The Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Concerning Spiritual Gifts
12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
- 1 Corinthians 12:10 Or languages; also in verse 28
- 1 Corinthians 12:10 Or languages; also in verse 28
Sermon: “The Blessing of Gifts Shared and Received”
Candy store.com surveyed several websites as well as 40,000 of its own customers and
then published a list of the ten worst and best Halloween candies.
Coming in at number five on the all-time worst are peanut butter kisses— you know, the ooey, gooey, really chewy things wrapped in plain orange or black waxed paper. Next comes Necco wafers, which are sort of like Smarties but bigger and chalkier. Number three is wax Coke bottles, which, I’ll have to confess, I haven’t seen in a while. Number two is candy corn, one of those things folks either love or hate. And, voted worst of all, is circus peanuts.
Can’t say that I’ve seen them around lately, either.
Now, on to the top five. Coming in at number five are M&Ms—no argument there. Next comes Kit Kat bars followed by Twix, Snickers, and, blowing away the competition at number one, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
This tendency to rank, judge, and categorize is no new thing. It was, in fact, the heart of the problem in today’s verses from 1 Corinthians.
There were Jewish folk in most of Paul’s other churches who could draw upon scripture and tradition to put the Christian message in context. In Corinth, those kinds of folks were very rare.
Instead, the background at Corinth was pagan. There were preachers passing through, but that’s just it, they passed through. The church found itself coping with problems it didn’t have a clue how to deal with.
Paul wrote what we call First Corinthians answering a letter that the Corinthians had sent him, listing some of those problem areas.
It was quite a list: marriage, divorce, lawsuits, church and state, proper foods, the leadership of women, the order of worship, and the nature of the resurrected body.
At the top, though, was the issue Paul tackles in today’s reading, that of spiritual gifts.
In the Roman world, folks thought that different gifts came from different gods. Diana was the goddess of fertility. Aphrodite was the goddess of love, and Apollo the god of the sun as well as of music. Each gift came from a different god.
That’s why Paul hammered away at the idea that the same Spirit, Lord, and God was at work in every gift displayed in the Corinthian church, no matter how different those gifts might seem to be one from another.
Those differences were the problem. The competitive Corinthians started listifying, naming and ranking spiritual gifts. Number one on their spiritual hit parade was speaking in tongues.
This wasn’t speaking in an understandable language, mind you, as happened on Pentecost in Acts. This was speaking in a way that needed interpreting to make any sense.
This kind of behavior was also present in the pagan world. People thought folks who did it spoke to the gods, and gave them higher status both at the temple as well as in society.
No wonder the tongue speaking Corinthian shouted, “We’re number one!” And no wonder Paul answered, “Oh, no, you’re not,” and listed the spiritual gift they valued so highly last.
A benevolent spiritual dictatorship of the most gifted wasn’t Paul’s way. Diversity, in all its messy, confounding glory, was. Paul didn’t want a tidy church. He wanted a loving church—and love, like life, can get messy.
Pastor Ken Wytsma, in his book The Grand Paradox: the Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith, puts it this way:
The life of Christian faith is and always has been a beautifully awkward reality. Following Jesus is done—can only be done—in the messiness of this world into which we were all born. Yet many Christians expect the walk of faith to be easier, neater, and relatively devoid of hassles.
Easy, neat, and hassle-free—that isn’t life, and that surely isn’t the life of faith. The life of faith is messy, and accepting those different from us, as Paul challenged the Corinthians to do, is part of the challenge.
That kind of acceptance, though, can also give us insight into the very heart of God, opening us to the gifts that God gives to people different from us. Apple had a Christmas commercial a few years back that made the point very well.
Do we call those different from us “monsters,” or do we see them as children of God endowed with unique gifts from the same Spirit that gives us gifts of our own? Can we tolerate the messiness that God’s Spirit brings when it touches our lives and our church?
Charlie, Yvonne, and Charlie’s wife Muriel were neck deep in messiness once they won the lottery in the film, It Could Happen to You. Charlie and Yvonne had fun sharing their newfound fortune with others. Muriel had a good time spending her winnings on herself.
Eventually, Charlie and Muriel’s marriage crumbled. Muriel sued Charlie not only for divorce, but also for his share of the lottery winnings as well as Yvonne’s. Thanks to a couple of less than scrupulous attorneys, Muriel won.
All Charlie and Yvonne had left was each other. That was enough.
“Nobody ever loved me before,” Yvonne said. Love, freely given, is hard to believe in. Sometimes, it’s even harder to accept.
In the end, though, Paul told the Corinthians, love is all that matters. Without it, he warned, their prattling on in strange tongues was nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. That wasn’t all.
If I have the gift of prophecy such that I can understand all mysteries and all knowledge, or if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away all that I own to feed those poorer than I, then hand over my body to be burned, but don’t have love, I gain nothing.
So much for all your spiritual gifts, Paul told the Corinthians. Without love, they—and all of you—are nothing. In fact, Paul said, “There are, in the end, three things that last: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Love, Charlie and Yvonne discovered, is a miracle, as is open hearted generosity. May we, in love, share all our gifts, building up the body of Christ in its glorious, messy diversity, offering a symbol of hope to a world surely in need of one.