What Spiritual Gift Will You Offer?

This morning I am going to ask you to offer the spiritual gift you received from God
back to God and God’s church. I am going to root that challenge in Scripture, especially
in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, and Acts 18 which records Paul’s time in
that city.

Paul was used to traveling on foot, and he arrived in Corinth after a four day walk from
Athens. According to 1st Corinthians 2:23 he was not just tired out by his journey, but
weak and afraid. Though much of Paul’s suffering still lay in the future, he was already
used to being ignored, laughed at and and abused. In 1st. Corinthians 4:13 he said he
regarded himself as “the refuse of the world, the off scouring of all things.” In other
words, he felt like he was the stink on the bottom of someone else’s sandal. Yet, when Paul first arrived in Corinth he did what he always did. He screwed-up his courage to the sticking place, and he went to the synagogue and argued from the Jewish Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, who died for our sins, and then rose again to give us a future and a hope.

Paul’s teaching about Jesus is summed up nicely in 1st Corinthians 15, where-in he
writes:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died
for our sins, in accordance with the Scripture, that he was buried, that he was
raised on the third day, in accordance with the scripture, and that he appeared…

Paul then goes on to to list a number of appearances, first to Peter, then to the twelve, then to the 500 brethren at one time, then to James, undoubtedly James the brother of the Lord, then to all the apostles, and, last of all, “as to one untimely born,” to Paul himself. Paul considered himself born at the wrong time because he had persecuted the church. Of course, this makes his testimony to the risen Christ even more valuable. By the way, in case you are ever asked ,1st Corinthians 15 is the earliest first-hand account of the Resurrection in the New Testament. It is a generation older than the earliest gospel.

Now Paul would be in Corinth for the next year and a half; and, at some point early in his stay, he was befriended by a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. Like Paul Aquila and Priscilla (aka Prisca) were Christians, and like Paul they were tentmakers.

Paul stayed in their home and partnered in their business. He made and repaired tents all week, and then, on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue and argued from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul had some success. Acts 18 tells us that the ruler of the synagogue became a Christian with all his family. However, most most members of the synagogue could not wrap their heads around a crucified Messiah. The cross was a stumbling-block to big for them to climb over. Eventually they drove Paul from the synagogue, and even dragged him before the proconsul. Paul stopped going to the synagogue, and he said washed his hands of them, but he did not move far. He started going to the house of a Gentile who worshiped God named Titus Justus that was located right next to the synagogue. (Acts 18) No doubt, by preaching to the Gentiles,
Paul hoped to make the his fellow Jews jealous. (Romans 11:14) Paul had some success
among the Jews and more among the gentiles, and no doubt, the church started meeting
in various homes. We know from 1st Corinthians 16 that Priscilla and Aquila later had a
church in their house in Rome. Perhaps they or Titus Justice provided space for the
Corinthian church.

Now I have just mentioned two facts that are very important to this church, Fries
Memorial.

First, I would have you note that the church in Corinth undoubtedly met in a house. A
church small enough to meet in house—even a large house, cannot have had too many
members. And some of those members were not very nice. According to 1st
Corinthians 5:1, one man was living with his father’s wife. According to 2nd
Corinthians 10:10 other people criticized Paul saying, “His letters are impressive, but his
bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account.” Corinth was not an easy
church to pastor! Yet, with all its problems the church in Corinth grew. According to
1st Corinthians 3:6, “Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase.” The
church in Corinth went on to become on the most important churches in the history of
our faith. So important, that for the last 20 Centuries we have been reading its mail!

In the same way, this church, Fries Memorial, is small, and we are not perfect; but the
work that we do may be important beyond our ability to comprehend it. “It is easier to
count the seeds in an apple, than it is to count the apples in a seed.” Remember, God is in
the habit of doing great things with the small and weak. God used Gideon, who was the
least member of the weakest clan of the smallest tribe in Israel. And God used David
who was the least of the sons of Jessie. And God used Bethlehem, which was one of the
least important towns in Israel. Small wonder that Paul told the church in Corinth that,
“God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9) Why is this so?
Well, if we are big and strong and do something important, we get the credit; but if we
are small and weak and do something important, then God gets the credit.

Second, I would have you note that the founding pastor of the church in Corinth was a
part-time pastor. He worked all week as a tentmaker. Then, on the Sabbath, he went to
the synagogue to teach and preach and dialogue. Paul worked part-time in business and
part-time in the church, but he was a full-time witness, and with God’s help, the church
at Corinth prospered.

This is important to you because you have decided to employ a tent-maker. You have
employed a part-time pastor. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons you were interested in
me is because I have an alternate income; and, just as important, I have Medicare and a
Blue Cross Supplement, and you don’t have to pay the province thousands of dollars a
year for my health insurance. Can I get an amen! (I like to think that, for the first time in
many years, I am a bargain!) But don’t think I am complaining. If some malevolent, other worldly power decided to punish me by sending me Fries Memorial, they are not any smarter than Br’er Fox who caught Br’er Rabbit using the tar-baby, then, when Br’er Rabbit begged him not to, tossed him back into the very briar patch he came from. That briar patch was his home. He was safe there, and comfortable. In the same way I am comfortable in this briar patch. I know where the rabbit paths are, and I know where a few thorns are, too.

