The Gift that Keeps on Giving
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11
The summer after my freshman year of college, my dad – who was also a United Methodist pastor – was moved to a new church. It was the longest distance move my dad had ever made and also happened to be the worst moving company experience we ever endured. The movers arrived that day at 8:00 a.m. and put the last item on the truck at 9:00… p.m. We didn’t arrive at the new parsonage until 1:30 a.m. The moving company had promised they would not show up at the new house until 10:00 the next morning. Thankful for the opportunity to sleep in, we all nestled wearily into our sleeping bags. It seemed I had only just drifted off to sleep when the chimes of a doorbell awakened me. It was 7:00 a.m. My father stumbled to the front door and was greeted by a gentleman from his new congregation who had arrived wanting to know if he could take us out for breakfast. That was, obviously, an invitation my father felt he shouldn’t decline. So, we quickly groomed ourselves and headed to the local pancake house. Now, initially, we thought this gentleman must have the gift of hospitality. But, over breakfast, we became suspicious of his intentions. Now, I confess that – on 5 hours of sleep – my mind was a little fuzzy. But, the gist of the conversation went something like this. This man wanted to testify to my father that he was a Charismatic Christian. The church my dad had been appointed to serve, according to this gentleman’s evaluation, had a small group of Charismatic believers who had been accustomed to meeting with the pastor weekly and functioning as his ministerial advisors. Some within the church didn’t appreciate their spiritual giftedness and were reluctant to render them the proper respect. So, the gentleman wanted to know right up front if my dad was a Charismatic Christian. He was delighted when my dad affirmed that he, too, was a Charismatic Christian; but, became a little baffled when my dad affirmed the state of all Christians as Charismatic. Surely my dad didn’t think that everyone had the gift of “speaking in tongues,” did he? By now, the gentleman was a little dubious about my dad’s spiritual state, as well. When he discovered my father did not speak in tongues, he was baffled, frustrated and disgusted with this new shepherd who, he felt quite certain, did not have the qualifications to be his spiritual leader.
Now, it wasn’t until I arrived at seminary a few years later that I made the mental connection that my father’s experience with that church in Pennsylvania was almost an exact replication of the apostle Paul’s struggle with the church at Corinth captured for posterity in our Christian scriptures. And this is why...
Within the church at Corinth, Greece in the first century A.D., there were some who had the gift of glossalalia – what we today generally refer to as “speaking in tongues.” They would, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, begin to say things in a language they didn’t comprehend. Now, this wasn’t gibberish. It was real speech. And, as you can imagine, it made for a very sensational display. Now, some of you may have experience in this area. You may have grown up in a church where “speaking in tongues” occurred in the context of worship. Or, you, yourself, may have experience speaking in tongues. And if you or someone you know has spoken in tongues, this morning’s sermon is not meant in any way to ridicule or degrade that spiritual gift. It is a valid, biblical gift. But, it is also a gift that – as I’ve mentioned – can appear quite sensational and, consequently, become quite divisive. And the apostle Paul, and my dad, both faced this challenge. Those within the church at Corinth – just like that group within my dad’s parish in Pennsylvania – had created a hierarchy of spiritual gifts. In their estimation, the gift of speaking in tongues put you at the top of the spiritual heap, so to speak. Possession of such an important spiritual gift was, by their standards, a sure and certain indication of spiritual maturity and superiority. And, since it clearly indicated spiritual superiority, those who possessed such a gift should, obviously, exercise positions of power and authority within the church.
There was, however, one small flaw in the Corinthians’ logic and their misunderstanding was the same one that resulted in such confusion in the mind of the gentleman who took us to breakfast. For the word “charis” – from which we get our word “charismatic” – simply means “gift” or “grace.” One who is a Charismatic Christian is one who has been given a spiritual gift OR, specifically, a gift from the Holy Spirit. And so, as my father asserted at the breakfast table, every Christian, is Charismatic. One cannot be a Christian without being Charismatic. This is true on more than one level.
First, to be a Christian, means that one puts their faith or trust in Christ and that one freely accepts God’s grace through Christ. To be a Christian means admitting that we are incapable of earning God’s approval by our own efforts. One can’t earn God’s love and acceptance. One can only receive God’s love and approval as a gift. A gift can’t be earned. That would make it compensation or a wage. So, if there’s nothing anyone can do to earn God’s grace, then it stands to reason, that no one is more or less deserving of it than anyone else.
