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Worship Theme: The Day of Pentecost
Sermon Theme: You Are Gifted!
Transcript of this week's message:
Twenty-two year old Kodi Lee was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, causing him to become legally blind. He was also diagnosed with autism at an early age and a glandular disease. But he learned to play piano, loved to sing, and wowed Julianne (Hough), Gabrielle (Union), Howie (Mandel), and Simon (Cowell) along with the studio audience and millions of viewers, coming out as the winner of the fourteenth season of America's Got Talent. No one would doubt. He’s gifted. Ever wish you had a little bit of talent like that to serenade someone with the buttery smoothness of Michael Bublé, daub a canvass like Monet, swing ash like Yelich, glide on a dance floor like Astaire, ace an exam like an Einstein? What would it be like to have someone say, “You’re gifted!”
I get to tell you that today, and I’m not pulling your leg or making stuff up just to make you feel better when you are frustrated by COVID-mandates and stuck-at-home orders. Guided by God the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul penned the pronouncement in today’s second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter twelve: “you are gifted.”
By God alone
The safer-at-home mandates dropped on us like a wet blanket, and it didn’t take long for some of us to question our worth. Maybe you’re OK working from home or maybe on a short furlough. But what if you were in a business deemed non-essential, and suddenly you’re out of a job, worried about the future and wondering about your worth?
Some of the members of the Corinthian congregation started looking at other members sideways. A jolt of jealousy percolated, “God favors them more because they have gifts and abilities I don’t. What am I worth?” The apostle knew that there was no better way to stem that tide than to direct them back to the source. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Today is Pentecost, the Festival of the Holy Spirit, an opportunity to consider the cool things that God the Holy Spirit brings into our lives. One of his biggest and best fun projects is to pour out on us special gifts, special abilities. Because they come from God the Holy Spirit, we call them “spiritual gifts.” But as we discover the meaning and purpose of those gifts, we don’t want to lose sight of the main point. The Giver is far more important than the gifts. We did nothing to earn them. Spiritual gifts are just that, gifts.
If a bride and groom measure their value and worth based on the size and dollar value of the wedding gifts they receive, they are in sad shape. What’s going to happen when those gifts get tarnished or broken or lost? Our value and worth do not come from the spiritual gifts we have but from the Giver who has given them. He chose us to be his own even though we often live in the gutter of sin. He says, “You have prostituted yourselves to sin. But I still love you.” No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. Our worth comes from him. That’s the gift that tops them all. You are gifted by God alone.
For one purpose
The COVID situation underscored what many of you already have known for several years. You can do your shopping and banking on-line. If you have to get gas, you can fill your tank without interacting with another human being. You can call the grocery store, swing by, pop the trunk, and they’ll dump the goodies in. It’s easy to avoid interaction with others, to live anonymously and in isolation, to cocoon into our own private world. But what a sad and lonely existence that would be!
All kinds of issues were tearing at the seams of the congregation in Corinth, pulling people apart. That’s why the truths about spiritual gifts were so important. Those gifts were lavished on them by the Holy Spirit to serve as glue to hold them together.
Isn’t it enough to know our status as the Lord’s dearly loved bride? Why do we need spiritual gifts? God himself answered that through the apostle, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” What a marvelous joy to be a part of a Christian congregation in which each member makes use of his or her spiritual gifts not for himself or herself but for the benefit of others! When you put your spiritual gifts and talents into motion, when you care for and contact a fellow church member by phone or text or email, when you gather for worship, not just occasionally when you feel a need but every week, when you put a church social event on your schedule, you are impacting your fellow members, creating more connections, and building a foundation for mutual support and growth. You are gifted by God alone for one purpose, to connect with and serve others.
With different gifts
What would you think if I said, “God spoke to me last night, and I’d like to share that message with you”? What would you think if I asked someone with a recently broken leg to stop by my office for an immediate healing? What would you think if I started to preach the rest of this sermon in French, a language I previously had not studied and do not know? You’d probably think, “His elevator doesn’t reach the top floor. The lights are one, but no one is home.”
