Sermon 2 Epiphany Yr C

2 Epiphany Yr C, 14/01/2007

1 Cor 12:1-11

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Now concerning spiritual gifts”

 

The small church had been racked by controversy for years. Attendance declined dramatically as the seething cauldron of spiritual gifts flooded the church like the raging waters of the Mississippi River. The charismatics, scolding the conservatives for not speaking in tongues, insisted that they were more spiritual than their counterparts. The conservatives blamed the charismatics for dividing the church over an “insignificant issue.”

Finally, in frustration, the senior pastor called both groups together to resolve the problem. He invited the C and C’s to his small farm just outside of town. “Folks, I have a problem here. I’ve got a farm that needs tending. I’ve got to plant crops, feed livestock, repair that old broken down barn you see in the pasture and I have no one to help me finish the task. Now, which of you will help me get the job done?”

“I will!” they all chorused, harmoniously.

The two groups immediately set about their various tasks, laying aside the differences between them. The pastor’s farm was completely revamped and overhauled in three days as they worked congenially without halt or hitch.

Calling together the group to thank them for a job well done, the pastor made the following observation: “You folks have been arguing about gifts of the spirit for quite some time now, but I brought you here to illustrate an important point. I asked that you help rebuild my farm and each of you, responding to the call, utilized your gifts to get the job done. You didn’t argue about who would do what; you just used what God gave you to help a poor fellow in need. God expects this from us in building the church. God is only concerned that we use our gifts for the common good and not dispute the value of our gifts in service to those in need. If we all concentrate on using our gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of the people, we can be a better church and reach more people for Christ. While we have many gifts, the greatest is working together in harmony for Christ.1

In our second lesson today, the apostle Paul addresses the question of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. The Corinthian congregation was a diverse group of people, which included Jews and Gentiles from various parts of the world who had settled in Corinth. There were rich and poor folks. There were very sophisticated and highly educated folks, there were also likely illiterate folks. There were people of various ages, and walks of life. It seems that some in Corinth took the viewpoint that because of their particular gift or gifts, they were superior to other folks with different gifts in the congregation. They seem to have forgotten it was not their own personal status or importance that mattered—rather, each person was to employ their gift or gifts of the Spirit for the common good to worship and praise and give glory to the Lord, not themselves.

In his book The Human Mind Karl Menninger wrote: “The manner in which a person utilizes religion, whether it be to enrich and ennoble her or his life or to excuse his or her selfishness and cruelty, or to rationalize her or his delusions and hallucinations…is a commentary on the state of his or her mental health.” There is a real difference between a religion that hurts and one that heals, between healthy and unhealthy religion.2

The apostle Paul also distinguishes between healthy faith and unhealthy faith. The determining, pivotal sign of true, healthy faith according to Paul here is whether or not a follower of Jesus confesses the most likely earliest Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord.” For Paul one who confesses this creed is doing so by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is not possible for such a person who makes this confession to say, “Let Jesus be cursed!” Such words are not from the Holy Spirit, Paul insists. What he is saying is that there are other, different spirits than the Holy Spirit; these other spirits can be destructive and lead people away from God. That three word confession, “Jesus is Lord,” appears to be so simple, yet it had some very profound implications for the Christians of Paul’s day.

First of all, we note that it is Jesus who is Lord, not someone else. No other human being is equal with Jesus. No one could ever take his place as the fully human and fully divine Lord. That Jesus is Lord, underscores the truth that he was not some fictitious character from a fairy tale; not some cartoon-like hero; not some mythological figure concocted by someone with a brilliant creative imagination. No! Jesus was a real, live human being who was born and lived at a certain time in a certain place in history, like all of us. In so doing, he revealed God’s love to the world.

