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To Each the Spirit

Sermon - 1/17/10
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Thank you choir [just finished a song], and to Rhett [click here to read Rhett's Martin Luther King Jr. speech], when we have such music and message with the spoken word, I wonder what am I here for?  I had heard from Rhett's Mom that her son wanted to be a preacher, and we have seen the power of that spoken word.

And a wonderful illustration of the text already this morning in terms of the use of spiritual gifts.

The text comes from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 verses 1 through 13:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore 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.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.


When God unleashed the Holy Spirit upon the church, I sometimes wonder if God knew what she was doing :).  We see all kinds of things happen in the church that Paul gives witness to here -- miracles, tongues, all kinds of experiences.  People engaged with their whole bodies.  Through history, we have seen evidences of the spirit -- holy-rollers, shakers, and Quakers, and all kinds of ecstatic experiences.  And it has even been reported that in some places, when the spirit of God has fallen upon a respectable, middle-class, predominantly white group, they've even been known to clap and say 'Amen' in church :).  It is amazing what the spirit of God can do :).

We see this all going on in the church in Corinth, and so much more.  Paul writes about this earlier in this letter than folks got carried away at their church pot-lucks, some of them engorging themselves with the food that others brought.  We know that never happens here :).

There was confusion on the difference between the divine spirit and distilled spirits :).  Some were confusing the latter for the former.

There was some extra-curricular sexual activity, the kind of which you'd never see in this country, unless of course you're in politics, sports, or entertainment, or watch T.V., or the news, or read the paper, or go to movies :). 

And those engaged in these activities say things, Paul reports, like "We are free in the Spirit.  We have no law but Christ".  "What happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth" :).  And we know this, because he writes about it.

Fred Craddock, renowned Disciples of Christ preacher, says that putting Paul's letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament is like airing your dirty laundry in public.  It's all there for us to see.

And that's what makes this text so remarkable -- to this unruly, undisciplined, mis-behaving community (not much different than Anytown USA), Paul gives his most stunning, powerful vision of what the spirit can do in spite of, or maybe because of, the mess that they made and that we make of our lives and our world.

And the first thing Paul does in this text is to clarify who, in this messy world with all its competing claims of authority from spirits of all kinds, exactly has received this spirit.  He says there is a simple test:  Those who curse Jesus don't have it.  Those who confess Jesus do.

So, let's check it out.  Can you say:  "Jesus is Lord".  Well, there you go, there's the spirit, right here in this place, I mean, who'da thunk it!  You see, that's what Paul says, that's all it takes, don't let anyone ever tell you that there's no spirit in this church because you've just witnessed it.

I know there's skeptics, there always are, saying "Now wait a minute, there's got to be more to it than that, it can't be that easy".  Or is it?

To confess Jesus as Lord, the one who told crowds to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, is that easy?

To confess this Jesus as Lord, who told the rich to sell everything they have and go and give it to the poor, and follow him.  Is that easy?

To confess this Jesus as Lord, the one who told that woman caught in that adulteress situation and spared her from the stoning, saying to the crowd "whoever is without sin can cast the first stone", is that easy?

To confess this Jesus, who is accused of hanging around with the wrong crowd of people with poor reputations, who broke through the social norms and the taboos, are you willing to risk your reputation?  Is that easy?

To confess this Jesus as Lord, who said to take up the cross, come and follow me -- is that easy?

To confess this Jesus as Lord, who was crucified as a rebel, abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then raised as Lord and Savior of all.

To confess this Jesus as Lord, the one we are to follow, to give our lives to, truly is a testament to the Spirit.

Indeed, there is no greater manifestation of spirit than this -- not tongues, not healing, not miracles, not prophecy, all such pales in comparison to the faith it takes not just to say it, or even to believe it, but to do it.  With all your heart.  To commit yourself, to publicly confess it, to act upon it, to show it with your life.  And if you can make that confession, if you can stand with us and affirm, as we do each Sunday, that we recognize Christ as our Lord, if you can do that, then you've got the spirit.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that you don't.

And it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, young or old, Republican or Democrat, Duck or Beaver, any of that.  I know, it's hard :).

Peter says in his sermon on Pentecost from Acts 2 that God's spirit will be poured out on all flesh.  And it's shocking to us sometimes to recognize that 'those people' have the spirit.  That 'that group' is included.  But you know what, no more shocking than it could have been in the first century.  I mean, think about that, in that context, to be worshipping along side of slaves, and women, and Gentiles.  There had to be many in that community that said never in my lifetime did I ever imagine that I would be here in such a group, so diversified, with all these other people praising God, side by side.

