Sermon for Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 20, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Sermon Theme: The Holy Spirit Made Me Do It
(Sources: Brokhof, Series C, Workbook; original illustrations and examples; Concordia Journal, Fall 2012)
Grace, mercy and peace to your from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some people get dissatisfied with their church. Sometimes even to the extent of looking for another church home.
Those of you who have lived as long as I have know that churches seem to have personalities. Thats because the church is a living organism that has come together as one body. Each one of us is a part of the Body of Christ, and just as interrelated as a colony of brain cells.
I remember doing some substitute preaching once for a congregation that looked like they were attending a funeral every time they came to church. I told a very funny joke during my sermon, and no one laughed. Not one person smiled. A sense of humor was not one of their gifts. I have an awful hard time repressing my sense of humor even when I see it is not appreciated.
That was the first time I noticed that congregations as a whole take on a personality, and newcomers who come to worship there can either be turned off or turned on by that personality.
How can we as a congregation project a persona that is welcoming, caring and loving?
Paul begins todays sermon text with a discussion of spiritual gifts he obviously had been discussing before. Its an obvious fact that people are different, each with different gifts, not to mention different personalities. And yet any Christian group has a certain amount of sameness.
As a congregation, we are both the same and different. When I look out at our congregation, I see a little cluster of teenagers in one section of the church, and in another section I see a cluster of people in their 60s and 70s. Its obvious for the sake of order and decorum ( ) in the church, we cant have a spit wad war between the teenies and the oldies! (No, they only try to do that in my Sunday School class.) Understanding our differences, we come together through our sameness.
Early on children are taught the meaning of same and different, and they learn that that can actually be a good thing. As the Body of Christ, each of us has different gifts that all together enable us to carry on the function of the church. For example, I am gifted at preaching, but I am not gifted at math and finances, and so its good that other people have such gifts and can do that job.
The problem Paul faced at Corinth was that the members of the church became very aware of their differences, especially in the area of spiritual gifts. Those with gifts of say teaching and speaking in tongues believed they were superior to those with lesser gifts, such as hospitality in the kitchen. They took these differences as a means to elevate themselves. We too sometimes elevate ourselves as being more spiritually elite than others, because we think our spiritual gifts have ore value than someone elses.
But these spiritual gifts are gifts from the Holy Spirit, theyre not anything we can take credit for. Our text says, To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge, according to the same Spirit, etc. The text goes on to say that the Holy Spirit apportions to each one individually as He wills. The Holy Spirit decides which gift or gifts you will be given.
So you see we dont have any bragging rights. The Holy Spirit decided what gift or gifts to give you, what gift to give me, etc., and He needed someone to possess each of the 27 or 28 gifts, in order that the church function adequately. Paul does say that the greatest of the gifts is LOVE, but the Holy Spirit gives that to everyone of us. Since God is love, it is the very center of God-ness. Without love, you are just a clanging cymbal, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
You see, Christians are different in the abilities and aptitudes with which God has gifted them. But Christians are the same in their status and standing before God. Christians also should be the same in their desire for the unity of the Body of Christ, as it would be ridiculous to say that the ear, for example, is superior to the eye. The ear knows that it cannot function well without the eye.
To be sure, the church is constantly threatened with divisions. To have peace and unity must all church members agree and be alike? Well, according to the text, the church is unique in that she can have unity with diversity. The unity is the same Spirit in all, but there is a variety of gifts from one Spirit.
If the differences among members are going to manifest themselves as divisions, any newcomer to the church will see that reflected in the personality of the church.
There is a gift for every one. No one is left out. The Holy Spirit gives the gift or gifts. These are not natural endowments or talents; these are GIFTS from the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the gifts is for the common good. You can see why the Apostle Paul had to stop the bickering in the Corinthian congregation, had to show those who thought they were superior that they were not. K He had to teach the folks at Corinth, just as He teaches us: to God be all the glory.
What all of us like to see is for a congregation to come together with its various gifts, using them for the common good and lifting up one another through love, which is the whole point of God and His business. Ive served this congregation now for 23 years, and Ive watched it change, Ive watched it grow spiritually. And Ive seen new people come in with their spiritual gifts, blending in and becoming a part of the whole body, led by the Holy Spirit.
Since we are a small congregation, and an old congregation, each time one of our precious members passes away, we keenly feel that loss in terms of what Paul says in the text, — just as there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Not only do we feel the emotional loss when we lose someone in the congregation, but we also feel the loss of that persons gifts, that persons activities and service given lovingly to the church for many years.
But, again, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us gifts, calls us, and guides us; thus when one beloved saint is sent to be with the Lord, He finds, brings, and appoints another to take his or her place. As the text says, All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit. I used to despair when one of our members, possessing many gifts and doing many activities and services for us would leave us. But having seen the way the Spirit works over the years, will soon walk in the Narthex door and settle in with us for long and loving service.
That service may be showing compassion, love, and caring to others, or it might be something like fixing computers or heading up a building program, or serving faithfully in the kitchen.
Our spiritual gifts are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so the work we do is the work of the Holy Spirit through us. We cant take credit for our success. To God be all the glory! We can truthfully say, The Holy Spirit made me do it! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.