"We Can See The Spirit"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 1/18/1998
Isaiah 62:1-5; I Corinthians 12:1-11
In this chapter, Paul gave a list of these gifts with excellent descriptions of what they looked like when they were being practiced. How do we get them? In all honesty, do all of us want them? Do such gifts have any practical use for our day to day living? When we attach the words "Holy Spirit" to such gifts, it makes our discussion sound compelling. We want them because they come from God. But, are we just giving lip service to qualities of life that may sound as if they belong to our "religious experience?"
In the 4th verse Paul wrote, "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them." Before we talk about these gifts and their use, let us go back to junior and senior high school for a minute. Traveling back in time may help all of us understand the origin of many of our talents and gifts. How many of us can remember the first time we really began to notice the differences in each other, e.g., the skill levels, the various degrees of motivation, the personality traits, and the visible talents?
Allow your imagination to take you down the corridors of your school while classes were changing. See if you can remember who was walking toward you. I remember a fellow who wore a slide rule in a holster attached to his belt. Obviously, he was into higher forms of mathematics. I can see one of the cheerleaders who was always on her feet trying to inspire school spirit during our games when the team needed a lift from the student body. There was Sarah, who the teachers treated like an equal because she was so mature.
Do you remember the class clowns? No party was complete if they were not there. They loved to make people laugh. They were always on stage and the center of attention. Then there were the editors and writers of the copy for the school newspaper and yearbook. They were trying their wings at expressing their views when some of us didn't have many opinions about anything other than the temperature and conditions of our personal social climate.
One of my friends literally thrived on automobile mechanics. He was a natural and could tell by listening to the engine why it was malfunctioning. This guy could hear an exhaust leak. One night he lifted the hood of a friend's car and there was electricity dancing everywhere. As such a sight definitely got our attention he calmly asked, "When was the last time you changed your spark plug wires?"
We could go on and on, but we get the point. Each one of us is wired a little differently. We have a predisposition toward the helping professions, toward business, toward construction, whether it be bricks and mortar or computer hardware, toward support services, toward the arts, toward research, or toward the sciences.
If we were wise or we received perceptive encouragement in the beginning of our lives, we pursued life in the direction of our love and fascination and not toward that which might earn us the most money, help us gain more approval from our parents, or gain us the most popularity among our peers.
God did not bless us in the middle of our lives with a talent for numbers and spreadsheets nor with the ability to transform a blank canvas with our paint brush. Once we discovered our predisposition, each of us could express and perfect what God had already placed within our little seedpod at birth.
When I introduce you to our newly baptized babies, I cannot help thinking, "I wonder what talents and abilities this baby will grow up to express? What potential am I carrying right now? What is inside this fragile, vulnerable package of energy that might lead humankind to the discovery of a cure for cancer or a new source of energy that is inexpensive and environmentally safe?"
Spiritual gifts will outcrop in our lives in much the same way. Each gift is very distinctive in its nature. Each spiritual gift appears to be part of another level of awareness. We all have lots of spiritual gifts but we can only experience them when we choose to access them. Paul writes, "...no one can confess 'Jesus is Lord' without being guided by the Holy Spirit." Then Paul writes, "The Spirit's presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all." Think about that.
Paul was suggesting that we all have them, but such gifts only become useful and visible to us when we choose to use them. Why did Grandma Moses begin painting when the sun was setting on her physical life? Presumably she was an artist at 10 but maybe she lacked the desire, or didn't have the time, or was so distracted by other priorities that she never picked up the paint brush to start. This is the way it can be for us. Jesus stood in our midst and pointed to everything we could be when we pay attention to him, when we make his teachings the rule for our lives.
Last week I was visiting Linda Arvin in North Arundel Hospital when a woman of about 70 years came into the room. She was so dressed to the nines that I commented that she looked as if she were headed off for an afternoon at the opera. She proceeded to tell us that she was one of the people in the hospital who brings sunshine to the patients. As one of the volunteers, she was making her rounds.
She had unique credentials. She readily disclosed her vivid checkerboard past, with the crowning jewel being alcoholism. She also told us that once she had been so close to death that she heard her husband on the telephone making arrangements for her funeral service. She said, "No way! I'm not leaving just yet." And she didn't. It was during that time, she said, that she began listening to what Jesus had been teaching. For most of her life she had not been paying attention. This Grandma Moses finally picked up her paint brush and began bringing sunshine to patients. That was something she could do.
In Paul's description of spiritual gifts, he seems to have confined his list to the worshipping community. Some people, he wrote, will be given the ability to preach with wisdom, some to preach with knowledge, some to heal, others to work miracles and so on. Most of this list grew out of Paul's concern for the survival and growth of this small congregation. Paul by no means was attempting to limit the list of gifts by his mentioning only a few. In fact, the list is infinite. Paul concluded this passage with words that tell us that God gives different gifts to EACH person. Think of how many different gifts that is.
