June 4, 2017

The Gift-Giver


1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.


Have you ever gotten a gift that you had no idea what to do with it? When I was a kid, one Christmas, my mother gave me a zippered, expandable suitcase. Just what every kid wants for Christmas – luggage. It was a kind of duffel bag on wheels that had the zipper so it could be bigger if you needed or zipped up if not. The expansion was not modest. It probably doubled the capacity of the bag. I was amazed by the genius of it.


The expectation my mother had for this gift was that I would have something that could carry enough clothing for long trips.


Instead of using it for its intended purpose, my seven-year-old mind realized I could hold a lot of toys in that thing. I was a kid with an active imagination, so all of my toys had many pieces. This way, I could hold all of them. It wasn’t the intention my mom had, but it worked. I like giving gifts that have a good purpose, even if my intention isn’t how it gets used.


For that reason, I have a hard time with gifts. Emily does all the gift-buying in the family, and I am happy for that. I don’t like finding gifts – not because I am bad at it – because I agonize over what would be a good gift for a person.


Knowing what gifts a person needs is a specific skill, a gift in itself, that not everyone has. We all have skills and talents that God has graciously given to us through our creation. Many of those are part of our personality as they are passed down through generations. Others come to us through learned behavior from our individual circumstances as we age. A precious few are simply a mystery, given to us by God because one day we will be called upon to use them.


Today, we celebrate Pentecost, the birth date of the Church, found in the beginning of the Book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples and miraculously enabled them to speak multiple languages so that the people below could hear of God’s power and the coming kingdom of heaven.


Now, because this scene takes place during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, many people below assumed the disciples were drunk. Not everyone is going to recognize the Spirit on first glance. Peter corrects this and exclaims that this was the fulfillment of an earlier prophecy. They had not yet delved into the meaning of the tongues of fire that descended upon them.


As other appearances of the Spirit occurred and the church grew, the apostles began to write about and discern them for the new Christians. These things were miraculous to the people who witnessed them. Various interpretations on what they were and what they meant and the arguments that came from those questions plagued the early church. In today’s reading from the letter to the church in Corinth, part of modern day Greece, Paul was careful in reminding them that God will do as God chooses, our opinions are not needed.


That is a true matter regarding gifts. Sometimes, that with which we are gifted is not what everybody wants. Not everyone speaks the same, not everyone interprets the same, nor do we find wisdom and knowledge to be universal. Each of us has a gift that may only be for a certain person or group of people, and not everybody. Some are. We are all given what we need for our particular journey.


Paul’s reminder that we are within the same family of faith is timely. The church has divided itself over and over throughout our history that we care more about right belief than we do right action. Our denomination is no different in that matter. While matters of doctrine are important, they should be discussed in the space of ministry.


Thankfully, God is working through us so that the kingdom of heaven will be shown. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is further proof that relying upon God’s work in us is how the world is changed.  The Spirit comes alive in us in moments when we need the Spirit most and probably least expect it. A friend of mine reminded me of this truth a few weeks ago:


He was ill prepared for a care situation involving a young person having a crisis. A landslide of presuppositions about this person’s age and thus generalizing “millennial problems” onto the situation meant he knew he could not empathize with this man. Even that realization, he said, was a gift from God. What would he say to someone with no bites on job prospects, a pile of debt from a Master’s degree the young man was told would guarantee him a job, and the realization that going home at 28 would be a failure, if going home was even a possibility? My friend is a great preacher, but he even admits empathy is not his strong suit. He went in and sat down at a coffee shop with nothing prepared. As the young man started talking, he started listening. When the young man stopped mid-sentence, my friend just said, “I can see this is a huge burden and you are scared. If I can see you are scared, I think God absolutely knows you are scared. Let’s find things in your life that aren’t scary, and we can work our way to figuring out what is and how to handle it.” They talked, and the young man walked away with nothing different in his circumstances but a fresh outlook.


That, in my friend’s mine, was a gift of the Spirit. It may have been wisdom, or tongues, or interpretation, but whatever it was, it wasn’t by his own doing.


I think we all have had moments where something amazing happened in us that we did not know was possible. Much like me figuring out a suitcase is a great toy carrier, I often look for ways to use and reuse things in new ways in my life so I don’t have to buy anything. Resourcefulness has paid off at great moments for me. Then, at other times, moments when I feel least at ease with my abilities, the Spirit has shown up and used me in ways I didn’t think were me at all.


We like to look at what we know we are good at and hang our hat on those things. That is fine, and honestly, God intends us to use what we know is within us to make our lives ordered around them so we are of better use to God and other people.


Let us also be open to the moments when the Spirit calls us to be brave and try something new. If you are meek by nature, try listening to when the Spirit moves you to speak up. If you are opinionated, listen when the Spirit nudges you to be quiet and not respond. If you are ordered like me, embrace chaos sometimes. Let God’s work through the Spirit show you things you never knew.


The Holy Spirit brings us to life by offering us gifts to make the lives of all those we meet more full. These gifts also helps us see the various ways God works in the world outside our own viewpoint. Remember, God chooses the least likely to do the greatest things, like starting the church, even when everyone outside just sees a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors acting like drunks.

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