Pentecost Sunday June 4th 2017
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Vicar Matt Huckel
1 Now concerning the things of the Spirit, brothers I do not wish for you to be uninformed. 2 You recall that when you were Gentiles you were seduced and led away towards voiceless false gods. 3 Therefore I wish to make it known to you, that no one who is speaking in the Spirit of God says ‘Jesus be accursed’, and no one is able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ if they are not in the Holy Spirit. 4 There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are varieties of serving, but the same Lord. 6 There are different ways of energizing, but the same God energizes them all in everyone. 7 Now to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the purpose of bringing people together. 8 To one through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom, to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit. 9 And to a different one, faith by the same Spirit, and to another grace gifts of healings by the one Spirit. 10 To another, the energizing of mighty acts of power, to another prophecy, to another discernment of spirits, and to another one, different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation or translation of tongues. 11 All these things he energizes, the one and the same Spirit, distributing individually to each as he desires. http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/20170604_message56.mp3
Vine growers here in the Valley always seem to have stories to tell. But as I was listening to a vine grower talk with a vineyard owner about the day the 100 year old Grenache vines turned bright red, I realised it wasn’t the wine that was talking. Having a break from discussing wine making, weather conditions and harvest times, these two men shared an old memory of rare beauty. The vines were so red and vibrant they wondered if they actually could still try and find the photo that was taken at the time. And they did! Would you believe it was taken on June 4th 2010. Exactly 7 years ago today. I was reminded of this as I meditated on our text, and I am really treasuring the beautiful display of yellow, orange, and red in the Valley at the moment. How good is it for a change that nature actually fits the church season here in Australia. No need to get annoyed with snowy images at Christmas as we swelter in 40 degree heat. Friends we have a fiery colour display on the vines at Pentecost; that’s if they don’t trim the vines too early though!
Now you might be interested to know that the science behind red leaves is all to do with the amount of sunlight the leaves receive as the vine begins to shut down for the winter. Photosynthesis, and its chlorophyll which makes the leaves look green, begins to fade and the vine efficiently begins to store up all the sugars and nutrients ready for next time. The interaction of sunlight with all the left over chemicals and sugars in the leaves is what creates such amazing variations of colour: different shades of, yellow, orange and red. How good of God to make a colour show efficiently using up all those left over chemicals instead of the leaves rapidly shrivelling up.
But as we meditate on our text today, we find a remarkably similar process going on in our interaction with the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit depicted as breath or fire usually gets a guernsey year after year, but today we’ll be looking at the person of the Holy Spirit specifically as light and energy. For in just the same way as sunlight reacts with the chemicals in the leaves to produce many colours, so too does the Holy Spirit’s light react inside us to produce a variety of spiritual gifts; multi-coloured gifts in fact. But these gifts are not simply a colour show, they are designed to be functional. In verse 7 the Apostle Paul says: Now to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the purpose of bringing people together. Manifestation here means simply to ‘uncover or bring something to light’. As our spiritual gifts become more visible in our lives it has the effect of bringing us closer together as we register easier the colour markers in one another. It is the same with a bonfire. If you light mini fires in several places in a wood pile, eventually those little fires are drawn to each other to become one very big bonfire. And so these gifts have the function of drawing us in to each other and building the body of Christ. They are not for individual boasting or colour displays which is one of the big problems in the church at Corinth.
Now Paul is gentle but firm with the Corinthians. They lacked no spiritual gift and yet were obsessed with them and had created a sense of super spirituality; in which you could feel awkward and inferior if you weren’t at that key level yet. Paul is saying to them: ‘I don’t wish for you to be uninformed. You need to get a better picture on this issue. Remember where you came from and how easily you were pulled into worshipping many seductive false gods. Our faith is not idol worship and there’s no cursing of anything or even Jesus himself if the Holy Spirit is in you’. Paul is keen to stress all the way through this passage that the same God, the same Spirit and the same Lord Jesus are the source of these very special gifts of grace.
Friends, similarly I do not wish for you to be uninformed and I think it’s important to briefly explore these gifts, and what they might mean for us; given our different walks and experiences. But the first thing I want to say is that none of us as leaves on a vine create our own light or energy. It comes from outside us and yet works inside us. In the context of our gifts and our service to each other in verse 6 it says ‘There are different ways of energizing, but the same God energizes them all in everyone’. The wonderful key word here is ‘energon’ in Greek, and it means to ‘put forth power, or energize’ just like solar electricity. God supplies the power to not only distribute the gifts as he chooses but provides the solar energy to make them work in us; making them coloured and visible and drawing us together.
Now the gifts that Paul lists are quite interesting and they dovetail with other lists of gifts and spiritual roles in the New Testament. There is not really time to go into the details of the gifts and how that sits with our talents and abilities. This really needs a teaching series to explore it properly. But a few are worth discussing briefly. Firstly it’s important to note that Paul says there are gifts of healings; note the plural nature and that there is not one healing gift that we feel we have to have but many variations and through a variety of different means such as diet or medicine. Secondly we can get that one picture in our minds of the supernatural when we hear the word ‘miracle’. But here in our text it is literally described as God’s mighty acts of power, and that can be through science and the laws of nature or occasionally even outside it. We might be tentative or cautious about the gift of tongues, especially when & where it is to be used or how it functions to build up the church. But there are Christians who use the gift very effectively to pray for others. Prophecy is another gift which we may or not have much experience of. But at its most basic level we all do operate prophetically at different times and places; consciously or unconsciously bringing a Scripture passage or act of kindness to someone at just the right moment, or sometimes having a strong sense or word from God about someone’s needs or life struggles. But I’d encourage you strongly to always go through your Pastor or leadership to weigh and test that sense in order to protect you and the person from any misunderstanding.
