Message Delivered on January 17, 2016
I Corinthians 12:1-11
Last Sunday I spoke about the promises God has graced us with in the Sacrament of Baptism and upon ordination and installations of officers, we renewed our baptismal promises. God has blessed each of us, called us beloved, and commissioned us to be servants of love; to offer blessings to others. The gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism change us, mark us as Christians and compel us to share with the world, to be a blessing to others.
You have or will receive a letter in the mail that I sent to announce my retirement. It was a decision I made at a retirement seminar last March and voiced to the presbytery in October, but I wanted to be with you in the Advent season, to spend one more last Christmas with you. It is my hope to prepare you for the transition that will take place as you search for a new pastor.
Sometimes the lectionary seems to wander astray but this week’s passages are timely. The apostle Paul has gifted us with the Scripture in I Corinthians 12:1-11. It is an appeal to the church in Corinth to be united and single-minded in their purpose. He discusses the particulars of how this should be accomplished, and the unity to be achieved, despite the diversity of gifts from the Holy Spirit and human opinion. All of us have work to do.
Some of our work involves pumping our own gas, booking our travel arrangements, even assembling furniture. My dad used to say that I got my apprentice carpenter’s card from assembling Sauder furniture kits while in college. In years gone by, we pulled up to the filling station and an attendant rushed out to fill our gas tanks, wash our windows and take our payment for the fuel. Remember that? The first time I ever pumped my own gas my friend, Gwen, whom you have met and cared for me during my knee replacement recovery, told me that I could do it–“It’s easy,” she said. She put on her cotton work gloves that she kept in a baggie in her purse, took off my gas cap and began to pump the gas into my car, telling me, “Okay, you take over.” Today only New Jersey and Oregon continue to have attendants pump the gas of customers. I discovered that when I visited my cousin in Oregon last summer.
In years gone by, a number of tasks were done by people we paid but now we do them to save money. That is “Shadow work.” Shadow work is the unpaid jobs that fill up our days. Those jobs take lots of our time. The DIY
(Do It Yourself) approach might be empowering but it can exhaust us. We turn to the computer and technology to assist us. I say that technology is great when and if it works! But technology forces us to interact more with computers and cell phones than with other humans and at unreasonable hours. How do we spend our time? Do we differentiate what is most urgent and what is most important? Answering e-mail, texts, twitter and face book is not as important as attending our children’s/grandchildren’s soccer, basketball, baseball or football games. We need to prioritize family and friends.
I explained last week that in our baptism we become family united and empowered to do God’s work by the Holy Spirit. My favorite ordination/installation question is “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?” Almost all of you have answered that question upon ordination as deacons and elders. Once an elder and deacon, always an elder and deacon.
Paul encourages us to focus on “Spirit work” that we can accomplish as members of the body of Christ. Paul does not want us to be led astray by the worldly enticements of today, rather to be concerned with what is important; to utilize the gifts of the Spirit that equip us for service and activities that God inspires us to engage in for the building up of the Christian community, the church.
The work we have comes to us from a divine source: to work for the common good, to move from shadow work (things we do for ourselves) to Spirit work (work done for others). How does that work look? We are given wisdom and knowledge expressly for that work. New Testament scholar, C.K. Barrett, says that the “Utterance of wisdom might deal with ethical matters while the utterance of knowledge includes theological matters.” Ethics talks about what we should do and theology talks about what we should believe. Doing and believing are important work that serves the common good. (Spirit Work!) Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, says that the biggest complaint people who no longer want to go to church anymore is that church people are hypocrites. No one wants to go to a church where people say one thing and then do another.
· We cannot just say we love our neighbors, we have to perform acts of love.
· We cannot simply believe in forgiveness; we must forgive those who hurt us.
· We cannot just talk about justice; we have to do justice.
If we are going to attract people to church, we need to act in ethical ways, concrete actions that give people an experience of the love of God. People come to church to be reassured that God is real, present today and active in the lives of members of the Christian community.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are tools in the believers’ toolbox. The skills range from healing to the interpretation of spiritual languages. All the gifts are activated by the one and same Spirit. Sometimes a gift of healing is simply listening to a friend in crisis on the telephone, offering words of encouragement, and keeping a friend afloat with a little financial boost. That hand-up might even be seen as the working of a miracle by a troubled friend and build up their sense of Christian community.
We need to clear away the shadow work that clutters our lives so that the gifts of the Spirit can be put to use. We need to look at each other in the eye and engage in real conversation that shows the love of God and how we can be the church in this community. You will need to discern what goals you have as a church in the next one to three years, five years and ten years. That will be important as you seek a new pastor to walk with you in shared ministry.
The good news about Spirit work is that it energizes all of you and connects you to one another. Instead of feeling exhausted and isolated (I have done all the jobs at church before and I am tired–it is somebody else’s turn), you can being to experience inspiration, community and unity.
Energy. Connection. Inspiration. Community. Unity. These are the benefits of replacing shadow work with Spirit work. Claim the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to you and put them into action with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. You will continue to be blessed and to grace others with the blessings that God has so richly bestowed upon you.