1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Isaac Newton's first law of physics is the law of inertia: a body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. A tennis ball that I hold in my hand is not going anywhere unless I throw it; once thrown, it will keep moving unless someone catches it or drag and gravity slows it down. What is true for physics is also true for spirit: to grow in the love of God and neighbor requires movement from where we are at the moment to a different place. A friend of mine some years ago said he measured his life by asking the question, Whom do I love today that I did not love a year ago? What do I love today that I did not love a year ago? What do I understand and love about God that I did not a year ago. If the answer to any of those questions is nothing, then we're in a rut. And, as another friend of mine said, a rut is just a grave with both ends knocked out.
For the next few weeks we're going to look at what St. Paul said to the church in Corinth about building the Body of Christ. We're not going to talk about how we add more members to the Body, even though that's happening this morning is pretty wonderful ways. If we build the health, endurance, and strength of the Body of Christ -- the Church -- we won't have to worry about adding new members. God will take care of that.
The Corinthian Church was a powerful and growing church located at a major intersection of the world. Sounds like Shady Grove, doesn't it? Because it was at a major intersection, the church had people of different races, nationalities, professions, educations, and skills. The Holy Spirit had descended in spectacular ways upon the Corinthian church, and people were experiencing a freedom and power they never had in their lives. But, as is often the case with power, people didn't know how to use it. You don't teach your fifteen year old how to drive in Mark Martin's race car. So, these newly empowered people at Corinth began arguing about which gift of the Holy Spirit was the right gift. Was it the gift of wisdom, or special knowledge, or special faith? Was it the ability to heal miraculously, ability to perform miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, ecstatic prayer language, or the ability to translate the ecstatic language? Which was the real sign of the real Holy Spirit of God? Amazingly, people are still asking those questions today, all because they completely miss what St. Paul said to the Corinthians.
The Body of Christ, Paul says, runs on the power of the Holy Spirit. It exists because of the Holy Spirit drawing people to Christ and to each other. It depends completely on the Holy Spirit for everything it does: any human power driving the church turns evil just as quickly as life did in Eden when Adam and Eve decided they didn't need to depend on God.
So, Paul says, the most basic confession of the church -- "Jesus Christ is Lord" -- is impossible to say without the power of the Holy Spirit. Every now and then I encounter people in the church who doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Repeat after me: Jesus Christ is Lord. Now, 1 Corinthians12:3 says we cannot say that except by the Holy Spirit. Remember that the next time you doubt God's presence in your life. To go back to the law of inertia, the Holy Spirit gets the ball of faith rolling. We didn't dream up the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus and Jesus' Lordship are gifts of God's Holy Spirit. We don't earn Jesus. We receive Jesus. Faith is a gift, all the way down. The Body of Christ can't go anywhere without receiving that gift.
Second, Paul says, while there are many different gifts that come from the Spirit, they all come from the same Holy Spirit. We just celebrated Christmas: do you just buy one gift in quantity and give the same present to everyone on your list? I can tell you that my sons did not get the day at the spa that I bought for my wife, and Ben didn't get the same music I bought for his sister. All the gifts for ministry in the church come from the same Spirit, who gives them in her own mischievous ways. What is absolutely crucial about the work of the Holy Spirit is what Paul says in verse 7: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Spiritual gifts are not given for your and my personal enjoyment. All spiritual gifts are given to build up the Body of Christ. If we don't use our gifts, we will lose them. If we try to use them for selfish means, they will turn against us, as we've seen in the moral failure of so many gifted Christians. It's not about me, it's not about you.
Third, Paul says, a gift can and must be developed, but it is always a gift. The people sitting behind me this morning are people who have been given the gift of music. Not everyone receives that gift. It's not enough to just have a gift -- it needs to be trained and grown and developed and disciplined. Sometimes there are people who have gifts -- let's stick with music -- but who don't believe they need to be grown and disciplined. My teacher this past week, Sister Kathleen Flood, told us a story about meeting the Dali Lama -- the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a young and beginning nun at the time. His Holiness asked if she was a sister, and she answered "Yes, Your Holiness, a novice." "A Novice?" he asked. "Yes, a novice." The Dali Lama paused, and then said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Always be a novice." When we stop learning and growing and developing our gifts, we die. That's the nature of a gift: it's not ours to do with as we will. A gift of the Holy Spirit is meant to bring us and others closer to God and each other.
Finally, says Paul, the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all. To say that God has not given us gifts for growth and for the common good is to call the Holy Spirit a liar. That is the unforgiveable sin that Jesus talks about. For any of us to not acknowledge, develop, and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the building of the church is blasphemy. Paul says it twice in this passage: verse 6: it is the same God who activates them in everyone. It comes again in verse 11: All these (gifts) are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
Now, some of you have found a very comfortable place to sit and watch, and not use your gifts. Some of you don't believe you have any gifts for building up the Body of Christ. Others of you have gifts, but you want to use them the way you want to use them, not at the direction of the Holy Spirit. And some of you don't like the gifts you have, and are trying to muscle your way into gifts you don't have. All those practices grieve the Holy Spirit, hurt the Body of Christ, and endanger you and the people around you.
The Body of Christ moves and lives by the instigation, the nurture, and the direction of the Holy Spirit. While there are spiritual gifts inventories we have done to help people know their gifts, I have become convinced life in Christ doesn't require a survey for faithfulness. What gives you joy in Christ? What gift do other people see in you? What do you do that makes you forget yourself and be filled with love for God and for others? It's a pretty sure bet that's your gift from the Holy Spirit.
God wants to build the Body of Christ to maturity, so it can transform a dying world. Amazingly God has called you, and you, and you, and even me, into that Body, and given us gifts for its work. And, you and I are here this morning not just because someone dragged us, or because it's an old habit we got into a long time ago, or even because we get paid for it: we're here because God called us, and deep, deep down, we are hungry for God. Let's claim that hunger, and claim our gifts. That's where we begin to build up the Body of Christ.