Equipment--a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
equipment
1 Corinthians 12.1-31
22 June 2014, Faith Questions 2

 

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

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

 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

 

When I first thought I might be called to ministry, I wrote a letter to my pastor. In his response, he said that one way we discern our calling is by looking at our talents—what we are good at, what we enjoy, and what we are passionate about. Was I good at and passionate about things that make up the life and work of a minister? He quoted Frederick Buechner, saying that your calling is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

I’ve been thinking about that letter a lot this week as I try to memorize words, music, and “dance” moves to teach to children at Vacation Bible School starting tomorrow morning.

Luckily, I don’t believe that it’s required to already be good at something in order for it to be our calling. I do believe we have to be willing to try, willing to fail, and willing to learn from failure. Deep Gladness does not always mean deep talent. Sometimes God gives us the gifts we need exactly when we need them, and not a moment before.

Or, as it was put in the question that prompted today’s sermon: we always say that God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.

Of course, that’s not exactly the whole truth. Throughout scripture God calls both the prepared and the unprepared, and equips them both for the task at hand. There’s something God can see in Moses the stuttering murderer shepherd that makes him the perfect person to lead the people in the wilderness, and in Deborah the judge to lead an army when the men won’t step up, and something in Peter the loudmouth that God can work with to turn him into the preacher that converts 3,000 people in his first sermon, and in Lydia the merchant to lead a brand new church.

Over and over, throughout the Bible and throughout history, we see that God has gifted ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Sometimes there is a need that requires a particular gift. Sometimes there is a gifted person who is sent to the right place at the right time. Sometimes the presence of the gift makes the call obvious, as the letter from my pastor suggested, and sometimes the need is so great that people have courageously jumped in and been gifted along the way. Often we have applied the label of “hero” to those people, which puts them in a category different from us, and lets us off the hook for attempting extraordinary things. After all, if those people are heroes, then we don’t even have to try, right? We’re just ordinary people, we don’t have whatever those heroes had.

Yet we also claim that it is in God’s nature to give, generously and beyond our understanding. The definition of gift is something that we did not create ourselves. We do not create faith in ourselves, or the gift of teaching or healing or leading. We may nurture a gift already given, and we may prepare the soil that receives the seed, but we don’t create it from nothing. You may not recognize our own gifts, but rest assured that you have them. God is, at every moment, giving us the equipment we need to lead a life worthy of our calling.

What is that calling? There’s a hint when Paul says that “to each has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Not for keeping to ourselves, as we might a Christmas or birthday gift. Not for returning for something better, as we might the fourth crockpot on the wedding table. Not for building up our ego or self esteem, but for the common good.

This is why Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts is in the context of teaching about the body of Christ. We usually separate these into two distinct readings, but then we miss out on that all important word “for”—to each has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good, for just as the body is one and has many members, so it is with Christ. No spiritual gift is given in isolation. They are for something—for the carrying out of God’s mission of loving the world into the kingdom. And every gift is necessary if the body is to be whole.

Yet if we use the body metaphor for the church, then it is also true that the body of Christ is given gifts of the Spirit, just as any person is. Some denominations tend toward a passion for learning, or for advocacy, or for peacemaking. Some congregations have a real gift for discernment, or for teaching, or for serving. At TOP a couple of weeks ago we pondered what part of the body each of us might be—shoulders that bear one another’s burdens, hands that reach out, legs that move us forward, eyes that see opportunity. It might be interesting to ponder what part of the body PCOP is. If we picture all the churches in our area as the body, what part are we? What is our particular gift, as a congregation? After all, the Spirit gives gifts to enable us to do God’s will—and, as my pastor pointed out in that letter years ago, sometimes looking at our gifts helps us see what our calling might be.

Whenever I say this, people ask why we would look at our gifts to think about our calling, rather than simply responding to needs. Two reasons: first, because not every part of the body is capable of responding to every need. Asking the calf muscle to smell or the shoulder to walk is going to lead to a lot of frustration. Similarly, not every need is ours to handle. There are many good works—the question is, which does God have planned for us? Second, because often the equipment we have available is a clearer indication of what is ours to do. We wouldn’t ask a painter to help with a plumbing problem—we know they don’t have the right equipment. I know from looking at my kitchen that when we need someone to make apple pies in September, that’s not my task. I don’t have the equipment to do it well.

When we look at how we as individuals, or how we as a church, have been equipped—what gifts do we have? What gifts are we missing? What is our deep gladness?—then we are better able to match up with the deep hunger in our world, and that intersection is where our faith makes a difference in the lives of others. That calling is ours, and no one else can fulfill it the way we can.

And rest assured: we have both a calling and the equipment to carry it out, both as individuals and as a church.

God does equip the called, sometimes as a way to illustrate what our calling will be, and sometimes in response to the already-obvious need.

And here’s the thing about that: everyone is called. Not just some of us, not just heroes, not just people who think the right things or say the right words. All people are created in God’s image and are a part of God’s mission in the world. All people have a part to play in the great story of God’s love. Which means all people are gifted, one way or another. Some are given faith by the Spirit, others the gift of healing arts, others the gift of encouraging, others the gift of communicating across boundaries, others the gift of leadership, all from the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism, who blew into the upper room with fire and wind at Pentecost, who whispers in the silence and sings through our breath. Those gifts are the hammers and saws and measuring tapes, the pots and pans and mixers, the sewing machine and the camera, the canvas and the paintbrushes needed for the building of God’s beautiful kingdom.

Everyone is called, everyone is gifted— We can no more restrict the gifts of the Spirit than the eye can tell the hand it’s not a part of the body. For the work of God’s kingdom needs many hands, and feet, and eyes, and hearts, and shoulders, and digestive systems, and legs, and joints, and ears. The Spirit never leaves us hanging—we always have just the equipment we need for this good work of being agents of God’s transforming grace in a world that desperately needs wisdom, knowledge, healing, encouragement, boundary-breaking communication, discernment, and challenging words of justice and hope.

May we, as individuals and as a community, put our equipment to work for the common good.

Amen.

Posted on June 22, 2014 and filed under 2014.