Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1,7
Now, concerning what you wrote about the gifts from the Holy Spirit. … The Spirit's presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.
Christ Church Lutheran, Murray Bridge

Different gifts for the good of all

There was a bricklayer whose son had become a famous violinist.  One day a woman gushed to the bricklayer, “It must be wonderful to have a son who is such a famous violinist.  You must be very proud of him.  I heard him play a violin concerto with the city orchestra and his playing was absolutely divine.”  Then not wanting to insult the bricklayer, she added, “Of course, we don’t all have the same talents, and even in a family, some just seem to have more talent than others.” 

I think she might have been better off not adding that last statement but the bricklayer took it in the manner the lady intended and replied, “You’re right, lady.  My son knows a lot about music and playing the violin but give him some bricks, a trowel and mortar and you can’t stop laughing as he fumbles and stumbles around trying to build a wall.  I had to stop him because I was sure he was going to crush a finger and I didn’t want to be responsible for ending his music career. 

When we both stopped laughing he reminded me of the time he started learning the violin and I was determined to learn along with him.  After only a few lessons he was making the violin sing beautifully and the only sound I could make was incredibly cruel to the ear.  I only had to pick up the violin and the dog was out the door.

You’re right, lady.  I’m glad I don’t have to rely on my son to build me a house and I’m glad you don’t have to listen to me play the violin.  My boy and I are from the same family, we’re great mates, we enjoy being together, going fishing and watching the footie but we have different abilities.  We don’t let that difference come between us.”

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians I think he was saying something similar as this bricklayer.  We all belong to the same church-family but each person is given different gifts.  These gifts all come from the same Spirit and they are not given to create division and jealousy and self-importance but they are given for the benefit of all.  There are some gifts that are obvious and clear to one and all and others that less observable but no less important. 

What gifts do you have?
What gifts bring you joy and what gifts give joy to others?
Is it the gift of praying for others;
the gift of caring;
the gift of service;
the gift of healing wounded bodies or souls;
the gift of wisdom – practical insight into applying God's Word;
the gift of encouraging others?

Some gifts are glorious in appearance and dramatic in their effect.  They are easy to identify and easy to praise.

Other gifts are more subtle, more ordinary in appearance, and have their impact over the long term rather than in the instant and often they fail to receive any recognition at all.  Maybe you have the gift of encouragement but the person who benefits from your gift only realises the blessing he/she has received long after the event and after they have long gone from your life.

A couple of weeks ago I returned to the church I went to as a child.  As I sat there with my parents I reflected on the Sundays I sat in the same pews as a youngster only back then my feet didn’t reach the floor.  As I looked around I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces.  Many of the people from those days have gone to their heavenly home. 

In my mind’s eye I could see the small boy sitting in silence (as was the custom) before the service, a parent sitting between my brother and I, waiting for the church bell to ring and the pastor to enter (I also remembered the smack on my bare leg for swinging my legs – and thinking,  “what was that for”).

I remembered the man who went around to each of the very tall windows and pull on a rope to make each one swing open. 
And then there was the man who came out with a ladder and went to each of the hymn boards and put up the hymn numbers for the day.  He had a handful of numbers and I marvelled at how he always got the numbers on each board exactly the same. 
There was the usher who walked with every family down the aisle found a suitable seat and waited to make sure everyone had a seat,
and the man who stood at the bottom of the stairs of the sanctuary ready to help the elderly go up to the altar for Communion.

There was the organist who filled the church with wonderful sounds from the pipe organ.  I liked it when the pastor’s son played because he made everything vibrate especially when he played what I later learned was Bach's Toccata and Fugue.  The choir sang from the balcony every week.  Then it was off to Sunday School. 

The people I saw Sunday after Sunday were doing the very ordinary but important jobs of getting things ready for worship just as people have done here this morning.  I was thinking about all this the other week as I now sat in that church as an adult. As those people went about using their gifts, they had been a blessing to that skinny kid in the pew who was watching them and learning and being led by the Spirit and they didn’t even know it. I thanked God for that moment of insight and thanked God for people who do such a variety of tasks in the church, even when the job is ordinary and unexciting.

We know there are as many different gifts in this congregation as there are people.  That’s an understatement because God has gifted many of you with multiple gifts.  Whether the gifts you have are the upfront obvious kind or the quieter, less visible kind, that’s not important. 
Whether it’s
driving kids,
visiting the sick,
attending a meeting,
strengthening the weary,
building up faith,
praying or whatever – it’s what you do with the gift that’s important.

What Paul is saying to us today is that Holy Spirit has given each person at least one gift, if not many gifts, and that he has given us these gifts not for our own self-importance or benefit but to bring blessing and joy to other people and to further the work of God's church in the community in which we live.  He lists a variety of gifts which is just a sample of ways in which the Holy Spirit gives abilities to us.

And so as we read what Paul writes to the Corinthians he challenges us,
what gifts has the Holy Spirit given each of us and
how are we using those gifts?

You might even say that Paul is challenging us to think outside of the box when we start to say, “I can’t do that!”
What would happen in the church and in the lives of people if we grab the opportunities that come our way and let no occasion to use our gifts to pass by;
if we truly believe that these gifts come from God himself;
if we boldly and generously use the gifts with which the Spirit has entrusted us;
if we stop making excuses, stop complaining, be creative, and ‘have a go’;
if we forget about personalities and issues and focus on God, the Church and the blessings our gifts can bring to others?
I believe we will be truly surprised and blessed and so will those who experience the Spirit working through our gifts.
I believe the church will truly be a bright beam of light shining into our community.

Paul is telling us that the Holy Spirit has put into your hands, your lives, something really important, really precious and is saying to you, “See what you can do with that and bring glory to God!”  To do nothing, to take no risks, to not use what God has given, to not use the gifts, opportunities and possibilities that God has provided – that is a sin.

There is another aspect to what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 12 and I go back to the bricklayer and his son.  These two men are like chalk and cheese when it comes to their giftedness but in a way their gifts are complimentary.  There was no attitude of  “I’m better than you”.  They were father and son, best friends together in the same family. 

That’s how it is in the church.  We might all be different in some way but we are together in the Body of Christ
sharing the same Spirit,
in union with the same Saviour,
partaking the same body and blood in Communion,
bound together in love. 
In the next chapter Paul goes on to describe what love is like and how people who are different show patience and kindness and are never jealous of others or put others down. 

Without a doubt it’s hard work to stop pride, a critical spirit, and jealousy get the better of us and so create divisions and so easily undo any good that might have been done in God's name. 
Without a doubt we need to fall back on God's grace and in repentance seek forgiveness, a fresh start and a renewed spirit to be what God wants us to be – people who have been generously gifted by the Holy Spirit to work together to bless each other and anyone who needs God's love.

We are called individually to faith in Jesus,
but we are called into a community, the church of Jesus Christ,
so that we might have all the blessings that God wants us to have
and so that we might be able to give to one another and to others all the blessings that God wants us to give.

We are called to support one another and to witness to the world that God's love is a transforming love.  It is so transforming that it is able to tear down all barriers, remove all walls, and make people one.

We are a people gathered by the Holy Spirit and focussed on Jesus as our Lord and the centre of all that we do in the church. 
The apostle challenges us to prayerfully think through
what gifts the Holy Spirit has given us;
how we are using those gifts for the greater good of all;
in what ways we need to change our attitude to ourselves, to others, to the congregation so that together we are the church and the unity we have in Christ becomes a reality.

You all have gifts.  Claim the gifts
celebrate them,
and then use them
offer them freely
to the service of others and to the praise of our God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th January 2013

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