Rev. Nick Reed
1st Corinthians 12:1-11
A few weeks ago after talking with Caroline I had this great idea where for three straight Sundays we would have a little mini series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The first two Sundays would be exploring chapter 12 and the diverse gifts given to us in our communities, and the last Sunday would be the exclamation point when Caroline would close out the good news proclaimed in chapter 13 that love is the greatest gift that transforms the world.
Then our household got hit with Covid and we reshuffled some things. Last week Caroline preached that exclamation point sermon about love. These next two Sundays we will explore the diverse variety of spiritual gifts we each have been given and how we are each an important part of the body of Christ. I do want to mention as a side note I thought long and hard about how to incorporate the new Disney movie Encanto to this mini sermon series but decided not to because I do not want to spoil any of the movie for any of you all. So if you have a chance go and check it out and be inspired how we live in community with our unique gifts. On a fun note the songs will get stuck in your head…
Let us explore today’s text! The church in Corinth has a great problem to figure out. One we can relate to even in the year 2022. They were trying to figure out how to be a church in the midst of a pluralistic and diverse community. Paul’s church plant in Corinth is one that was extremely diverse in backgrounds and experiences. In this church you had those who grew up Jewish, those who grew up gentile. You had male leaders and female leaders, those consider by the Roman government to be slaves and those considered to be free, poor people and rich people. It was a melting pot of people faithfully gathering together to worship God, and who were united together in their confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The church community’s pluralistic nature provided an opportunity for people to be surrounded by diverse experiences, perspectives, and gifts. This would be a blessing for the church. However just like our world today the diverse nature of the church is creating moments of tension and drama for this faithful community.
Caroline alluded to this diverse community’s tension or conflict last week. Throughout his letter to the church Paul is trying to help the church navigate disagreements and misunderstandings of the this new diverse church plant. Who is the better teacher to follow, Paul or Apollos? Do we eat food that was at some point offered to idols or not? How do we go about partaking in the Lord’s supper, do we wait and do it together or can we eat by ourselves?
Then there is today’s passage concerning spiritual things or gifts. The problem is not the diversity of gifts present in the community, the drama that is unfolding is some gifts are being deemed more special than others. Specifically it seems the gift of prophecy and gift of special speech was being ranked higher than others. Probably not surprising since this diverse community of faith has people who grew up practicing similar things as pagans. In today’s text Paul is addressing this outbreak of spiritual gift hierarchy or belief that certain gifts make you holier and better than other people.
As we watch the news in 2022 or find ourselves in conversations with family and friends we are in denial if we think our world does not finds itself in a similar state. In a diverse world driven by individuality, instead of celebrating diversity and using our variety of backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, and gifts to flourish as a community we use it as a gauge to decide which group has the most privilege and right to elite status.
Remembering last weeks text to let God’s great gift of love transform the world, may we hear today’s text and let us guide us towards faithful living in a diverse community.
Paul gets right to the point in his letter…“Now concerning spiritual gifts (or things), brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” In fact there is much that Paul wants to inform them about in regards to diverse spiritual gifts.
The first and most important thing he wants to inform them about is that all spiritual things are Spirit led, meaning the gift is given by God to individual for a purpose. The spirit led gifts a person has is not because of their own doing or their own achievement, but they have it because God has given them that gift.
Paul is quick to point out that what is even more important to remember about spiritual gifts or things is they are only Spirit led if they coincide with Christ’s purpose to love the world. True spiritual things or gifts reflect the loving nature of Christ that he revealed to the world through his life, death, and resurrection. As Caroline preached last week...“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
True spiritual things are grounded in love. True spiritual gifts are not used to create a hierarchy or power over another. Paul is informing the church that true spiritual gifts do the exact opposite, they build up Christ’s church. They build up Christ’s church in a variety of diverse ways and they are how Christ’s church flourishes.
Paul writes, “Now there are a 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 activities all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
This passage is a celebration of diversity in the community of faith. That celebration starts with God and God’s manifestation of the Spirit. God is the one who is the source of the variety of gifts in a community. God is the source of the variety of services people offer a community. God’s Spirit is the source of the variety of diverse ways people live their life through activities that serve and love others. God’s Spirit sanctifies diverse gifts, experiences, and activities all for the common good. Paul is reminding Christ’s church that God has given us each as individuals unique and beautiful ways to use spiritual things to glorify God and to express love to God’s created world.
Church has looked different lately. We have not had those normal moments we know to share our spiritual gifts within the walls of church, or had our normal activities, or been to serve others in the usual way. I give thanks to God that the manifestation of the Spirit is multidimensional and rich because we have been reminded in so many ways over the last few years that being part of Christ’s church transcends just sitting in the pews.
Even though we have not sat in pews as often or gathered with in these walls our spiritual calling to glorify God with our diverse gifts and activities has not diminished. God’s spirit is still the source of our variety of gifts, variety of services, and a variety of activities as we seek the serve the common good. God’s gifts of diverse experiences and gifts empowers us to love and serve God and God’s creation.
The list and ways we serve the common good with spiritual things might look different now than it did originally in Paul’s letter, but the concept has not changed one bit. Think about all the ways people have expressed Christ’s love and care in the world through gifts, services, and activities during this pandemic. Over the last few years we have discerned how to use our diverse spiritual gifts from home, discerned how to tend to the common good as we find ourselves in public places with one another, God’s spirit has led us to engage our neighbors in important conversations, in particular about race and equality.
We have witnessed stories of people sharing their unique spiritual gift. Stories of healthcare workers and how they are expressing God’s love through their own gifts of care. Stories of educators and how through their service they are are expressing God’s love to students and children through their own gifts of knowledge and compassion. Stories of activities of neighbors who have tended to the well being of friends and strangers and reminded us all that in our diverse community we depend on each other.
“Now there are a 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 activities all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Let us celebrate that God’s love is transforming the world in so many diverse ways! Alleluia Amen