You see, God is an equal opportunity employer of the spirit.  Seventeen hundred years before Thomas Jefferson penned those famous words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", Paul wrote, in this text, "all are baptized into one body, Jew or Greek, slave or free", and then later in the letter to the Galatians he would add to that "male or female", going farther, much farther, than Thomas Jefferson ever did in that bold declaration of independence.  And of course in his time, it was just white property owners that were included.

The great tragedy of human history is that it would take nearly 2,000 years of toil, suffering, and sacrifice before Martin Luther King Jr. could begin to actualize that dream which we now celebrate this weekend as such a great accomplishment.  And yet, here is Paul, advocating, promoting, giving his life for such equality as the hallmark of Christian community and the evidence of the spirit of God, nearly 2,000 years before!

The bottom line, each and every one of us in the body of Christ has been given a portion of that spirit.  I've long advocated in this community my conviction that when we discover and use our gifts given to us for the purpose God willed, great things will happen.  Why?  Because when we do that, when we use those gifts, as we witnessed this morning (Rhett's speech), we see the power of God at work. 

And that's what made Dr. King and the entire civil rights movement such a powerful force in our world, because they tapped into those gifts, they used that power.  And when we use those gifts, when we tap into that power, the impact is felt far beyond our own community.

This is why we keep lifting up that spiritual gifts program that about 30 of our folks participated in a week ago Saturday.  As each of us identifies and utilizes those gifts, we will see that work of the spirit grow in our midst. 

This morning, I want to quickly go through 10 basic principles of that spirit, to de-mystify and expand our understanding of what we mean when we talk about spiritual gifts:

First of all, to each is given a manifestation of the spirit, Paul says.  Everyone, whether you know it or not.  And so the key is to help us discover and to claim that gift we have been given.

Secondly, these gifts are not primarily for our own benefit.  They are for the common good, Paul writes.  The church is not a self-help organization.  We are called not only to improve our own lives, we are called to bring light and good news to the world.

Third, when we use our gifts toward that common good, the common good will grow.  Others will benefit from our gifts.

Fourth, the key to using our gifts is servant-hood.  As Christians, we're called not to rule but to serve.  Not to draw attention to ourselves, but attention to God.  Not to seek praise, but to give it.

Fifth, much of God's activity in this world is accomplished through the gifts that God gives to us.  So when we put those gifts to use, to benefit the body of Christ, we are expanding the reign of God in our world.

Sixth, our spiritual growth as Christians is in direct proportion to the use of our spiritual gifts.  To accomplish God's purpose for the common good.  So to grow in that spirit is to grow in the gifts that God gives to us.

Seventh, people who know their gifts and have them confirmed by feedback (and that's an important step in the process), and are given opportunities to use them, will find greater fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives.  Jesus said that there's no greater love than one who gives their life for their friends.  I would say to you no greater pleasure will you have than to use your gifts to benefit friends and others.  If your gift does not bring you a sense of satisfaction and joy in your life, it's probably not your gift.  God loves a cheerful giver, right?  I think the probably means that God isn't too happy with a grumpy volunteer :).

Eighth, we will be held accountable for how we use our gifts.  Remember the parable of the Talents (a talent being a measurement of money).  One is given 10, one 5, one 1, and the two with 10 and 5 use those talents to multiply it, but the one with 1 buries it, doesn't even get interest on it.  And so the master of the house throws him out.  And the point of the story is that to whom much is given, much will be required.  We could call that the parable of the gifts:  to whom much has been gifted, much will be required.

Ninth, the greatest gift, of course, that Paul writes about in the next chapter, in that famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13, is love.  All of the other gifts are meaningless without love.  Love is the gift that holds all else together.

And finally, most important, using our gifts is not about preserving the institution or building a bigger church.  It's no less than building the reign of God, the kingdom of God, here on earth as in heaven. 

We're not talking small potatoes, we're talking about the whole enchilada.  Everything for which Christ gave his life.  That's why we say as our motto:

Transforming Lives,
         Transforming Christianity,
                  Transforming our World.


This is the dream that Martin Luther King had.  But it's more than just a dream.  It's the vision of God for us and our world.

And to live by such a vision of all God's people united by the one Spirit, where everyone's gift is utilized and valued as the contribution from a child of God, is to be the body of Christ, the real presence of Jesus, in our world today.

Can we do it?

May we do it.



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