To help the Corinthians overcome the problems that plagued them, the apostle Paul first announced how much the Lord loved them, and then illustrated the Lord’s love by listing examples of the gifts, the spiritual gifts, which the Holy Spirit poured out on them. If we wanted to catalogue these gifts, we could separate them into two general categories, natural gifts and supernatural gifts. Supernatural spiritual gifts did exist in the days of the apostles. For sixty years, from that big Pentecost in Jerusalem to the death of the apostle John, God used supernatural gifts to get the good news out to places where it had not been before. But once the Bible was written, there was no need for those supernatural gifts. They likely passed from the scene. Since we have all the books of the Bible, God’s own words to us, we don’t need supernatural, miraculous gifts, and there are plenty of natural spiritual gifts to go around. Paul mentions: a message of knowledge, the ability to mine the depths of God’s Word for insights into divine truth, a message of wisdom, applying those truths in practical ways, and faith, not saving faith here but the gift of Christian optimism.
The fun thing about opening wedding or Christmas or birthday gifts is seeing what you got. One of the fun things about being the bride of Christ is discovering the different gifts he has given to each of us. Learn to recognize your own spiritual gifts. Ask yourself, “What spiritual gifts do I have? Where do my interests and abilities lie? Has God given me the ability to write? To study? To administrate? To support behind the scenes? To talk to others about Jesus? To encourage? To care for others?” The apostle gives us this sampling so that we get the point. You are gifted by God alone for one purpose with different kinds of gifts.
To make you unique and useful
Now back to that sense of worth and its absence that can lead to envy or jealousy. There is no place in a Christian congregation for arrogance, pride, or jealously over spiritual gifts. When we’re gathered again, the people sitting next to you, even if six feet away, have been blessed with different spiritual gifts than you. That’s OK. They have theirs. You have yours. They’re all good. They’re all important.
The problem in Corinth wasn’t necessarily recognizing different gifts. The problem was who gets them. They fought and bickered like kids getting a video game with one set of controls and being told, “You have to share!” In Corinth those who had the gift of proclaiming a message they got directly from God or the gift of miraculous healing got snooty and arrogant. Those who had the more common, natural gifts felt like they got gypped. Factions developed. God was displeased. Paul was displeased. He said, “[The Holy Spirit] distributes [spiritual gifts] to each one, just as he determines.” The gifts of the Holy Spirit are all of equal value. He distributes different gifts to different people according to his holy will.
That’s what makes it so fascinating to be part of the body of Christ. Each is an important part. You might be the eye, somebody is the nose, somebody is an elbow, and somebody is an ACL. All different, all important. No boring sameness, no cookie cutter assembly line. You are molded and equipped as special and unique. And here’s an old saying to keep in mind, “God don’t make no junk.” You are worth the blood of Jesus. Can you see yourself washed clean of sin to make you precious and valuable in God’s sight? Don’t you see how your spiritual gifts add to your worth because you use them to help others know that they are important, have their own gifts, and are loved and cared for? Learn to recognize not only your spiritual gifts but the spiritual gifts and talents in others, and thank God for them. The Holy Spirit distributes different gifts to different people, and every Christian gets at least one. You are gifted by God alone for one purpose with different gifts to make you unique and useful.
A king fell in love. That probably doesn’t sound unusual, but in this story, it is because the woman he loved had no country estate, no duke or earl in her family, not even the duke of earl. She had no formal schooling, no beauty, no brains, and no blue blood. In fact, just the opposite. She was a prostitute ... in jail ... for murder. She was just plain wicked. But the king loved her. He arranged her release from prison and then lavished her with gifts.
Sound impossible? Not even good enough for a B-movie? I know the king, and I’ve met his wicked bride. You know them, too. Jesus is the king, and we are his bride. But that’s what sin does. In the sight of God, it lowers us to the gutter and chains us to the prison walls of guilt. Yet, the king has loved despicable me and despicable you, committed himself to an eternity of faithfulness, forgiving and forgetting all of our crusty, crumby, cruddy past, and lavished us with the gift of the Holy Spirit who delivers to us wedding gifts from God alone, for one purpose, different kinds of gifts, to be sure, to make us unique and useful. Sound too implausible and too fantastic even for a B-movie? Good thing it’s real. Good thing it’s real life. Good thing it’s our life! What a joy to be able to tell you, “You are gifted!” Amen.
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