Many Gifts, One Spirit
“Many Gifts, One Spirit”
January 16, 2022
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Second Sunday of Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
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.
It's good to be back.
After the bustle and rush of Christmas with its special visits to family and friends, January often feels like a season of isolation by comparison. The calendar empties out and the cold weather, bad roads and dark hours of evening often make us hunker down. This year, even more so. With the Omicron variant of Covid-19 sweeping through our community, more and more of us are experiencing a forced isolation as the result of needing to quarantine. Sometimes our isolation happens inside one room in our house as we stay away from our families to help keep them healthy. Other times it means staying away from church or work or school.
I haven’t (yet) had Covid, although sometimes it feels like a matter of time, but I did experience isolation in my week while I was away. It was voluntary, sought-out isolation as I drove into the hills outside of Oneonta to a respite I’ve found before called the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery. A community of four Russian Orthodox nuns who raise sheep and goats and keep the hours of the day by chanting ancient liturgy. It’s a beautiful and holy place. But there’s no wifi. There’s no phone service. And if you’re not a nun, there’s not a whole lot to do. So I spent hours by myself watching sheep, walking on long gravel roads and reading books. It was a nice change of pace. I left my voluntary isolation feeling refreshed and rested and pretty sure that a life of isolation, while nice in five-day chunks, was not a long-term pursuit.
Isolation has its benefits. It keeps us healthy when germs are transmitting freely. It gives us perspective when we need to retreat into our inner thoughts. It clears the cobwebs when life gets hectic and busy.
But you know what else it does? It makes you really appreciate community when you return. Any of you who have spent a week in a room in your house recently can probably give me an “amen.” Even the introverts among us will testify to the strength of isolation in making our hearts grow fond for the warmth of community.
Long before Covid-19 was here, our society was already tracking toward more isolation. Screens held in your hand or perched in your living room were already replacing gatherings and entertainment and connection that required interacting with other human beings in person. Add to that a fervent and growing streak of strident individualism in this country. Pride in our ability to do things on our own independent from the help of other people. To a certain extent this is normal, but it can also go too far down the road where individual freedom eclipses concern or regard for the community around.
You see the problem. Prolonged isolation and strident individualism, whether they a choice or a necessity, pull at the fabric of community over time.
What’s the solution? Especially in a season when some isolation is necessary and the walls individualism seem impenetrable. This is the question I am wrestling with this winter. I don’t think it has easy answers but what I do know is that there is Biblical precedent for challenges to the fabric of community. Just when we think our world is the most messed up its ever been, the lectionary hands us 1 Corinthians and says read about Corinth if you think your community is messed up. Greed, power, consumerism, and extremely low-ethical standards had begun to congregate in Corinth as it rose to power as a successful trading port in Ancient Greece in the 1st century. It was a city drunk on new-found power and money; people from all over the diverse region were coming to live and trade there. The city was full factions of people who looked down on other factions of people and a dog-eat-dog style of self-enrichment. The culture of the city was so corrupt that it had even leaked into the culture of the brand new Christian church that had just started up there.
The book of 1 Corinthians in our Bibles today is made up of letters sent by a guy named Paul to this church as it was cracking from the pressure of a splintering society. This guy Paul? He had skin in the game. He was the one who had actually planted this church in Corinth. He could see its potential but things were getting very badly off track. In the passage we open up to today, factions within the church had claimed that some people were more gifted than other people. That some gifts were just better than other gifts. This was leading to a church where individuals were more important than the whole, a situation that was inevitably isolating to those who didn’t have the “right” kind of gifts.
In this passage and throughout the many letters that flew between Paul and Corinth, he’s is trying to convey that being amazing individuals and thereby isolating your community are antithetical to Christ. That the church must be a model of how groups of individuals can overcome their pride and greed and unite behind a common purpose and a common faith and a common God.
In other words, it’s our job as Christians to provide a counter narrative to the culture around us that prioritizes some at the expense of others. The point is that we all have God-given gifts and they are all equally valuable and critical to the success of a better world. Corinth was a place of changing demographics. More and more there was great diversity in the city: slaves and free, gentiles and Jews, Greeks and non-Greeks, rich and poor, men and women. The early church at Corinth reflected this diversity; a people united only by their shared confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. And it was honestly really difficult for them to accept without imposing hierarchies, saying some people and their gifts are just better than the rest.
Paul’s answer was simple and bold. There is only one God but that same God makes many gifts and many types of people. And all those different types of people, they all receive gifts. All people receive gifts from God. And the gifts are all different. God gives everyone different gifts so that the community we create together has intentional diversity, not just for the fun of it, but for the edification of the community itself.
And what if God’s unique gifts to each of us are exactly what we need right now to build up community?
Here’s an example not from Corinth in 100 AD but from Cobleskill in 2022 AD. We have some incredibly gifted people in this church. Each and every day I am around Rosalie Danforth I am in awe of her. She spends hours upon hours making sure our budget sheets are balanced and she does it with such a servant-hearted attitude. Rosalie has a gift for balancing check books and doing it with a positive attitude. Trust me, those two things don’t always go together. But that’s her gift. And gosh do we love her for it. You know who else has a gift? Margaret Herrala. This is a woman is always thinking about and caring about other people. I think her heart is actually twice the size of normal hearts. She puts prayers into action by showing up for people when they need it the most with a phone call or a card or a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread. Two very different gifts: balancing the check book and caring for people. Yet what would our church be if we didn’t have both of these gifts in our midst? There is no one who could say that one gift is better than the other when both gifts are used to strengthen the community in the name God.
You might hold Rosalie and Margaret in high regard, like I do, but I want you to know that each of us have received a gift from God that is just as valuable as the gifts Rosalie and Margaret have received. You have been given a gift by God that has the potential to make this community stronger and more resilient right now in the face of one of the most isolating chapters of human history.
Maybe your gift is to be encouraging; maybe your gift is to nurture children; maybe your gift is tinkering at handy-man projects until you get them fixed; maybe your gift is organizing and sorting; maybe your gift is keeping plants alive; maybe your gift is thinking outside of the box. I don’t know what your gift is, but I do know you have one and I do know that any gift given by God has the capacity to bless other people.
But here’s the thing. If you keep your gift to yourself, in isolation and for your own gain, it’s not only just sad, but it’s also a disservice to the gift itself and the One who gave it. We may not be able to change the people around us, but we can recognize what about ourselves is uniquely suited to help build up rather than break down. What inside each us has been planted by God for the sustenance of the greater good?
We are just getting started in this series and I hope you’ll stick with us as we continue talking about what it means to be true community in the midst of isolation. I hope you’ll take away from this message today the understanding that we each have the power to overcome the realities of isolation and individualism that are around us by recognizing that God has given each of us something to contribute toward the greater good. And if we harness the power and the strength of all those individual gifts, we can overcome the dominant narratives of our society and ultimately make the world a better place.
PS if you haven’t watched Encanto, please do! So many themes about gifts and you may very well hear an illustration from the movie in the coming weeks as we continue to talk about community.
Grace and Peace,