ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JUNE 16, 2013
GIFTS FROM GOD
Exodus 31: 1 – 11; 1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11; Matthew 7: 7 – 11
Terry and I had a wonderful trip to Ireland. One does not go to Ireland without kissing the Blarney Stone. So off we went, not knowing the Blarney Stone was not a rock on the ground but a cut stone at the top of a 120 foot castle, built about two feet away from the parapet. I’m a person who won’t go higher than 3 steps on a ladder, but I was determined to kiss this rock. Why? Because legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney Stone it bequeaths upon you the “gift of eloquence” (or fancifully worded hogwash depending on who you ask); being a preacher I thought that might up my game. So I climbed the 127 spiral stairs to the top of the roof, carefully worked my way around to the far side, lay on my back, leaned out over the 15 storey drop and kissed the Blarney stone. I was glad when that was over. So far though not much change. We all know the story is blarney. Rocks can’t give us gifts.
I do believe however, that the Holy Spirit does give us gifts, normally referred to as “gifts of the Spirit” or “spiritual gifts”. These are different than the gifts or blessings God gives us to sustain life; these gifts are given so that each Christian can contribute to the building up of Christ’s Church. Paul wrote, “The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Gifts are normally given to people we care about as a sign of our love from them. In the same way, the gifts God bestows on us are given out of God’s continual love for us. Since God loves his church, every Christian – each one here – has at least one gift if not more. St. Paul devoted more than a few verses of scripture in both his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12) and his letter to the Romans (chapter 12) to these spiritual gifts. Let’s just pause to hear what Paul said some of those gifts are: wisdom, knowledge, the power to heal or to perform miracles, preaching, evangelism, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues, teaching, service, encouragement, generosity, administration, leadership and mercy or kindness. (cf Romans 12:1; Corinthians 12). We also read in Exodus of God’s spirit gifting people with skills of fine craftsmanship. In other scriptures, like the Psalms, we notice the gifts of music and poetry. None of these lists are meant to be complete or conclusive – Paul’s own lists in Romans and Corinthians aren’t identical; they’re examples of the variety of gifts with which the Holy Spirit blesses us. Paul went on to say in 1 Corinthians 13 that if he had the flashiest, most impressive gifts there are, they would be nothing without the gifts of faith, hope and love – the greatest and most important of these is love.
The problem is that having a gift and using it well are two different things. Love is not easy. Sibling rivalry will cause one child to compare his gift with another or devalue the gift of the other. Within the early Church, Christians behaved like jealous children so the gift of love was barely evident. Some Christians viewed their gifts as more important than those of others. The gifts of the Spirit had become a point of pride and competition. And not much has changed since. Miss Whitcomb lived next door to her church. She had been the church’s leading soprano since before the time of Moses. Sadly her beautiful voice had begun to crack – the upper notes were not as strong as they used to be and the lower ones were often off key, but Miss Whitcomb lacked the gift of wisdom and in her pride wouldn’t admit this. So the church officers kindly threw her a surprise retirement party. Miss Whitcomb was not amused. The following Sunday was a warm morning in which all windows were open. When Miss Whitcomb’s sweet-voiced replacement began her solo, Miss Whitcomb in a spirit of vengeance, began pounding away on her parlour organ while loudly cawing another hymn to another tune. The gifts of the Spirit can be diminished by our own ego needs and jealousy.
In Corinth, some Christians claimed the showier or supernatural or more visible gifts – or the one’s they happened to have, were a sign of one’s spirituality. They thought such gifts were given to those who were “real” Christians. So when Paul wrote the first thing he wanted to clarify was what makes a person a Christian. He wrote, “…no one who is led by God’s Spirit can say, “A curse on Jesus” and no one can confess “Jesus is Lord: without being guided by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12: 3) In other words being a Christian isn’t defined by what gift you may or may not have or even by what you do, but by what you believe and confess about Jesus Christ. This profession of faith is the sign that the Holy Spirit is alive in the heart of a believer. Paul went on to say, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.” (vs. 4) So the gift you have is no better or worse than any other; its primary value is the source from which it comes. He also taught, “There are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord is served.” (vs. 5) What’s key here is that we use our gifts in service to Christ. The gifts are not given to glorify the receiver but to glorify God. Our gifts are given to us so that together we can function as the healthy, risen body of Christ. Each one of us has a calling. Each one of us has a ministry. Clergy aren’t the only people in ministry – the word ministry means to serve and we’re all called to serve. We’re called to build up the body of Christ and to be “light and salt in our world”. (Matthew 5: 13 – 16) Our spiritual gifts are the Holy Spirit’s way of enabling us to do ministry.
