Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spiritual Gifts

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

This week, my youngest daughter asked what I was preaching on this week, and then asked how it was that I came up with something different to say each week. I was a little surprised by the question because normally she is spending all her time at the back of the church in the Kid’s Korner, and certainly acting as if she is not paying any attention to what I have to say each week, although occasionally she will make some comment about the sermon, or ask me a question about it, so I know she’s at least occasionally paying attention. But I certainly never expected her to ask how I decided what to preach on, and it’s a question that few people have asked me over the years.  I told her there were lots of things that went into it, and one of the most important was what I thought that we needed to hear, and as a corollary of that what I was feeling called to preach on. 
Now they say that a normal preacher has only one sermon that they deliver every week, just in different ways.  Good preachers have two sermons they give over and over in different ways.  And great preachers have three sermons that they give in different ways.  Now whether I am a great preacher or not, I like to think that I have at least three different sermons that I preach, and yet for the past few months, it feels like I keep coming back to the same messages again and again.  Perhaps I’m like the new preacher who gave exactly the same sermon on loving our neighbor as ourselves for the first three weeks he was at the church.  When the leadership told him perhaps it would be a good idea for him to preach on something else, he said “Once you’ve got a hang of loving all, then we’ll move onto something else.”  Or, perhaps, I’ve simply become a little unoriginal in my messages.

And so today we find ourselves back with Paul and his claims to the Corinthian community about spiritual gifts and how they just don’t understand what it is all about.  In Paul’s salutation, or list of thanksgivings at the beginning of this letter, Paul says that he gives thanks to them “for in every way you have been enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So it is clear that the Corinthian community has and are demonstrating spiritual gifts, but as we read through the letter, it appears that the community has created a hierarchy of gifts, with those who can speak in tongues being those who are elevated.  Perhaps there is even the claim being made that if you cannot speak in tongues then you have not actually received any spiritual gifts, or at least if you have that they are not ones that are really any good.  It’s like Yankee fans looking down their noses at those who root for other inferior teams, rather than seeing them as necessary because those teams have to exist so they Yankees can beat up on them.

Now one of the things we have to remember when we are looking at Paul’s letters, or any of the letters we find in scripture, is that these are two sided conversations of which we only have one side recorded.  Paul is not writing this letter just out of the blue, without any other input or knowledge, and as today’s passage begins, Paul says “Now concerning Spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.”  It appears that Paul is responding here to something that has either been asked of him or said to him, perhaps in a letter they have written to have, about spiritual gifts, what they are and which ones are important.  What Paul says to them hopefully should be enlightening to us as well, because Paul starts with the fact that these gifts are not something about which we should boast because we are not responsible for them.  They are given to us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t go out and get them, we don’t earn them, we can’t purchase them, they are not special apps we get, they come to us by God.  And more importantly, Paul says, we all have them.  We are like the children of Lake Woebegone, we are all above average.  Even faith itself, Paul says, is a spiritual gift, and being able to say that Jesus is Lord is only possible through the Holy Spirit.  So it’s not a question of whether a Christian has spiritual gifts or not, the question to be determined is what gifts we have, and to also recognize that every gift is important and necessary, even if we might not think it is or see that it is.

There is not a hierarchy of gifts and there are a multiplicity of gifts.  Not only is the multiplicity of gifts important, it’s necessary for us to be effective as a church.  So we are going to do a little congregational participation exercise.  This is going to require you to first get up and move around a little bit, but if you have mobility issues you can remain in your seat, and second it’s going to require you to make a decision.  You can stand in the middle and say “I’m all of these things, I can’t decide.”  For the sake of the exercise, you have to choose one position over the other.

So here is your first choice.  If you would identify with being active, fast-paced, assertive, dynamic and bold I want you to come to the front of the sanctuary, and if you would identify instead with being thoughtful, moderate-paced, calm, methodical and careful I want you to go to the back of the sanctuary.

Now for the second decision. If you would identify more with being questioning, logic-focused, objective, skeptical and challenging go to the left side of the sanctuary, (left looking forward) and if you would identify more with being accepting, people-focused, empathizing, receptive and agreeable, to the right side of the sanctuary.

Now the last piece of information, if you were at the front of the sanctuary for the first choice and on the right-hand side, move up towards the organ, and similarly if you were at the front and on the left-hand side move up towards the kneeling rail.  And in case the rest haven’t figured it out, if you were at the back and on the right move towards the kitchen, and at the back and on the left, move towards the welcome tables.  What we end up with then is four pieces of a whole, or four parts of a pie.  Just as with a regular pie, if you are missing one piece then first you want to find out who ate it, and second to realize that the pie is not a complete whole without all the parts, because all the parts are necessary.