Finally I’d say a very important one is the gift of discernment. To discern is to see through spiritually into a situation or a person’s behaviour or even into a church’s direction in order to work out what might be from God. Unfortunately there are many today who are tired of seeing ordinary coloured vine leaves and want something more spectacular and dazzling. But the fruit from this type of thing can be discerned to cause division, arrogance and shame. Arrogance, because of a desire for super-spirituality, and shame, due to not ever feeling good enough to be part of the in-crowd.
Over my vicarage time here I have heard so many stories of people in the Valley who have struggled with this sense of fitting in; feeling shame about their brokenness or past and not wanting anyone to know their deepest hurts or things they’ve done. People here have sensed in the past a Christian spirituality they can’t reach or be good enough for and feel that sense of shame of feeling ‘not one of us’. For a good section of the year the vines produce lush green leaves. Don’t we all feel like we want to be a green leaf and not be set apart or noticed? But later on the green colour fades and people’s real colours are exposed. The colours are varied. They are sometimes beautiful, sometimes dull or ordinary or brown or speckled but the sun shines on those leaves and does something amazing with the combined effect of that variety.
In a profound way the Holy Spirit shines his light revealing all the scars and hurts but also the gifts of grace that are activated by his most energizing light. At the right season our green colours vanish and we can’t hide anymore how different we are inside. But God helps us be real with each other in our differences and in the gifts that God chooses to activate in us. Remember many of our gifts that God gives are designed to bring us together and not to divide us. Most of all we can experience that security of sameness in the one God who loves us so personally. A God whose bright light shone in our world through the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, who having ascended on high gives gifts to his people. And don’t we also have two tremendous gifts that shine his light of grace; his Word as Scripture and his body and blood as bread and wine.
St Basil the Great on his treatise on the Holy Spirit said this: ‘Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him’.
Let me encourage you by saying that there is safety in God and watch the Holy Spirit activate your coloured gifts no matter what they look like. Let him pour forth his grace in full measure like the sunlight and be open to how the Holy Spirit will use your gifts and also your past and present hurts to serve others and build up the body of Christ. They may not always look spectacular. But they are functional, and are energized by the person of the Holy Spirit who, as Luther says: ‘calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith’. Finally just like the vine, God will be highly efficient and use every little last bit of us to build his church and help us love each other. This Pentecost season and onwards wait and see with excitement what coloured gifts he activates in you from season to season as you grow more in being real with each other in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
1 Now concerning the things of the Spirit, brothers I do not wish for you to be uninformed. 2 You recall that when you were Gentiles you were seduced and led away towards voiceless false gods. 3 Therefore I wish to make it known to you, that no one who is speaking in the Spirit of God says ‘Jesus be accursed’, and no one is able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ if they are not in the Holy Spirit. 4 There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are varieties of serving, but the same Lord. 6 There are different ways of energizing, but the same God energizes them all in everyone. 7 Now to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the purpose of bringing people together. 8 To one through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom, to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit. 9 And to a different one, faith by the same Spirit, and to another grace gifts of healings by the one Spirit. 10 To another, the energizing of mighty acts of power, to another prophecy, to another discernment of spirits, and to another one, different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation or translation of tongues. 11 All these things he energizes, the one and the same Spirit, distributing individually to each as he desires.
We often hear about people dwelling on spectacular gifts such as dramatic healings, and miracles. Although God does indeed do these things in this way from time to time he often works in a myriad of different forms often using human beings as his instruments. What key types of healing have you received in your life, and what method did God use to restore an area of your life to health?
Paul mentions the gift of prophecy and tongues as spiritual gifts. Although quite prominent in charismatic circles these gifts do exist in different proportions in various denominations; sometimes publically but very often privately or in small groups. What experiences have you had of these gifts? Have they been generally positive or negative? Do you sometimes feel that you want to have them if it could make you feel closer to God? Ask God to encourage you as a chosen person with unique gifts rather than chasing after gifts we think we should have.
There is a tendency in churches for people to feel that something is wrong if they are not operating in the more prominent spiritual gifts. When gifts become all about pride, arrogance or wanting to be super-spiritual, it is easy to discourage others who have gifts that are less spectacular but are indispensable. Ask God to show you more about how he activates various gifts in the church; especially ones that are less obvious. Pray about and name the gifts as you see them in people and if appropriate encourage someone in that gift so that they can grow further into Christ.
Paul seems to be giving the strong sense that God activates and energizes lots of gifts and in different ways in order to build up the church and bring people together. It sometimes feels like it is completely up to us to use his gifts, but God often makes them happen in us when he wants to do something. Ask him to help you be more at peace about how he uses you, and that it is more about what he does through us rather than our own efforts.