1_20_2013 NBW Sermon-1 <—–click here to listen along. Sermons are a spoken event.Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. -1 Corinthians 12
Once when I was in seminary my friends and I were talking about the gifts of the Spirit like the ones we heard about in our epistle reading today: wisdom, knowledge, healing, faith, discernment etc…and trying to decide which gift we might have when I realized how disappointed I have always been that snarkiness and sarcasm are never listed as gifts of the Spirit. Feels unfair to some of us.
The church hasn’t always done a great job knowing how to understand the gifts of the spirit. I mean, some of my parishioners were raised in Pentecostal churches where they felt dismissed or ignored for never having been “slain in the Spirit” and so some of them told me they just resorted to pretending to speak in tongues so that they could belong and then that just felt weird.
But I think mainline protestants don’t do any better since we basically try and sweep gifts of the Spirit under the liturgical carpet before they embarrass any one.
But as I was thinking about spiritual gifts I started wondering this week what it means to say someone is gifted. Because when we say someone is gifted at something, like how say, Jamie our cantor is gifted at singing, well, when we say that about someone it usually means that they are naturally better at something –in a way that most people aren’t. Like, you’d never say “wow, Bob is really gifted at breathing oxygen” because being gifted means having a special ability that not everyone has.
Which makes sense.
A year ago I had coffee with Kate Cash a parishioner of mine. She had recently started taking a yoga class and sheepishly mentioned that while she herself was new to yoga she could kind of see herself teaching at some point. I said I thought that was a great idea and that as a matter of fact she should take a teacher training and teach yoga at House for All Sinners and Saints. Well, fast forward a year and now Kate has already taught her first 2 yoga classes at church. She comes in Wednesday evenings, lights some candles, welcomes people, guides them gently through some simple poses, reads a psalm, and gives thanks to God. Those of us who were blessed by her class can tell you that Kate has been given a gift.
Here’s what would be weird though. What if we for some reason all thought that having the gift of teaching yoga was the true mark of a Christian. I mean, that would be absurd, Like if before joining a church you had to sign a statement of faith and prove that you can teach yoga.
Of course not.
We don’t need everyone to have the gift of teaching yoga or healing or wisdom. We just need someone to have these gifts.
I mention this because Paul says that to each is given a gift the Spirit for the common good.
And the gifts he lists are awesome: wisdom, knowledge, faith, discernment, miracles, prophesy. But the point is this: It all makes sense to me that we need some people who are wise and some who are discerning and some who have knowledge. But what struck me this week was that included on the list of gifts from the spirit that some have and some don’t but that are given for the good of the whole: is faith.
Faith. The thing Christians torture themselves about having or not having or having enough of.
And unlike singular gifts of prophesying or knowledge, or teaching yoga, we assume faith is the mark of the Christian. Weren’t most of us taught that we must, as individual Christians have the right quantity and quality of faith? Yet faith is listed among all the gifts allotted to some people for the sake of the whole. In a way, it kind of takes the pressure off. That is not to say that Faith is not critically important. It is. Clearly it is. It’s just that I think God doesn’t necessarily give faith in sufficient quantity to individuals. God gives it to in sufficient quantity to communities.Which is really kind of beautiful. It’s a real hang up to a lot of people…maybe even you…you worry you don’t have faith, because you don’t always intellectually ascent to a certain set of theological ideas. But what Paul seems to be saying is that maybe faith isn’t everyone’s spiritual gift. Maybe the Spirit creates more faith is some people than others but that their faith is for the common good of us all. That feels like a blessed relief to me.
Because sometimes we have to carry the faith for each other. No one has to do all the heavy lifting all the time.
We talk about that sometimes at House. That, like that story from the 2nd chapter of Mark, sometimes we are the ones lowering our friends down through the roof to Jesus and sometimes we are the ones being lowered.
Because to Paul, all things are held together for the sake of the common good. And to us Americans who practically had rugged individualism mixed with our mother’s milk …that can be a hard thing to take. We are raised to believe that to be strong is to be self-sufficient, to have freedom is to be autonomous, and to have faith is to alone believe at all times and never waver. It’s up to you alone to get ‘er done. But that couldn’t be farther from what we read today in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Paul says to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Which I think is why this week my friend Justin called Paul a spiritual socialist.
But I think that’s the way it is supposed to be. Because having to rely on the gifts of God given to our brothers and sisters and them having to rely on the gifts entrusted to us is God’s intention for those who bear the name Christian. We don’t have what it takes to love God, pray to God and follow God alone. And that’s kind of beautiful but not always easy.
This week one of my parishioners was having some anxiety about facing the anniversary of some painful events in her life and at the same time she didn’t want to make too big a deal of it. So I suggested that she choose a couple people she is close to at church and ask them to carry it for her. Ask them to carry the weight of the anniversary dates on her behalf so that she knows it’s being done but that its not her that has to do it. She can lean into the gifts the Spirit has granted her brothers and sisters which have been allotted for the common good.
Which I believe in and is all so lovely – until the next day when I had to do the worst thing in the world for a preacher and that is take my own advice.
This ended up being one of my more difficult weeks in recent memory and I found myself having no choice but to rely on the prayers and faith and wisdom and compassion of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom God has put in my life – because frankly I was tapped out. Which is hard because I’d so rather have all the gifts myself and not have to rely on others. But when it feels like a failure on my part that I don’t have the faith or compassion or prayer life or wisdom that I need, I just have to remember that the only real failure is when I fail to recognize that I do actually have all the faith and compassion and prayer and wisdom I need – it’s just that someone else in my life is holding it for me.
See, I believe that it is God’s intention that we need each other. Not in a creepy co-dependant having no bounderies type of way. But in a bearing the face of Christ kind of way because when I can not see goodness. When I can not see hope or beauty or the face of Christ in my own heart in my own life and through my own eyes I need you to do it for me.
As the grains of wheat scattered on the hill are gathered into one to become our bread so too the gifts of the Spirit, scattered among our brothers and sisters, are gathered into one to become our faith, to become our prayer, to become our compassion. Because it’s as if this life of faith is a big jigsaw puzzle and each of us have a piece but the only was to see the fullness of God is to bring those pieces God has entrusted to each of us together and then to stand with one another looking at the beauty of it and say The gifts of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.