This group over here are our D’s. (dominance) They want to get things done.  They don’t want to wait around for all the questions to be answered, or for everyone to be on board, their moto is “Let’s go and we’ll figure it out as we go along.”  This drive has significant positives as they have a level of self-confidence that keeps them moving, and doing.  The flip side is that they can come off as not having concern for others or being impatient and insensitive.  They don’t mean to, but that’s how they are sometimes perceived.

This group over here are our Is. (influence)  They are energetic and enthusiastic.  They too want to get things done, but they want to be social while doing it.  If you want to know when everyone’s birthday is and what’s going on in people’s lives, this is the group that’s going to know.  They want to see things happen and have fun while doing it.  They are known for their charm, enthusiasm, optimism and talkativeness.  The flip side is that they can come off as impulsive and disorganized, or lacking in seriousness.

Back in this corner we have our Ss.  S stands for stability, and that’s who they are.  They work at a slower pace because they want a stable environment and they want to make sure that everyone is being heard and included in what’s going on.  They too are likely to know everyone’s birthdays, but will also make sure none of the details get overlooked in throwing the party and make sure that everyone is invited.  They are patient, team-players who are fine doing all the work that needs to be done behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly.  The flip side is that they can be seen as being overly accommodating in making sure that everyone is included, which can lead to a tendency to avoid change as well as the appearance of indecisiveness.

Last, but certainly not least, is this back corner, our C’s, which is where I would be as well. (conscientious)  As we move into tax season, you want to look at who are the Cs.  Cs are deliberate in what they do, they want to know all the answers and to have thought everything all the way through before they move forward, to have the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.  They have an attention to quality and analysis that are necessary.  They also tend to be more quiet.  If you are more familiar with introvert and extrovert of the Meyers-Briggs, the C’s are introverts and the I’s are extroverts.  The flip side of the Cs is that they can be overly critical and with a tendency to overanalyze can hold things up even after others are ready to move on and do things.

Both of the ds and the Is are the doers in any congregation and they are vital to make sure that things are getting done.  Their fast pace and boldness help lead the congregation in directions and into doing things that otherwise might never happen, or perhaps would take a long time to undertake.  The S’s and C’s tend to move at a slower pace, to be concerned with relationships and details which helps keep the D’s and the I’s from leading us off a cliff.  That’s important too.  Both sides are dependent upon each other.  So we have a pace preference front and back, but there is also break that Is and Ss tend to be more heart focused, which makes sense since they are concerned with people, and the Ds and Is tend to be more head focused.  Both of these are necessary too, if we go too far either heart or head we get off track.  One of the geniuses of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, I think was his ability to combine both head and heart in religion.  Thank you, you can go back to your seats.

God made each of us the way we are, and none of us are purely just one of these things, we all have a unique blending that makes us unique, and therefore makes us important. The population is evenly split between these four quadrants.  The areas that might be missing indicate what gifts we don’t make space for, and it also shows the areas to which we give preference.  But all are needed and necessary.  It’s like a puzzle; if we are to complete the puzzle we need all the pieces.  We might start by finding the corner pieces and then all the outside pieces, and therefore the inside pieces might think they are not important, but have you ever been doing a puzzle and you get to the end and realize you’re missing one piece?  Man that stinks.  The same is true in the church.

There are people who take on major tasks that you see a lot of, and there are people who take on minor tasks that you never see, sometimes I never even see them.  But they are just as important.  As Jesus is watching people put money into the offering box at the table, he sees people putting in large sums, and then he sees a widow put in just  one coin, the smallest coin available, a penny, and he says she has given more than all the others because while they have given out of their abundance, she has given all she has, she has given abundantly out of her scarcity.

All of us have spiritual gifts, and gifts are different then talents, and they are also different from what we might necessarily do in our occupations.  Just because you are a teacher does not mean therefore your gift for the church is to teach Sunday school, nor do bankers have to serve on finance.  Sometimes the most important people on finance are those who know nothing about it because they force those of us who are good to think differently and talk differently.  Gifts are given for the community, for the good of all.  Gifts do not lift the individual above the rest of the group, because everyone is gifted.

One final problem people have is that we don’t necessarily know what our spiritual gifts are, and so we’re going to help you.  On the home page of our website you will find two different spiritual gifts inventories, one from the United Methodist Church and one from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which might help you get a better sense of what God has called you to do.  There are no right or wrong answers on these surveys, just as there are no right or wrong spiritual gifts, it is only what God has given to us, for we are all gifted and we are all above average.

God has made us as we are, God has gifted us to build up the body of Christ, and no gift is too big or too small, for they all build upon each other and make the whole possible.  It’s about understanding that all of us are important, all of us are the secret ingredient that makes the recipe that we are cooking as a church, or the puzzle we are building possible.  I invite you to explore your gifts and how they might be best given to our community and the community beyond.  I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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