We tend to think about gifts as belonging to someone else. We easily see the kindness or generosity in others. We see the spirit with which someone else carries an illness, a loss, or manages courageously to get through a very challenging period in their lives. In fact, we marvel at them. They inspire us. We may not see the gifts that come through us, but they come just the same.
Last week we had a marvelous experience together as we burned the 30-year mortgage on this sanctuary. The people attending our services had the opportunity to hear Tom Starnes talk about what this congregation was like when he was the minister here. Tom experienced this newly constructed sanctuary for less than a year and then had his anchor lifted for him by the Bishop who appointed him to First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville.
After the services, Tom told me about a critical time when the congregation had reached an impasse. They could not decide whether or not they should build. Fear was walking around everyone's wallet and pocket book whispering, "That's a lot of money to borrow! You may not be able to make the payments. Many of these parents have young children. They have their children's education yet to pay for and payments of their own. You had better think about this."
Tom said that a woman by the name of Louise Haiflich addressed the congregation one Sunday morning. She was the congregation's Financial Secretary. During her remarks she said, "We must decide to build the sanctuary! The reason I am so confident that we can do this is because I know what each of you gives financially to this church. I also know that your giving in no way, shape or form approaches a tithe of what you make." Tom said, "When Louise finished, her words literally turned the tide on the congregation's indecision and we built."
As we listened last week, we learned that like many congregations we have a history of engaging each other over how best to express our faith. Sometimes we don't know what is a spiritual gift and what is not. Paul said, "...no one can confess 'Jesus is Lord,' without being guided by the Holy Spirit." Think about that! Louise Haiflich reminded her congregation what faith looks like. While people may not have all agreed, they moved forward together anyway because of their faith in the ONE who was leading.
With Christ as the rudder of our ship, there is no telling where we will be led. This is true of our congregation today and it is also true for us in our work place, our home or in our volunteer work. Our mission field stands right in front of us. This can mean our customers, the person on the phone with us, or the one who visits us without an appointment.
Spiritual gifts begin to outcrop as soon as we understand that all opportunities to serve come to us because of who we are. Spiritual gifts instill hope in others. They instill confidence. They build bridges. They lend a hand to make something better. They are ears that listen for hours. They are the eyes that communicate understand and empathy. They are hands that come out at a moment's notice to rake leaves at the church on a Saturday morning, as folks did last Saturday. They are hands that put several envelop racks on the back of each pew while no one was noticing. As Paul suggested, when the Holy Spirit is guiding, the list of gifts is endless.
We need to remind ourselves that it is not difficult to see the Spirit of God at work. What happens to us all too frequently is that we become overly distracted by sad headlines and by the tragic mistakes made by other people. As head of the Family Health Center, Sherry Crandell was definitely an angel on assignment at Prince George's General Hospital. Only now that she was strangled to death in her office have many of us learned of the powerful difference she was making in the lives of so many people.
Rather than taking our cues for living from the darkness, we need to press on, trusting that there are far more angels on assignment in this world than there are people who feel compelled to destroy others who have learned how to display their spiritual gifts as a way of life.
Remember, love is not an emotion. Love is not even something that we can give to another person. Love is a state of mind from which radiates everything that other people experience from us. We were sent to be that light. When we really look around, St. Matthew's can be quite blinding because there are so many of us here. For many of us spiritual gifts are not something new to our understanding. They provide the identity to what we do and who we are.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Why is it, O God, that so often we forsake our spiritual gifts for responses that hide our loving nature? Life has given us mountains to climb and valleys through which to walk. Each experience offers us the opportunity to draw on our inner resources. When we remember who you created us to be, we find it easy to radiate those resources to everyone around us. When our experiences press us to become mean-spirited, help us receive each occasion as one where we can let our light shine. When uncertainty appears to beckon our fears, help us seize the moment as an opportunity to display our confidence and peace. Thank you for the variety of life-enhancing moments that lift and inspire us. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit you have given to each of us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for these moments. Sometimes worship appears routine. There are times when we come to church out of habit, and yet, we never know what opportunity might be offered, what insight might come to us, or what alternative might become more clear for a decision we have to make, all because we set aside all other matters so that we could care for our soul.
We do know that when we have exhausted ourselves with worry, and we have thought about every possible aspect of our circumstances, there is nothing more soothing for our spirits, and more calming to our emotions than to come to you. How refreshing it is to hear Jesus saying, "Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest."
We thank you for each other, for the energy we so frequently absorb while being here, and for the renewal of our spirits. How often have we surrendered our consuming thoughts only to find them replaced with peace? How often have we experienced your presence because we paused long enough to listen? How often have we felt our cares melt away while receiving perspective by hearing what it is that others experience?
Thank you for meeting us where we live and for allowing us to discover that we never walk alone. When we open our eyes, so often we see other angels on assignment at St. Matthew's who are accepting of us and willing to make our journey with us. All is made possible through Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray...