January 20, 2019 Sermon
“Varieties of Gifts”
Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 62:1-5
New Testament Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,
Sermon: “Varieties of Gifts” Rev. David Hawkins
Well, nobody did ask my opinion, but here we are today, the lectionary has placed this scripture before us this Sunday, and so, you’re going to hear my opinion, whether you wanted to or not.
This topic is such a hard one for Presbyterians. In fact, I think it is a hard one for all church traditions, but some churches think they’ve got it figured out, and they run with it, sometimes in ways that might not be what the Apostle intended.
But it is especially hard for Presbyterians, because we just don’t know what to do with the Spirit. We have a pretty good idea about God, you know, creator, omnipotent, that sort of thing. We have a pretty good idea about Jesus, you know, fully human, fully divine, we may not have the faintest clue what that really means, but we can at least articulate it.
But the Spirit? That’s a whole different thing. What does the Spirit do? When does it do it? How does it do it? In fact, why do we use the pronoun ‘it’ do describe the Spirit? Why not he, or she? We’ve got God the Father, Jesus the Son, and Spirit, the it.
The Spirit is hard for us to figure out.
I remember my brother Michael, you know, the one who catches fish, once asked me about the Presbyterian understanding of the Spirit. He had actually become a Christian while attending the church while I was the music director there, and he served briefly as the youth leader. After I left to go to seminary, he began attending another church, one with a much greater emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and he wanted to know why there was such a difference between the two traditions.
The only answer I could really give him was that Presbyterians are leery of ascribing too much detail to the movement of the Spirit. When the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit, it talks about wildness, and wind, and breath, and unpredictability. The Spirit blows where it will, it works mysteriously, and because we really can’t, with any accuracy, say when or where or how the Spirit will act, we tend to avoid trying to formulate a solid theology around it.
It wasn’t much, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t satisfy my brother, but it was the best I could do.
And today, the Apostle Paul is wrestling with the same kind of question. Obviously the church in Corinth had become obsessed with the Holy Spirit, and it was causing discord. What does the Spirit do? How do we know it is moving? Who has been blessed by the Spirit, and what does that mean for them?
Now, Paul, bless his heart, doesn’t really get into how the Spirit works, or try to lay out under what conditions the Spirit works, but he does do this one thing that I think gets lost in all our wondering about the Spirit: He tells us straight up that anybody and everybody who thinks of themselves, or confesses themselves to be a Christian, is manifesting the presence of the Holy Spirit, whether they know it or not.
And then he goes one further, and says that all these various manifestations of the Spirit are of equal importance to the building up of the Body of Christ. None of them are more important, or more spiritual than the others. None of them lift up the person in who the Spirit is moving above anybody else. We are all of us equal in terms of importance, in the way the Spirit chooses to move in us.
And I find that approach to this topic so liberating.
Instead of wrestling with what speaking in tongues means, he acknowledges that it might exist, but that doesn’t mean squat in terms of how important the person speaking in tongues is. Instead of wrestling with the idea of faith healing or any of a hundred other sorts of supernatural manifestations of the spirit, he makes it clear that it makes absolutely no difference in the way we look at, or treat those who manifest those gifts. Because it’s not about the person. It’s about the Spirit.
For Paul, every act of service given to the church or to one another in the name of Christ is in itself an act of the Spirit. Any gift, any ministry, any small gesture of love, whether in the church building or outside it, is on the same level as any other, because all of them are provoked and enabled by the same Holy Spirit acting in the name of the same Lord and Savior.
And I just love that.
We have forgotten that, haven’t we? We have forgotten that simply doing a kind thing, saying a kind word, giving of ourselves is, in itself, a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but even the smallest act of kindness is on the same level as prophecy or speaking in tongues, whatever you might think that means.
So, let’s just follow that logic through a little bit, shall we?
What would it mean, if simply offering an act of service meant that we were exhibiting the power of the Holy Spirit?
Well that would mean that if you really wanted to see someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit, you should watch Gaylan Goddard as he takes the Church Service CD recordings and sermons to shut-ins every Sunday afternoon. I’m sure Gaylan doesn’t want me to say it, but that is a Spirit-filled act.
If you really want to see the Holy Spirit at work, just watch Sherry and Dean Thompson distribute meals on wheels, or organize the dress-a-live doll project.
If you really want to see the Holy Spirit in action, watch Whit and Barbara Hunt as they minister to orphan children in Romania.
If you want to see the Holy Spirit at work in the church, watch Sue and Chris Lewellen as they set up and tear down for lunch, for coffee, for funerals; or watch Jim Tirey as he offers his gifts at the organ bench or in the courtroom on behalf of children who have been abused or forgotten by society; or any of a thousand other acts of kindness and compassion offered by members of this wonderful congregation. This is what the Holy Spirit looks like.
In fact, if you really want to see the Holy Spirit at work in your life, do something nice for someone else. Give out of your abundance. Offer a comforting word. Feed the hungry, help the poor.
According to Paul at least, all these varieties of service, of activities, of gifts, edify and build up the Body, and in doing so, demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit, not for benefit of the individual, but for everyone.
Because that’s what it’s all about.
The power of the Holy Spirit is not about calling attention to the supernatural abilities of the few. It is about making sure that the needs of all are met. And in order to do that we all are invited to the party. All of us who think of ourselves as Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s use it.
Let’s find out what makes you happy, and what the world needs, and do it. Your gift is just as a spectacular and important as anybody else’s, even if it doesn’t involve slapping people on the forehead and shouting, “Be healed!”
The Holy Spirit is mysterious and unpredictable. I still shy away from the trying to formulate a hard and fast answer to questions about how the Spirit works, and what it does.
But here in this scripture, the Apostle Paul offers these words of encouragement and empowerment: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Each of us. Every one of us has been given the power of the Holy Spirit.
What do you say? Let’s live as though that’s true.