by David Baer, May 15, 2016
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
Today’s lesson from First Corinthians is about a church that is rich in spiritual gifts. Ever since Pentecost, when Jesus’ disciples received the power to speak the good news of Jesus eloquently to people of all nations in their own languages, the Spirit had led others too to speak in tongues. But some others received a different gift from the Spirit—the ability to speak a clear message from God directly to individuals and communities—this was the gift of prophecy. Still others received the power to heal, and others received wisdom. There were so many gifts represented among the believers in the city of Corinth that Paul says, in the opening words of this letter to them, “[Y]ou are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:7). This is a community that has been extraordinarily blessed by God.
Yet in spite of the richness of spiritual gifts present in their church, the Corinthians were divided. Their community was a mess, because instead of using their gifts to encourage each other, those who spoke in tongues used their gift to show off and lord it over the rest; and those who could heal did their own thing in their corner; and the prophets spoke God’s messages only to those who appreciated them. Rolf Jacobson, a professor at Luther Seminary, points out that when Paul says, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift,” the “you” is plural. “Y’all are not lacking,” is what Paul says. Individually, set apart from one another as they are, the Corinthian believers are lacking quite a lot of spiritual gifts.1
What Paul does is to remind them that their gifts come from one and the same place, and they are meant to bless one and the same body, the body of Christ, the community of believers united with each other and working together in response to what God has done for them through Jesus.
The first gift of the Spirit, says Paul, is faith. You were pagans not too long ago, he reminds them. You didn’t know about Jesus. You worshiped idols. Then you heard the good news and something changed. What brought you to see that God was saving and transforming this world through Jesus, that God could save and transform you; what allowed you to make the profession of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” is the Holy Spirit, because no one can get there without the Spirit working in them, helping them to believe God’s promise. When it comes to your faith in Christ, he says, you didn’t build that! The Holy Spirit did, and without this first and greatest gift there would be no others. All of you have already received the spiritual gift that matters most.
But out of that first gift of faith come a variety of different gifts, Paul says. And he spells them out: wisdom, knowledge, trust, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation. But again, just as importantly, Paul says, you didn’t choose your gift. The Holy Spirit did. And what’s more, as believers with different gifts, you are meant to be like the members of a single body, where differences of race or ethnicity or class no longer divide.
Many gifts, one faith. Many gifts, one body. Many gifts, one Spirit, one Lord. The full richness of God’s abundant generosity is only available to us when we come together, when we treat the gifts we receive not as prizes to be crowed over and hoarded, but as “manifestations of the Spirit for the common good.”
We’re about to welcome one young woman and two young men as members of this church. They are still in the process of discovering their spiritual gifts, but I am so glad they’re choosing to share them with us. With Mary we’re getting a gentle spirit who is so creative and open to trying new things. With Dylan we’re getting a budding artist who not only loves to watch movies, but to think deeply about what they mean, and he brings that same thoughtful spirit to the stories of our faith. With Kevin we’re getting a bright and inquisitive guy who wrestles out loud with tough questions and makes connections to his experience. I’m excited for the energy and the talents and the enthusiasm you guys bring to our church!
During one of our sessions, we wrestled with the question of how a good and loving God could allow all the sickness and violence and tragedy we see in the world. We didn’t find a comforting answer to that question—let me know if you’ve got one we haven’t considered! But in the end, I think what speaks most powerfully to where these three young people are in their faith is this. I read them a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” And they weren’t sure they could affirm that these words are true, just sitting on the page. They couldn’t affirm a general, abstract notion that everything works out OK for people who love and trust God. But I asked them if they wanted it to be true, and they all said yes. Then I asked them if they wanted to do everything they could toward making those words true—feeding hungry people, befriending those who are lonely, advocating for those who are being pushed around. And they all said yes. For them the goodness and love of God is not a possession that they get to keep on a shelf. It’s not a theoretical possibility or a nice idea to think about. It’s a not about finding reasons why it makes sense that some people suffer, as though that would make it all OK. For them it’s about doing what they can to lighten others’ burdens, so that in the end all things work together for good.
But I want the three of you to remember that. I want you to remember that you said you believed that God’s goodness and love become real through other people working to make it better. Because that means that we need you to make God real for us, but it also means that you need us to make God real for you.
Together, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Together, God’s rich blessings flow to all of us, and we know that God is good in a way we could never experience if we were on our own. Thank God for Kevin, Dylan, and Mary. Thank God for all of you. Thank God for us, together with other believers around the world. Thank God for the one body of Christ that drinks deeply, richly together of the goodness and grace of God. Amen.
Rolf Jacobson on “I Love to Tell the Story” Podcast, episode #227, “Gifts of the Spirit.” http://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=755. Accessed 12 May 2016.