If we were to read further along in chapter 12 we’d learn that the Church (those who confess Jesus is Lord) is the body of Christ and bodies are made up of various parts – legs, eyes, fingers etc. In the body of Christ one person is a leg, another an eye, or a finger or an elbow or a tongue. The point is we are interdependent. We need each other to function fully. Each part of the body is important and what happens to one part of the body affects the other parts. In a healthy body, the parts don’t compete; they don’t diminish one another; they don’t judge each other. When every part functions to the best of its ability the body is healthy.
Some people have trouble believing we have gifts. Others have difficulty identifying the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. When we don’t see our gifts, we’re like a man who’s living in poverty while his land sits on a reserve of oil. He owns it all. The day he purchased the land he received the oil rights. The man is rich, but doesn’t know it and so he lives as if he has nothing. When Christians can’t accept the gifts we have, the church lives in poverty instead of in the richness of God’s blessings.
Too often the Church denies the power of the gifts the Spirit gives us. We’re like the man who knows he’s wealthy, goes out and buys a Ferrari and then hitches it up to a team of oxen to drive around town. You remember the sitcom “The Beverly Hill Billies” about a poor mountaineer who discovers oil one day while hunting so he moves to Beverly Hills but lives like he’s still in the back woods of Tennessee? It made a funny TV show, but it’s a sad image for the Church today. We have gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t use them. We are empowered by God, but live in feebleness. We’re like wind mills that can catch the wind and turn it into something useful, but we’re stuck in one position. Yet the gifts of the Holy Spirit are as valid today as they were in the wild, powerful, enthusiastic days of the early Church. “Living Faith” (the statement of faith of the PCC) says, “The Spirit blesses us with various gifts. We seek to discover those gifts and to use them for our Lord.” (L.F 4.3.4).
So what gifts has the Holy Spirit given to you? Which do you recognize and claim? Can you name 1, 2, or maybe 3 gifts of the Spirit that you have? As you think about this you may notice that like Miss Whitcomb your gifts have changed over the years. As we mature, God may call and equip us for ministries that we couldn’t have previously done well. As we get older or if we have physical limitations some gifts may fade into the back ground. Sometimes we feel we have nothing to offer. That’s not true. I believe the Spirit gives us the gifts we need for the work we are called to do in all the seasons of our lives. It can also be that we just don’t see ourselves as others do. I remember being in a circle of Spiritual Directors talking about our gifts – I self identified gifts of discernment and teaching. Then one of the group added, “I think you have the gift of healing”. I was completely baffled because I thought healing was something that faith healers and medical professionals do, but he explained that he saw my gift of healing in my ability to listen and reflect with people in spiritual need. Our spiritual gifts are confirmed in community so ask those who know you what they see.
Just as important as naming our gifts is knowing where, when and how to use them. Here are some suggestions. If you have the gift of administration you could sit on a team of Session, organize an event or volunteer in the office. If generosity is your gift you can underwrite a ministry in the congregation, put a legacy in place or support an outreach program. Is your gift encouragement? Try joining the visitation team, thanking people for their efforts or bolstering those who are discouraged. If your gift is helping in more tangible ways – boy there’s lots of ministry tasks for you! The church is nothing without people able to climb a ladder, make coffee, run sound equipment, work on a drama set or decorate for VBS. If you’re gift is teaching, you might offer a course, lead a Bible study or teach Sunday School. If you’re wondering where best to use your gift – please talk with me or with a team leader.
The Holy Spirit is a great gift giver. It’s not that some gifts are bigger or smaller or of greater or lesser value. God has gifted you with something that’s important for God’s purposes. As with all gifts, it’s up to us to graciously receive them and then to “unwrap” them using them to build up the body of Christ. As we do we unleash the energy of God to transform the world Christ died to save.