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Gifts To Go

January 20, 2019

GIFTS TO GO

January 20, 2019 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

1 Corinthians 12:1-11


12Now 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.

 

John 2:1-11


2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

O God of steadfast love,
at the wedding in Cana
your Son Jesus turned water into wine,
delighting all who were there.
Transform our hearts by your Spirit,
that we may use our varied gifts
to show forth the light of your love
as one body in Christ. Amen.

 

The big questions for each person are the same across the world.  Who am I?  What am I here to do? How can I know that I can do it?  Each person deals with these questions in different ways.  We learn who we are from our social network of family members and other significant authority figures.  Teachers, spiritual leaders, coaches, and a sense of what we are passionate about help us figure out what we are in the world to do. You probably remember the people who helped you understand your identity as a person and who helped you decide what you want to accomplish in life.

 

The third question – how can I know that I can do it – doesn’t get as much attention as the first two.  Yet, it matters whether we know that we are equipped to do the things that make our purpose in life meaningful.  We need to know that we can be who we are. We need to know we can function effectively in the world.  And we need to know how our living affects others.  This is why today we will ponder spiritual gifts.

 

The passage from 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that we are moral beings.  We live, work, and are engaged in relationships that require moral power.  Paul mentioned wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy (truth-telling), discernment, tongues, and interpretation of tongues as “gifts” distributed among followers of Jesus by the Holy Spirit to empower us for living.

 

Beginning at verse 4, Paul wrote:  Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good..   People need the “gifts” of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, truth-telling (prophecy), discernment, tongues, and interpretation if the world is to function well. Yet, those gifts are not distributed for our private advancement.  They are distributed by the Holy Spirit so we can advance “the common good” for God.  

 

So our challenge does not end with realizing our spiritual gifts.  Our challenge involves applying our gifts under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in order to advance God’s goals of truth, justice, mercy, joy, hope, and peace.  

 

Paul was forced to stress that point to the followers of Jesus at Corinth.  Some among them appear to have convinced themselves that the gift of tongues made the persons entrusted with that gift more essential.  Paul answered that delusion in plain words.

 

First, all gifts are from the Holy Spirit.  They are gifts of divine grace, not rewards for human effort or expressions of personal worth.  The gifts come from the Holy Spirit to us, not from the Holy Spirit because we have earned or somehow deserve them.

 

Second, each gift is essential.  As the elders of my childhood often put it, spiritual gifts are not distributed to create notions of “big I” and “little you” in us.  

 

Third, every person is gifted!  Oh, that message is subversive!  We tend to think that gifts are distributed to an exclusive group of “superior” beings.  In the field of education, much damage is done by declaring certain students “gifted and talented.”  They become an elite group within a school.  Paul countered that thinking by saying “[t]o each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  

 

Then Paul emphasized that the Holy Spirit assigns gifts to followers of Jesus “for the common good.”  The gifts are not assigned to make us prominent, popular, or wealthy.  The gifts are not assigned to make us celebrities.  The gifts are assigned to make us useful in God’s plan to liberate the world from sin and all its oppressive features.  

 

Every follower of Jesus is “gifted” by the Holy Spirit.  Because every follower of Jesus is “gifted” by the Holy Spirit, no one is left out.  Because all gifts are “essential,” none of us is more important than anyone else.  And because the gifts are assigned to equip us to fulfill our purpose as divine agents of liberation in the world, the world needs each of us living and exercising the gifts that the Holy Spirit assigned to us, and we need to exercise our gifts in harmony with others.

 

Now let’s go deep.  The lesson from John 2 involving the miracle Jesus performed by turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana opens another window for our reflection.  Spiritual gifts are allocated to us so we will be useful for the benefit of others. 

 

Notice the exchange between Mary and Jesus.  Mary said, “They have no wine.”  Jesus replied her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and meMy time has not yet come.”  

 

Notice the pronouns!  “They have no wine” expressed concern about a need of others.  Mary brought the plight of the bridal party to Jesus who, strangely, appeared to respond by saying, “not our problem, Mom.”  In this instance, as in one where a Syrophoenician mother appealed to Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28), we learn that even Jesus needed to be prodded into a deeper and wider understanding about the meaning and purpose of spiritual gifts.

 

In the reply of Jesus to Mary, we detect a common misconception that spiritual gifts are intended to make us pious.  Not so!  Spiritual gifts are not intended to make us pious.  They are distributed by the Holy Spirit to make us powerful to liberate people from deprivation, oppression, and pain of sin.  

 

The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts among followers of Jesus to equip us as agents of God’s extravagant and scandalous grace. We receive spiritual gifts to become effective in confronting situations and systems of deprivation.  We receive spiritual gifts to become effective in confronting situations and systems of oppression.  We receive spiritual gifts to become effective in confronting and overcoming situations and systems of pain.  

 

Mary knew Jesus could make a holy difference for the wedding party that suffered from a shortage of wine.  More importantly, Mary made sure that Jesus and others knew he could make that difference.  The lesson from this is that the Holy Spirit not only equips us.  The Spirit provokes others who recognize our gifts to prod us to use them to make liberating differences for the common good.  The gift of helps worked in Mary to prod Jesus, prick Jesus, and challenge Jesus to understand that he had been blessed with the gift to work miracles even at a wedding where the wine had run out.

 

Jesus was content for the bridal party to be deprived the joy of wine, but Mary wasn’t.  Jesus was content to wait for another time to use the gift of miraculous power he received from the Holy Spirit, but Mary wasn’t.  Jesus was comfortable being pious concerning the gift of miraculous power.  Mary was determined that Jesus would use the gift to change a situation of need into a situation of abundance.  

 

How many people are in need today because followers of Jesus prefer to be pious about spiritual gifts than practically powerful?  How many of us are so “heavenly bound” as the saying goes, that we are no “earthly good?”  

 

Let’s go deeper.  Where are the prophetic people of God as federal workers are deprived of their wages or work by a federal shutdown triggered by an autocratic leader motivated by racism, white supremacy, and fear of immigrants?  

 

Do we not see that the wine has run out for those workers?  Do we not see that the wine has run out for their families?  Do we not see that the Holy Spirit has “gifted” us to make prophetic protest about their plight?  

 

Do we not see that the Holy Spirit has given us discernment about the evil forces responsible for unpaid federal workers on one hand and maligned and misrepresented immigrants on the other?  Where are the people who are prophetically prodding politicians to end the shutdown?  

 

Do we not realize the moral issues involved?  Or have we become, like Jesus, content with the idea that the deprivation, oppression, and pain experienced by unpaid and over-worked federal workers and mistreated immigrants are not calls on us to exercise the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given us for the common good?  If so, where are the Mary people among us who, blessed with the gift of helping, are prodding and pushing us to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit to liberate suffering people from the oppression, deprivation, and pain of the shutdown?

 

Thank God for people like Paul and Mary!  Thank God for people who correct us, prod us, and challenge others to look to expect that the Spirit of God has empowered us – yes, I said us – to make holy and powerful differences in the practical experiences that affect the common good!  

 

We are gifted for good!  We are gifted to be up to good in the world for God and suffering people.  Each of us is gifted.  All of us are gifted.  Our gifts are to be used together for the common good.  And our gifts are to be used to make a practical and powerful difference in the lives of people facing deprivation, oppression, and pain because of sin.  

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2019