instead of sharing their gifts with others, many in the Corinthian church were trying to use their varied gifts to establish their status, as “wealth and its associated status played a part in some of the struggles between Corinthian believers.”[ii]
After some admonishments and calling out the believers in Corinth, we get to some of the encouragements that Paul is giving to the community of believers, particularly in how to use the diverse, yet individual gifts for the good and strengthening of the community.  Like we covered last week in Jesus’s baptism, we saw the Holy Spirit descend on him and just as it is the same Spirit that baptizes us, it’s the same Spirit that Paul speaks of that unlocks the spiritual gifts he identifies in our lesson, and that these gifts are to be used to serve the same Lord (1 Cor. 12: 4). In our lesson, Paul identifies the spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, and interpreting of tongues, all ways to be gifted for others even in the midst of difference.  Ultimately, these gifts from God are activated and unlocked by the Holy Spirit, and should be used for the good of the community and to honor Christ, not for status or as a means of rivalry.[iii]  At the same time, Paul is telling the Corinthians and even us today that “members have to recognize other kinds of gifts and cooperate with one another,” as it is so easy to be competitive.[iv]
How many of you consider yourselves competitive?  Now how many of you have been envious of someone because of gifts they have that you might not have?  I admit that growing up and even today, I’m a little envious of those who can perform difficult mathematical equations or those that have mechanical skills, which are gifts I don’t have.  When I was in middle school and high school, I was always envious of people who could do things I couldn’t do.  I remember one time lamenting to our pastor that I felt useless, although was told and assured that I’m more gifted in the right-brain with the more artistic side of things, something my family would reassure me of as well.  And sure enough, there were some who were a little envious of my musical abilities.  So, instead of trying to use my gifts to prove I’m better than anyone, I used them for God’s glory and have found music a source of joy in faith, whether it’s just jamming on the piano at home, singing in a choir, playing organ or piano in church, or singing alongside someone’s bed in a nursing home, it’s all for God’s glory and gifts that are activated by the Spirit, along with knowledge and wisdom.  Each of us have them, whether we fully realize it or not.  
As I look around our congregation, I see gifts in all of you, as I know there are people who are eager to share wisdom and knowledge by teaching Sunday school or leading small groups, while there are people who are gifted with healing through their prayers with others and in helping care for the congregation. Likewise, I see the gift of faith in everyone, even if that faith is only the size of a mustard seed, I see it.  And, I see people who are eager to share their faith with others, even some of our children when they’re at school.  I see people who are very good with discernment, even when their discernment has led them in new directions and even to other communities of faith where they will bless those communities with their gifts.  I have seen miracles happen both here and in other churches I have served, and while I tread with some caution on speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues, it’s possible even though the practice of speaking in tongues is generally more associated with the Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Apostolic, holiness, and other charismatic churches.  Each of these gifts that the Apostle Paul name in his letter to the Corinthians are ways we are gifted for others within the whole community of faith. 
Now if you might be wondering what your spiritual gifts might be and haven’t given it thought, or if you don’t think any of the gifts in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians necessarily resonate with you, there are other spiritual gifts that Paul identifies in other letters that I’ll read.  From The Messagein Romans 12: 6-8, Paul says
6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. (MSG)

Or if we look at Ephesians 4: 11-13, Paul writes that 

7-13 But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given [our] own gift. The text for this is,
He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.
Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. (MSG)
            Each of these examples in scripture are ways of being gifted for others, and gifts that are activated and unlocked by the Holy Spirit, but more importantly, gifts that can be shared with the whole community and a way of building the body of Christ in today’s world.  They are the ways God can call us and move through us, which are varied.  And even in the midst of different gifts, each gift is unique and has a place in the body of Christ.  
There is already enough rivalry, enough envy, and enough fighting in this world we live in that we need these gifts to come together to be used for the common good.  The good news is that we can use these gifts that God gives us for the glory of Christ whether we are leaders or followers.  At the same time, “whatever is done in the church must reflect the work of Jesus, the foundation of the church.  His faithful life serving the weak and oppressed should be a constant reminder to all who work in the name of the Lord,” as it is our actions that people will see more than what we say and something we cannot be reminded about enough.[v]We can’t just sit idle either, as the Spirit moves us to act in faith, showing us how we can be gifted for others.  
            Tomorrow, we have a national holiday as we honor the birthday of the late civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King was one who used his spiritual gifts for the common good, and trusted in God through the Holy Spirit, even when it got him in trouble at times and like John the Baptist and Paul, landed him in jail.  Yet for Dr. King, public service was at the forefront of using his spiritual gifts in trying to fully realize his dream that he spoke of on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  Even though tomorrow is a holiday, many are out there using the holiday as a day of service, a day of serving the common good in the midst of differences.  And as we serve this week and beyond, how does applying your spiritual gifts in service to others look like?  How does using your spiritual gifts bring you hope or joy?  How does using your spiritual gifts make you feel alive, as God desires abundant life for each of us?  One of Dr. King’s doctoral professors at Boston University, Dr. Howard Thurman has a saying that goes, “don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”[vi]
            As we go into this new week to think about being gifted for others, and as you find what brings you hope, joy, and whatever makes you come alive, it still takes discernment. It takes prayer.  It takes trusting in God through the power of the Holy Spirit, along with talking with people you know and trust, whether it’s in your family, among your friends, people here in the church, or even Pastor Ray or myself. 
This past Wednesday in my weekly e-mail, I included a link to a booklet called “Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts,” from a movement called “See All the People,” which is our series in February.  In the introduction of “Discovering your Spiritual Gifts,” and similar to what we read in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “we are given these gifts for the benefit of others: our families, our friends, our work, and our church. As a result, it’s important to discover your spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts of others.”[vii]Our task this week ahead is to reflect on the gifts we have talked about, while discerning gifts we may not know we have, as they await to be unlocked and activated by the Holy Spirit.  I have some extra copies of the Spiritual assessment tools to pick up following worship and hope that we all can continue the conversation in the weeks and months to come as we discern and discover our greater gifts that God gives us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can be gifted for others.  
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!! 


[i]Ibid., 775
[ii]Ibid., 777
[iii]Yunk Suk Kim, “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11” in Working Preacher, accessed 19 January 2019, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3949
[iv]Ibid.
[v]Ibid. 
[vi]Attributed to Howard Thurman
[vii]Junius B. Dotson, “Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts” in Developing an Intentional Discipleship System: A Guide for Congregations (Nashville: Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, 2016), 1

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