Saturday, September 03, 2011

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 28, 2011

Last Sunday, today, and next Sunday we will hear Epistle lessons from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week we heard from the tenth chapter and Paul’s words to the church to pay attention to two temptations that befall Christian disciples – laxity toward the law on the one hand, and on the other, a religious moralism that distorts our need for Christ in our lives and the necessity of grace to help us along our path toward sanctification. Next Sunday morning we will hear the beginning of the long fifteenth chapter which deals with the theme of death and resurrection and the latter portion of that lesson is one that I always select at the Burial of the Dead because of the manner in which we should properly orient ourselves and our thoughts regarding the Christian perspective on death and dying.

This morning’s Epistle from the twelfth chapter is a continuation of a theme of Christian stewardship that permeates our lessons, and looks at stewardship not from the perspective of our treasure, but more so from the perspective of our talents.

Paul begins this portion of his letter with a sharp transition, and he begins a new line of thought in his teaching about spiritual gifts. I must say that we don’t talk allot about spiritual gifts or the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. We don’t delve too deeply into the realm of theology known as pneumatology, which is the study of the Holy Spirit and his works. Why not? Why are we so shy about this most important branch of theology? Should we be weary of studying about it, talking about it, and somehow avoid praying more fervently regarding the things of the Spirit of God?

The answer to the final question must be a resounding NO. We should not be weary of studying about and talking about the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. After all, everyone here who has been confirmed had a bishop lay hands upon your head and ask for that very thing to happen – to pray for the Spirit to come and be among us, and permeate our total existence. The bishop prays, “Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.” The bishop, through the power of his apostolic office, invoked the Holy Spirit of God upon each of us, and asked that we might increase in that Spirit each and every day of our lives.

I think that one of the main reasons that speaking of things in these terms is so frightening is that it is ultimately an acknowledgement that we are giving ourselves over to something that is mysterious, awesome, frightening in many ways, and last but probably most important, out of our control.

We want to be in control. We want to have a handle on things. As Burger King advertisements say, “We want it our way.” Unfortunately, with the things of God, we don’t get to have it our way. When our way does not accord with God’s way, we will never get it. Well, in actuality if we are so obstinate that we insist on doing it our way, God will allow us to have it our own way, but unfortunately, the consequences are met usually to our own peril. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard it said that the song that will be forever sung in Hell will be, “I did it my way.” C. S. Lewis of course wrote that at the end of time there will be two types of people left, those who have said to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God will say, “Thy will be done.”

Not only is Paul telling the Corinthian church that they should pray for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but that they should carefully regard the stewardship of those gifts for one reason alone – the glory of Almighty God.

There is a good reason that this lesson follows directly after the one that we heard last Sunday. If it was equally destructive to deviate in one way or another regarding the law, so too should we not deviate too far regarding spiritual gifts.

Our text says that the Spirit divides to every may severally as he will. What that means is that some will be given the gift of wisdom, some knowledge, some faith, some healing, some prophecy, some tongues, some the interpretation of tongues. The key words here are some and same.

Paul does not say that all will be given all of these gifts. I frankly don’t think that anyone could handle the responsibility of the stewardship of that many items. It’s hard enough simply to manage what we have.

It’s also critical to focus on the word same as well as some. All of these gifts come from the same Spirit. Just because someone has the charisma for a certain spiritual gift does not mean that he has reached some new plateau from which he can look down at others who do not possess that same gift.

There are some churches who state that if you have not been given the gift of speaking in tongues you have not been completely baptized by the Holy Spirit. Somehow your Christianity is deficient, and that you need to pray harder and seek more faith so that you might receive that gift.

To those folks I say, I’m sorry, you are doing the exact same thing the Judaizers did in saying that the only way you could be a proper Christian was to be circumcised and be a good Jew first.

This is why the entire heading of this passage falls under the broad category of stewardship. Our Lord has entrusted us to be the good stewards of the gift or gifts He has given. We are to cultivate them, pray that they might be strengthened, use them, and share them with others. We are not called to lord them over other people.

We are also called not to bemoan the fact that we don’t possess a gift that someone else does.

There are some in this parish who have the gift to offer their service to God in the preparation of the altar, others have the gift to offer their voice in the choir, others serve as a greeter or usher, others in their gift being with the children.

Our lesson stops early in the twelfth chapter of I Corinthians, but if you were to read further Paul goes on to talk about the interworking of the various gifts. What if all wanted to sing in the choir, but none wanted to serve on the altar guild? Brandt, don’t answer that question! What everyone felt called to teach Sunday School and no one wanted to attend. Actually, I don’t know what I would do if that happened!

I think you see what I mean. We cannot wish away the gifts that God has given us because they are not the same gift as others have. We can’t look down on others because we have been blessed in one area that is not visible in others.

Rather, we are called to use our gifts for the glory of God, for the building up of the Body, for the edification of the faithful, and for the growth of God’s kingdom. We must pray that God might enlarge and multiply the several gifts we have been entrusted to be the stewards of.

Yes, this is somewhat scary stuff because it requires us to be accountable for what we have been given, and use those wonderful manifestations of the Holy Spirit faithfully and wisely. Being agents of the Holy Spirit commands us to go forth in faith, allowing the Spirit to do His work, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight. For it is the same Spirit, same Lord, same God which worketh all in all. To Him be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and praise both now and evermore.

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