Sermon for Sunday, January 20th 2013
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
For the next three weeks, our epistle will be from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians– a complex, and, to say the least, challenging letter. But listen for a minute to just a bit of it, read from the more contemporary translation in the Common English Bible:
“There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries but 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.”
That’s so much easier to understand than the translation we usually hear from the NRSV. This one is pretty straightforward: There are lots of spiritual gifts but they all come from the same Spirit. There are lots of different ministries but they all serve the same Lord; and there are lots of different effects of our work, but the same God is responsible for them all. Everyone is given something by the Spirit that’s intended for the common good. Clear enough.
But then regardless of what translation you look at, the list of spiritual gifts that follows is pretty intimidating: From healing to miracle-working to speaking in tongues—all of a sudden it seems that this reading is meant for someone else, not us. We may lay claim to the occasional moment of insight that hints at wisdom, or boast of a certain degree of educated, knowledgeable talk about certain matters, but few of us in this day and age lay claim to special spiritual gifts like healing, miracle-working, prophecy, or speaking in tongues.
So it’s tempting to dismiss Paul’s words this morning as too particular to the church at Corinth to have any meaning to the church at Cohasset…to conclude they may have been important words for the church to whom Paul was writing, but no longer relevant to the church where they’re now being read.
So what I’d like to do for the next few minutes is invite you to consider the possibility that these words have just as much to say to us today as they did to the Corinthian church back then…that because God’s Word is a living Word, what was revealed through the apostle Paul has as much to say to the church at St. Stephen’s in 2013 as it did to the church at Corinth in the year 50-something. And that’s really quite a lot.
Every one of us has spiritual gifts, whether we realize it or not. All of our gifts—all of our talents and abilities– are God-given, so they are by definition gifts of the Spirit. In fact, some scholars say the word that’s translated here as “spiritual gifts” is misleading–that it actually refers to “the gifts the Spirit offers,” and not simply to the gifts we think of as “spiritual” in a supernatural sense. Paul is simply pointing to the rather dramatic spiritual gifts that were a source of conflict in the church at Corinth, and over which its members were bickering. Gifts can, after all, be a two-edged sword: they can separate us by drawing attention to the differences and distinctions between us, or they can unite us when used for the common good and to build up the community.
Paul’s point here is that any skill, any talent, any gift that is offered to God for the common good, for the good of the church—comes from the Spirit and is empowered by the Spirit for the use of the Spirit.
God can take the most humble of our offerings and transform them into spiritual gifts for the good of Christ’s church. Like Jesus transforming water into wine, the Spirit can transform our skills and talents into ministries and activities that slake the thirst of parched souls and work together to build up the body of Christ. It is amazing what God can do with our gifts and what we can do together! Who needs speaking in tongues when you’ve got a community that can boast of:
Members with friendly faces, welcoming words and warm hearts
Writers, editors, graphic artists and techies
Accountants, money managers, and financial planners
Bulletin folders, phone answerers, and envelope stuffers
Pastoral visitors, soup makers, and transportation providers
Storytellers, teachers, musicians, and singers
Pray-ers, readers, and acolytes
Flower arrangers, altar preparers, brass polishers, and linen cleaners
Craftsmen, carpenters, and fine artists
Event-planners, grant writers, and fundraisers
Gardeners, planters, pruners and weeders…
Snow plowers, blowers, and shovelers…
… the list could go on and on. It’s a manifestation of the “time and talent” portion of our stewardship of this parish community, and so many of you are incredibly generous in this way. Each and every one of us has gifts to offer, and each and every one of those gifts can be transformed by the Spirit and used for the common good. It’s an awesome thing to behold.
All I have to do is look around the rectory I’m living in: A whole bunch of you with varying degrees of skill from total novice to seasoned professional renovated that rectory five years ago and it is still gorgeous. Come take a look and say, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”
Next week when you get the 2012 Annual Report, take time to read it through. Read it carefully. Look at all the spiritual gifts that this parish has offered to God in the past year, and say, “All things come of thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.
When the Lenten issue of the Carillon comes out in a few weeks, consider that more than a dozen of you made its publication possible and say, “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”
And after you’ve received communion this morning and you’re back in your pew praying, listen to the choir singing…look at the faces of those returning from the rail…watch the bread and wine being cleared from the altar…notice the beauty of this church and whisper to God, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”
Because there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are a variety of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are a variety of activities, but it’s the same God who activates all of them in everyone. So whether you say, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…” or, “A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good…” no matter how you translate it, Paul’s meaning is clear: We have each been gifted with the Spirit, by the Spirit, with something for the good of all.
Take that in: You are spiritually gifted. You have something to offer. And God intends for you to offer it!
I wonder what gift the Spirit might be inviting you to share this year for the good of our community? I wonder what gift the Spirit might be inviting me to share this for the good of our community?
And I wonder how the Spirit might take your gift, and my gift, and all the gifts we’re being invited to share this year at St Stephen’s—and transform them into fine red wine for all. Amen.