Secondly, if you were in worship last Sunday, you might remember that the sermon was about Jesus’ baptism and how it relates to our baptism. You might remember me saying that, like Jesus, at baptism we are named as God’s beloved sons and daughters. And that, like Jesus, when we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is present and at work. When one is baptized into the Christian faith, one receives the Holy Spirit to dwell or live within us. The Holy Spirit is also a gift. The Holy Spirit is present within us – to teach, guide and equip us to be the Christian people our baptism has declared us to be. And, that with which the Holy Spirit equips us, is also a gift. If one is able to speak eloquently – in English or any other language, it’s because the Holy Spirit has given him or her that particularly gift or ability. If one is able to listen to others with patience and empathy, it is because the Holy Spirit has given that gift or ability. If one is able to teach or lead or serve others particularly well, that is evidence that the Spirit has blessed them with that gift.
The Greek word charis means “gift” or “grace” and so, anyone who receives the grace of Christ also receives the Spirit’s gifts and thus becomes a Charismatic Christian. And that is simply what it means, according to scripture, to be a Charismatic Christian.
But there is one more additional thing that Paul wants to convey to these Corinthian Christians. And this is what really blows their hierarchical thinking out of the water. For, Paul assures them, the gifts the Spirit gives are not given whilly-nilly, randomly. They are given with purpose or intent. And the intent is this: that each church may be equipped with all that it needs to do the work which Christ has given it to do.
I want to say that sentence again because it’s the crux of Paul’s message and this sermon. The Holy Spirit dispenses gifts or abilities in order that each church may be equipped with whatever skills and resources it needs to do the work that Christ calls it to do in a particular time and place. Each one of you here this morning who have placed your trust in the grace of Christ has been given a spiritual gift. And Jesus expects you to use that gift, to contribute that gift toward the work that God has called Trinity to do. As I said last week, serving the church isn’t simply about what we like to do or what fits conveniently into our schedule. Serving in the church, my friends, is about living out our baptism by utilizing the spiritual gift God has given you. What Paul makes clear to the Corinthians and to us is that each one of you here this morning have been drawn to this place, this church, because you have a gift the Holy Spirit wants to put to use in this place, in this church: Trinity UM. Scripture, particularly the teachings of the apostle Paul, assure us that each and every local congregation has been called together and gifted in such a way that they have what they need to do the work God has called them to do. God doesn’t call us to do something without providing the resources to do it. All that our church in this time and place has been called by Jesus to do, we can do. We’re not lacking in any resource if – and this is the big “if” – if each of us puts our spiritual gifts to use. Let me say that one more time. I don’t want you to miss it. Jesus has a mission for Trinity United Methodist Church – right here, right now. And Jesus has drawn us together as his people and the Spirit has gifted us in such a way so that, if WE are faithful in using our gifts, we can achieve all that Jesus asks of us and entrusts to us.
The church – Paul makes clear in everything he ever writes – is not simply a social group. Hopefully, we do enjoy one another’s company; but that is not the primary reason why we are here. We’re here because God has called us into ministry as a church. Church, my friends, is never static. The church is a living organism. That’s why Paul frequently employs the metaphor of a physical body. The body is made up of particular parts. And each part has a specific role to play that contributes to the body’s overall function.
I’m standing here preaching a sermon to you. But, I’m not just some chattering mouth. I’m a whole person. My brain is keeping my thoughts and my speech coordinated – well, most of the time, at least. I need lungs and a diaphragm to propel my breath. My voice box creates sound. My lips and tongue and teeth shape that sound into intelligible words. All of it works together just as God intended.
And, likewise, the church works together. Each and every person with their distinctive gifts and abilities, each person contributes to the body’s overall function. Paul puts it this way. He says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” “For the common good…” Spiritual gifts are given not simply for individual enjoyment or individual benefit. In other words, each and every Christian has received some particular skill or ability for the good of the Church, for the good of this church. You didn’t do anything special to earn it. It was the Holy Spirit’s free gift to you. No, cancel that. That’s not exactly right. It’s more precisely like this: it was the Holy Spirit’s gift to our church that is received and experienced by us through you. Because our individual abilities and skills are not given so that we might feel impressed with ourselves or pat ourselves on the back; nor are they given so that we might act like big shots in the church or in the world. The Holy Spirit has given you the gifts he has given you so that some specific thing that Trinity United Methodist Church needs in order to do what Jesus has called us to do, our church receives, from the Holy Spirit through you.
People of God, we are the Body of Christ. Not simply names on a membership list. Not just a group of people who know and like one another. Not even just a group of people who strive to get along with one another and help one another. We’re more than that. We are the Body of Christ in Lafayette, IN in 2016. And each one of us has an essential role to play, a unique function to perform, in this Body of Christ. To each of us has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The Holy Spirit has given our church all the gifts and graces we need to be all that God wants us to be. We are, each one of us, a charismatic Christian; given an ability, a knowledge, even a particular experience that is no more or less important than the other folks in this church.
They are God’s gift to us and putting them to good use is our gift back to God. When we want to say “thank you” to God for the blessings he’s given us; using those blessings and gifts is the right way to give thanks to God. Put your gift from God to use because it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Amen.
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