Secondly, the present tense is employed in the confession, Jesus is Lord. Jesus was not merely some ordinary person who lived at one time in history past, no more to live again. No! Rather, Jesus for those earliest Christians was still very much alive in their present, day-to-day living. He was, he is their living Lord. Faith in Jesus as the resurrected Lord was important for the early Christian Church. This meant that there is no place and no time in which Jesus is absent—as the risen Saviour and Lord, he has transcended the limitations of time and is now always eternally present in every time and place, in accordance with his promise in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Third, the confession also underscores Jesus is Lord. That he is Lord is reference to his divinity, over against those who would deny it. At that time in the Roman Empire, Caesar was given the title of Lord and worshipped as a god. For those early Christians, confessing Jesus as their Lord was a clear sign to the state that there was a power and an authority higher than the Roman Emperor who must be obeyed and worshipped. Indeed some Christians chose to die a martyr’s death confessing, “Jesus is Lord” rather than renounce their faith to worship and obey other lords or gods. As the divine Lord, his rule is different than any other in this world. He is not a tyrant. He does not rule by military might. He does not rule by enforcing oppressive laws. He does not rule by fear and intimidation, and the abuse of power. No! He rules not by the love of power, but rather by the power of love, which is offered unconditionally to everyone. Love made known in service—bringing healing, peace and forgiveness to everyone. Love that one day, shall usher in the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem—the complete realm of God, banishing forever all sin, death and evil.

From this Lordship of Jesus Christ, which connects us with the Source of all life, flows the work of the Holy Spirit, giving gifts to the Church for the common good. It is interesting and instructive that when Paul lists nine gifts of the Holy Spirit here, he mentions tongues and interpreting tongues the last. Even though he lists the speaking in tongues and interpreting them as gifts, nonetheless they are the least important of the gifts—as he states later on in chapter 14:19: “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” When it comes to this ecstatic gift, we would do well to heed the following words of wisdom from A.K Ware: Discernment is even more necessary in the case of tongues. Often it is not the Spirit of God that is speaking through the tongues, but the all-too-human spirit of auto-suggestion and mass hysteria. There are even occasions where “speaking with tongues” is a form of demonic possession. “Beloved, trust not every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God”(I Jn 4:1).3 So it is better to speak a few words of wisdom and knowledge without fanfare that people can understand than to speak ten thousand words in a tongue of ecstasy.

As I pondered our second lesson, it occurred to me that a lot of theology and practice based on what Paul says about the gifts of the Holy Spirit might be misleading and incorrect. Listen again carefully to Paul’s words in verse eleven: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” Note here that it is the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours who activates all of these gifts. That means we cannot will these gifts into being or activate them ourselves—it is God’s Spirit doing this work, that is indeed why they are called gifts, not works. Note here too that it is the Spirit who allots each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. Once again it is the Spirit’s work and activity and choosing, not ours. It seems to me that this has rather profound implications for all of us and all of the gifts. We cannot summon enough of this or that to get a gift or use a gift. Nor ought we be envious of others concerning the quality and quantity of the Spirit’s gifts. We should not beat ourselves up or lay unnecessary guilt trips on others or ourselves because they or we do not have this or that gift. Nor should we say to them or ourselves: “If only you or I had more faith or more wisdom,” and so on. Rather, the Holy Spirit knows best what we need and gives a particular gift or set of gifts and quantity of gifts accordingly. Therefore, let us not be jealous or resentful towards others and the gifts the Spirit has given them.

This reminds me of a story told about Francis of Assisi and another monk, Brother Juniper. Brother Juniper thought that he could never do anything right. He grew disheartened since he regarded himself a useless community member. However, Francis encouraged him, saying, “Cheer up, Brother Juniper! Don’t you know that God has given you the greatest gift of all—a loving heart?”4

The apostle Paul would likely be inclined to agree with Francis, for he too goes on to say in chapter thirteen that the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is love. It is the foundation of every other gift and shall outlast every other gift, since it is eternal, and reflects the very nature of God. Without love, Paul says the other gifts are of little or no benefit. May we too be encouraged by and thankful for the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given each of us—especially the gift of love. Amen.

1 Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 5, January-February 1995, (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), pp. 28-29.                                                                                                                                                                                             2 Cited from: Clergy Talk, March 1985, p. 3.                                                                                                              3 A.K. Ware, The Orthodox Way (London & Oxford: Mowbrays, 1979), p. 135.                                 4 Unfortunately I have lost the source of this story.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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