Second Sunday after Epiphany

What is a spiritual gift for?

Let us pray:

Generous God,
we have tasted the best wine
in the salvation of Christ.
Help us to see his glory
in the light of everyday things
made bright by his presence;
make us vessels of grace,
as we pray in his name. Amen.

Readings:
1 Corinthians 12.1-11
John 2.1-11

I remember a young couple who often stood at the door of a church I was in. Their ministry was welcoming people. The young man in particular had a great spiritual gift of welcoming. I almost envied new people as they were greeted by this bloke with his open and easy manner.

Then, slowly, something changed. They were still at the door, still welcoming people. But they began to be full of complaints about the church and the lack of spirituality of the people in the congregation. Eventually, they moved to another church. I tried my best to get to the bottom of it, but I was unsuccessful.

Only after they had left did I learn what was going on. They had become distributors for a pyramid selling group. Okay… They had also started, right there at the church door, inviting people back to their place for a BBQ. They invited new people along with a number of those who’d been around for a while.

You’ve got to remember this young man was a gifted welcomer, so people instantly and gladly said Yes to the invitation. When they arrived for the BBQ expecting to get to know someone nice in this very friendly church, they were instead subjected to the hard sell.

As it happened, not one person in our congregation bought a single product from them. And so they became very disenchanted with us and our level of spiritual maturity, and moved on to greener pastures in another church.

I’m telling you this sorry tale because I see it as the story of how a spiritual gift was prostituted.

Spiritual gifts are given to us for a reason. Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 12.7:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

What is Paul saying? The Holy Spirit of God is manifested, or revealed, in each Christian. We each have a spiritual gift, or gifts. There is a bewildering variety of such spiritual gifts: in just this passage, Paul mentions wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Elsewhere, he also includes teaching, helping, encouraging, giving, leading, compassion. And there are more…

In our congregation, we want to learn our spiritual gifts. Here, John L coordinates the SHAPE program. SHAPE stands for

  • S: your spiritual gifts
  • H: where your heart is
  • A: your abilities
  • P: your personality
  • E: your experience

SHAPE helps us to find where we fit. It’s an invaluable tool in helping each person to find a way of serving that is invigorating. I hope you’ll go through the SHAPE process if you haven’t already done so.

But SHAPE is not the end. Paul is concerned that we get this: whoever we are, whatever our gift, it is the way the Holy Spirit is being revealed in us.

And whoever we are, whatever our gift, it is the way the Holy Spirit is working through us for the common good.

Our gifts are gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are vessels through which the Spirit works. We are people who have a purpose. Sometimes, people hide their gifts. They feel modest. We shouldn’t be modest about spiritual gifts. They are gifts, for heaven’s sake—gifts that are given to us out of love. We have spiritual gifts, whatever they are, because God loves us and wants our lives to reveal something unique about him.

Gifts may be up-front things, or behind-the-scenes. Doesn’t matter. We have them because of God’s deep, eternal love for us.

Gifts are given to us for a purpose. That purpose is simple: it is for the common good. It is to build up the body of Christ. This is where those people I mentioned went wrong. They stopped using their gift for the common good, and began to use it for another purpose: the purpose of making money.
Spiritual gifts can serve other purposes: we can feel important because of our gifts, or special. We can feel that we ought to be listened to. We can feel that we deserve a following.

The Spirit gives us a wide variety of gifts for the sake of the body of Christ. Not for any other reason. It’s a huge range of gifts, and the Bible itself doesn’t mention every one.

The Spirit has given gifts generously, just as Jesus was generous in the provision of wine for that wedding banquet in the village of Cana. There were six stone jars, each with twenty or thirty gallons of water. That’s probably something over five hundred litres. That’s a serious amount of wine, and a generous gift—enough to supply the village’s weddings for some time to come.

I want to explore an aspect of spiritual gifts next week too, but the story of the marriage feast at Cana leads me to one last thing I want to say about spiritual gifts this week:

If we are using our gifts in the way that Jesus intends, we will be generous, just as he is generous. We will be prepared to give more than is expected of us, just because we have received so much more than we could ever expect.

Are we reluctant in offering our gifts? If so, we have something to learn. The thing is, the more generously we offer our gifts, the more we build up the body of Christ. And the more we too are built up and encouraged. Is your Christian life a drag? It may be because you aren’t serving generously.

Spiritual gifts. We each have one. Or more. We have them because God loves us. We have them for the good of others, and we are meant to share them with a generous, openhanded and ungrudging spirit.

Each of us has a part to play. First step: talk to John Lawson, found out what your SHAPE is. We have a new year, so let’s see how 2010 can be a time when we generously offer our gifts for the common good, so that Jesus Christ might be known here in this community. Amen.

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