Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Discovering the Spirit Within”
First Corinthians 12: 1-11, January 17th, 2016
This past week I had occasion to go to the dentist and have a little procedure done. So as I was thinking about this sermon and how to approach a conversation about the Spirit I came across this short writing about a Buddhist, who we know are often credited with some spiritual meditations. It goes like this: “Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during his root canal work? He wanted to transcend-dental medication.” /Author Unknown/
It is true that many who pursue the spiritual life are looking to attain insight. Another writer, calling herself MIA (a spiritual leader) offers up this spiritual exercise to get us ready to continue on.
And attaining enlightenment, will be the least of your problems! /MAI/
As we get into our scripture reading this morning, this short passage from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the struggling church in Corinth we find him talking about spiritual gifts. His message is quite simple, the application of the lesson is where folks like you and me get stuck. Paul simply explains that there are many gifts, a great variety really and he gives some common understandings of gifts. But, his explanation in no way speaks of the entire list of spiritual gifts for there a great many; far too many for his short letter or my short conversation this morning. As we get into this I want us all to consider this accounting of two men and how they used their gifts. I found it very inspirational and hope you will as well.
So let us begin with this short story.
“Several years ago, two students graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highest ranking student in the class was a blind man named Overton and, when he received his honor, he insisted that half the credit should go to his friend, (Kaspryzak.) They had met one another in school when the armless man, his friend, (Mr. Kaspryzak) had guided the blind Mr. Overton down a flight of stairs. This acquaintance ripened into friendship and a beautiful example of interdependence. The blind man carried the books which the armless man read aloud in their common study, and thus the individual deficiency of each was compensated for by the other. After their graduation, they planned to practice law together. /Gary Inrig/ Just imagine the things that might be accomplished if we were able to team the right combination of folks together!
Spiritual gifts are much like any gift. It is expected that after we receive a gift we will use them and continue to use them. This short accounting of a violinist and his decision reminds us of how important continued use of a treasured gift or contribution truly is.
“The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on condition that the instrument never be played upon. It was an unfortunate condition, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay.”
“The exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning.”/Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992./
This is an important way for us to reflect on Paul’s conversation about spiritual gifts. That is, seeing how important it is to appreciate every aspect of the gifts that we do have, as individuals, and how important they may be as we share them with others in a generous and meaningful way. Also, we need to put Paul’s letter into context. He was writing to this small church, because, like most small churches and churches in general, they were having some conflicts. Therefore he was trying to get them to see that they needed to view their abilities with more humility and less pride. Paul was seeking to instill upon them that they all had special gifts, each with a purpose and plan in God’s eyes. James Boyce, the “Professor Emeritus of New Testament studies at Luther Seminary, in Saint Paul Minnesota says this to us. “We are reminded that in the end the gifts, the ministry, and the empowering of the community for service all belong to God.” Therefore, as we ponder spiritual gifts and their uses let us not forget where they come from.
The Reverend Roy M. Terry IV, pastor at the Cornerstone United Methodist Church, a Florida native, asks us a simple question: “Are Christians any more gifted than others?” Paul limited his conversation of spiritual gifts to wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, and prophecy. It is true that many scholars and a great number of people attribute the use of these gifts to those within the realm of Christianity. His question pushes this conclusion and I must agree it needs pushing. Surely, wisdom and knowledge are not restricted to Christianity, even if we Christians believe we are sole recipients of spiritual gifts. Healing and miracles can be seen in every walk of life, Jesus was not the first nor the last to be instrumental to a healing or to oversee a miracle. This though does not discard our belief that God oversees miracles and facilitates healing. But clearly, people who are not calling themselves Christians have and do experience them.
I know that some sects of Christianity believe we poses the only path to heaven. I accept the possibility that I only understand the path of Christianity, yet I strongly believe that God’s grace and mercy extent far beyond my limited knowledge and insights. Therefore, I see it as narrow minded to believe we have the only knowledge of how to get to heaven. With this said we can look at the gift of faith with a more inclusive orientation. Surely, God has bestowed the gift of faith to others who may not be Christian in their understanding of God. I have meet many, of other faith orientations, that have a deeply rich faith life. Their faith is clearly authentic and one can even sense the presence of God in their expressions of faith. The same can be said of prophecy. If we stay open to the possibility that God speaks to others, than just Christians, then it stands to reason that others may have received this spiritual gift as well.
Rev. Bryan Finlayson asks yet another probing question for us to ponder. “In what ways do we limit the development and exercise of spiritual abilities within our congregation?” His question goes along with the spirit of the Apostle Paul’s letter this morning. Pastor Bryan is assuming we are a typical church and are struggling in certain areas and may want to take a second look at ourselves. Self-examination is indeed the avenue toward further growth. Before we can fully examine ourselves in this realm, again, we need to open ourselves to how we evaluate another person’s spiritual gifts. If we close our hearts to the potential of another, other than ourselves, then we will limit the development and exercise of spiritual abilities within our fellowship. Yet, if we open our hearts to accept the potential of others, to have been given gifts of the spirit, than we must stay open to even the most unlikely person within our community to model such gifts. In answering this question we need to look deeply – especially if we are in a position of leadership or influence within this community, as we examine ourselves, staying open to the possibility that we might become more open to the gifts of others.
Larry Broding, Director of Religious Education in San Diego, asks yet another question: “What are your gifts? How have you used your gifts within your community?” His question pushes us beyond our brokenness and beyond our self/centered understandings of our gifts. He pushes us to identify our gifts and immediately begin to articulate how we are using them within our community. This question is directed to each and every one of us, not just current committee chairs or members, not just current active volunteers within this family of faith. The Apostle Paul is very clear about this. Not only does he point out that all gifts, a variety of gifts, and all services, a variety of services, can be accomplished with these gifts, but declares that: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
As we bring our conversation to closure, surrounding spiritual gifts, let us agree on a few basic points that shall leave us with a challenge and some clarity of direction. The primary point that the Apostle Paul makes is in verse 5 and 6: “Now there are 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 activates all of them in everyone. This statement is punctuated with the directive in verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The challenge is for us to acknowledge that we have spiritual gifts and strive to recognize them in others. Our direction of action is clearly identified for us as well. We must direct the uses of these gifts toward the common good. This common good, for us as ‘The Riviera United Church of Christ’ is to further the life and mission of this church within in the community and scope of ministry that has been marked out for us! Amen.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament letter, First Corinthians, chapter:12 verses: 1-11”
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are 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 activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to 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. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
“Allow God to touch our hearts and minds, as we seek out and look for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”