The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday
May 30, 2004
The Epistle: I Corinthians 12:4-13
Sermon: "To Each is Given the Manifestation of the Sprit for the Common Good."
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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 is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to 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. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 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. For 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.
I Corinthians 12:4-13
"To Each is Given the Manifestation of the Sprit for the Common Good."
The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday - May 30, 2004
In this world humanity has determined that all people are different. We are different in skin color. We are different in sexual make-up. We are different in how we talk and the customs we have learned. Some of these differences are dependent on the way we were created and some of these differences are cultural. We learned them due to our place of birth which was not decided by us.
However, we, humanity, has used these differences inappropriately. We have used these differences to divide us, to separate us one from another. We divide ourselves into groups according to race, sex, and personal like or dislikes. Furthermore, we did not stop there with our divisions. We continued to divide ourselves further. We created classes of people. We divided ourselves by intellect, birthright, wealth, and even health. The problem is we are still dividing ourselves. Our cities and towns have areas we euphemistically call "the other side of the tracks". We have names for groups like rednecks, skinheads, preps, punks, and a host of others. In short, we have used almost every possible way we can find to define ourselves by saying we are not like those people over there.
I wish I could say it was different in at least one place, the church. Yet, we tend to go to churches where the people are mostly like us. We separate ourselves on a multitude of levels. We divide ourselves into various denominations. We also divide ourselves according to wealth, social status, race, and even according to our religious practices. For example, some denominations believe baptism is done only by full immersion in water. Others believe it is done by immersion or sprinkling. We have even divided ourselves according to our beliefs about God. Some people believe God is all loving. Some believe God is just and righteous to the point of condemning people. Some believe that God is male. Actually, we really don't know all of the answers about God.
We even divide ourselves over some of the silliest stuff we can imagine. People have left the church and even started new churches over things like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, the color of the tile in the parish hall, the moving of the piano from one side of the church to the other, moving the altar, and even over what kind of wafer is used at communion. Sometimes one has to wonder whether there is any health or help in us at all.
We might really ponder this question in light of the reading from Corinthians. In this reading Paul is teaching them about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians have fallen into the same trap the world is in. They were dividing themselves and ranking themselves in importance according to the gift one had. Spiritual gifts was only one way they were dividing themselves. They were also dividing themselves according to class, wealth and social status. The church in Corinth was predominantly Gentile. The congregation consisted of wealthy patrons of Corinth. There were tradesmen in the church. There were women, wealthy and poor in this group. There were slaves as well. They came from all over the world. Many nationalities were present in Corinth because Corinth was on a major trade route.
The church had internal problems. Instead of welcoming everyone equally, they began to divide themselves according to their differences. One of the major ways they divided themselves was at communion. Communion was a full meal at the time. Those who were wealthy brought the best meats, fruits and wines. Those who were poor brought what they had, if they had anything at all. As a result some people started to arrive early so they could get the best of the food. They started dividing themselves at the table according to social status. The problem grew worse. They started to divide themselves over the spiritual gifts. They assigned priorities to the gifts. If a person had a particular gift that person had a particular standing in the church. What gift do you think they chose as the major dividing line? They chose speaking in tongues. First, of all if you had it, you were in. If you didn't you were out. If you spoke in tongues a great deal you were even better than those who only spoke in tongues once in a while. They used the gifts of God given to the community to divide themselves and achieve spiritual status in the community. They could not have understood the gifts of God less appropriately.
Paul's response is to chastise them for their lack of understanding and then to educate them on the purpose of the Holy Spirit's gifts. He explains to them that the gifts are all given through the Holy Spirit. All of these gifts are important. God does not give all of the gifts to one person and God does not give these gifts to draw attention to one's own self. They are given to people individually, yes. But they are given to the community. Any gift that anyone receives is given for the common good of the Christian community. It is God's desire for all people to be drawn to God. That statement means that we are to be one people using our gifts to glorify God and to spread the word of God's redemptive love. At no time are our gifts to be used to separate us one from another. There is no place for separation from the community by the use of our gifts.
We are very fortunate at St. Thomas'. In our congregation we have a wide variety of gifts present. We have people with wisdom and knowledge. We have people with great faith. We have people with gifts of healing and discernment of spirits. I am sure we have some with the gift of tongues. We have many more gifts present that are not mentioned in this list, hospitality, compassion and teaching are just a few. They are all to help build the community. The question is how do we use them? Are we using our gifts to build up our community or tear us down? Are we taking the Gospel outside of these walls through the use of our gifts to the community beyond? These are the questions with which we struggle. And we should struggle with them? These questions are important to the growth of this community of St. Thomas' and of Reidsville as a whole. I am not saying that St. Thomas' is to be the spiritual center of this town. I am saying St. Thomas' is to be a community of God's people using their God given gifts. If we use our gifts then we will see wonderful things happening. God will honor the use of our gifts and we will see the world around us change for the better. We will witness God's glory shining through everyone no matter the color, no matter the race, no matter the sexuality, no matter the differences. The differences will be gone like a breath of air that is here and then quickly fades away. If we use our gifts for God we will live into the closing words of our lesson this morning. We will find ourselves living as Paul states, "For 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." AMEN