Make Our Work Worthy

Many Gifts, One Spirit

< Back to Sermons

I Corinthians 12:4-31
Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
February 24 2013

Share

Download PDF

Tags: Body of Christ, Church, I Corinthians, Lent, Spiritual Gifts, Work

The forty-fourth stanza of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself begins:

It is time to explain myself—let us stand up.

A few lines later he sings:

Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,

That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Whitman’s poetry is filled with this democratic spirit, imagining each of us to be a part of each other, each of us drawing strength and power from one another.  More

The forty-fourth stanza of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself begins:

It is time to explain myself—let us stand up.

A few lines later he sings:

Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,

That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Whitman’s poetry is filled with this democratic spirit, imagining each of us to be a part of each other, each of us drawing strength and power from one another.  This idea has entered into our American consciousness and continues to work itself out.  It resonated in the poem “One Today” by Richard Blanco which we heard at the Inauguration:

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,

The same light . . .

. . . Many prayers, but one light

I am sure I am not the only one who hears in this American ideal a similarity to the words of St. Paul:

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, slave or free —
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Scholar Troy Miller writes that the metaphor of the body applied to a group of people was common enough in ancient sources.  But before Paul it “was often employed . . . as a reminder to those of low social and/or political status of their place in society, namely in a position of subservience to those of higher standing.”  So, what Paul wrote was unique and powerful, “Those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”

If we are to spend a few weeks examine calling and vocation and spiritual gifts, let us remember this crucial point.  Each of us requires the other if we are to come to the fullness of Christ.  What Paul begins here is an egalitarian vision of mutuality that continues to work itself out — far beyond the doctrines of the Christian church.  Unless we are deeply cynical or afraid, we recognize the beauty and the joy in this idea that we are all interconnected, that we all rely upon other another, that we are even part of each other, especially in our difference.  And that because we are all part of one whole, those which might sometimes be looked down upon become those who are honored and repsected.

Paul was writing to the church in Corinth because there was a group in the church that viewed themselves as a spiritual elite, having greater access to the spirit than anyone else.  They appear to have been lording it over others and disrupting the worship and fellowship of the church.

This attitude Paul condemns, in no uncertain terms.  Yes, he admits, there are varieties of gifts, but each one is valuable in its own way.  Even leaders and preachers are no better than anyone else.  They don’t have any special access to the Spirit.  Life in Christ is available equally and mutually to everyone.

In condemning these spiritual elites, Paul emphasizes that the purpose of our spiritual gifts is not what benefit they bring to us individually, but what value they bring to the whole.  Theology professor Lee C. Barrett writes, “Genuine spirituality is not the cultivation of private emotional highs, mystical thrills, or an exclusively individual serenity.  Christianity is not a religion of spiritual Lone Rangers or narcissists.”

At least, it shouldn’t be.

We are given gifts so that we might care for other another.  Let me share a story as an example.

In the autumn of 2011 Ryder Richards, the very young grandson of Rick Richards and Steve Jackson died, after a terrifying illness.  I was called upon to arrange the funeral.  I had never spoken at the funeral of one so young before.  I struggled with what to say.  When someone has lived a long or full life, there are wonderful stories to share of how they have influenced others and passed along their love and their values.  I didn’t know what to say at Ryder’s funeral.

That week I came into the office on a Friday morning, when I usually am not here.  I spent hours writing a draft of the funeral service.  At the conclusion of all that work, I thought it was the best that I could do.  I packed up my laptop and walked down the hall, and Edie Godfrey was sitting at the desk in the main office.  I stopped to chat with Edie.

She asked me why I was here on a Friday morning, and I told her what I had been working on.  She became emotional.  You know Edie, so you know the look she was giving me, one filled with empathy.  Then I said, “The first thing I had to admit was that I had nothing to say.”

At that Edie arose from the desk, clasped her hands together, and moved towards me crying, and she said, “Of course you have something to say.”  In that moment Edie appeared with all the force of an Old Testament visitation.

I walked home and told Michael what had just happened.  It was a reminder that I’m the one who has to say something.  Michael said, “That’s the best one line description of what you have to do and in lots of different settings and situations.”

And in the next couple of days what I had to say came to me, and it came filled with confidence and faith and hope.

I tell you that story, not to make you sad, but because it is a good story.  A good story about how God is present with us in all things.  Though I may have the gift of being the one who has to say something, that week my connection was failing.  What reconnected me was Edie Godfrey, with her gifts of mercy, hope, and healing.  God’s Spirit empowered Edie and she enabled me.

This is what Paul means, “many gifts, one spirit,” “for building up the body of Christ” “in love.”

Today the Matching Members to Ministry Committee invites you to fill out a spiritual gifts inventory that you can use to help identify your spiritual gift.  In April the 3M Committee will host a series of workshops to explore the meaning of the various spiritual gifts and how they intersect with the current work of this congregation.  I hope you will take the time this week or soon to participate, and I’ll give you some more information a little later in the service.

While identifying your spiritual gift can be helpful in determining what team or ministry in the church might be a good fit for you, it is far more than that.  As I hope my story illustrates, the gifts are how God uses us to bring about the shared life of this community.  We need others with different gifts and roles because they are the physical vessels God uses to care for us.  God loves us through each other.

For many people their gift, the thing they do best and enjoy doing, is probably identified with their job.  In the book we are reading on Wednesday nights, the author John C. Knapp writes, “With a scope of influence that arguably exceeds that of the church, business is the primary locus of human interaction and relationships for millions of people.”  Our own Tracy Zaiss often reminds me that she and many other people draw their core identity from their work and that she perceives one of the issues for the church today is to remain relevant to people in their daily work life.  John C. Knapp put it this way:

Many Christians believe their faith should be relevant to their daily work and are not content to leave their deepest values at the office door. . . .  They wonder if it is possible to be spiritually whole in the place where they spend most of their waking hours and productive years.

As I’ve prepared for this series, I’ve had to confess that I often know very little about your work lives, and so I have set a goal to get know more about what you do every day, why you do it, what you enjoy about it, what challenges you face at work.

For there is this grand Christian teaching on vocation – that God calls each of us to some task, not just in the fellowship of the church, but in the wider society.  So plumbers and lawyers businesspersons and homemakers, teachers and nurses are all called of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform their professions.  We will explore these themes further as the season of Lent progresses, and I especially invite you to our Wednesday night classes where we eat good soup and talk more in-depth on these issues.

As you explore your spiritual gift – as it relates to your participation in the church and your vocation in the wider world – there is one final point I want you to remember today.  The gifts of the Spirit reveal God to us.  Rev. David Ewart, who designed the spiritual gifts inventory that we will be using, wrote in the introduction of the leader’s manual, “your gifts are the place where God is closest to you in your life.  Go where your gifts are and you will be closer to the source of those gifts – God.”

Your gift is the Holy Spirit present in you, working through you.  That is the place where the Spirit of God directly connects with your identity and personality.  That may be why your profession is so important to many of you, because it is where you encounter the presence, the power, and the glory of God.  Go to that part of yourself, and there you will encounter the divine.

What is your gift, your calling, your passion?  How does God work through you to achieve the common good?  During this season of Lent, I invite you to ponder how to make your work worthy.