And some will ask, “How long will you be here?” Initially, I am going to be here
through Easter. Then if that works, and we meet one another’s expectations, through
most of July. And some will ask, “Well what do you hope to accomplish is so short a
time?” Well, at the very least I want to help you learn what it will be like working with a
part-time pastor. I am going to work my three days, and when I have, well, we will
negotiate. We have built in some wiggle room, but not much, and eventually the church
itself will have to carry some of the load. And what is the most that I hope for?” Well,
my most outrageous prayer is that God will do “far more abundantly than all we can ask,
think, or imagine,” and I will be not only your first part-time pastor, but your last.
Stranger things have happened. Jesus himself said that “All things are possible with
God.” (Mark 10:27)

That brings us to the principal text before us: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11. Therein St. Paul
tells the church in Corinth what he thinks about about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He
begins telling them that no one speaking by the Holy Spirit ever says, “Jesus be cursed!”
That is a profoundly Jewish statement. It in perfect harmony with to Deuteronomy
21:23, “Cursed be everyone who hangs upon a tree.” As we have seen, the cross of Jesus
is a stumbling block to the Jews. Then Paul says, “And no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’
except by the Holy Spirit.” That is a profoundly Moravian Statement. It is in perfect
harmony with our Easter Morning Liturgy:

“I believe that by my own reason and strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ
my Lord or come to him; but that the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel,
enlightens me with his gifts, and sanctifies and preserves me in the truth faith,
even as he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole church on Earth…”

Let me tell you something. Mark this down. Possession of the Holy Spirit is the lowest
common denominator of our Christian discipleship. As Paul says in Romans 8, “Anyone
who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Conversely, “If you
belong to Christ, you have the Spirit!” No ifs, ands, or buts. Listen: We can dress
differently, think differently, like different songs, interpret the Bible differently, and have
our own favorite doctrines and practices; but there is only one Spirit, and the moment we repent of our sins and come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are sealed with the promised
Holy Spirit, which is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we receive possession of it.”
(Ephesians 1:14)

Now, in this passage, Paul says that the one, same Holy Spirit gives to each of us for the
common good. I am not going to go deep into 1st Corinthians 12. Rather, I would point
out that Paul—and one of his disciples, talk about the gifts of the Spirit in three different
passages, here in 1st Corinthians 12, and again in Romans 12, and again in Ephesians 4.
In every case, the gifts differ, and I think this means that Paul does not intend any list of the gifts to be exclusive. There are gifts of the Holy Spirit that differ from those on any
of the lists. As it is, these passages list gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healing, miracles,
prophecy, discernment, serving—aka hospitality, giving with liberality, helping , and
administration. In Ephesians 4 these gifts are represented by people, apostles, prophets,
evangelists, and pastor-teachers, who are given to “equip the saints”—that would be you,
for the work of ministry.

What is your gift? Do you have just one? Do you have many? Some of you may
remember that when I was here before, the church gave me the time to pursue a Master’s in New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. I attended during the summer sessions and during January terms. One summer I took a course under Dr. John Koenig entitled, “The Gifts and Tasks of Ministry.” Dr. Koenig pointed out how the New
Testament teaches that if there is a task of ministry, there is a gift of the Spirit given to
one of more people to help accomplish that task. Sometimes God gives the spiritual gift
to someone who is already a part of the church. Sometimes God brings in someone from
the outside. I believe that God calls both Pastors and lay people to be a part of certain
churches. Time and time again, just when a church I have served needed help, some key
lay person arrived. You know what I am talking about it. In the past, you may have
been that person. But I am getting ahead of myself. At the class drew down to the end, Dr. Koenig asked us to claim a gift. I claimed the gift of discernment. Well, I made an a in Dr. Koenig’s class. Not only so, but he wrote a note to me in which he affirmed my gift of
discernment, which he had observed in my ability to interpret the the New Testament.
We can claim a gift for ourselves, but the best confirmation always comes from our
community.

I don’t think that discernment is my only gift. I have also claimed the gift of “teaching,”
perhaps because I love to teach the New Testament, and interpret it according to the
needs I see around me. When I was last here at Fries, the late Hal Worley affirmed my
gift of teaching. He said I should maximize my use of it, and he told me that the only
place I could do that was in a larger church. Then he actually named New Philadelphia.
Sometime later, when I received the call to New Philadelphia, it was almost as if Hal had
helped smooth the way to my acceptance. I was blessed to be at New Philly for thirty
years. I got to use my gifts, and that is always a blessing. Now, I feel blessed to be back
here, and I hope to use those same gifts of discernment and teaching to help you discover
your future, even as you help me to discover my own. In the words of the New
Testament, I hope we will “mutually encourage one another.” More than that, I hope that
God says to each of us and all of us what Rabbi Ben Ezra said to his wife, “Come grow
old with me, the best is yet to be!” Wouldn’t you like to believe that?
Elayne and I both feel I feel that we are on an adventure. You share that adventure, and
the tasks of ministry are many, so I will ask again, “What is your Spiritual gift? Do you
have one, or do you have several?” And just as importantly, “Are you willing to offer your best spiritual gift back to the God who gave it in service to his church which meets
in this place?”

I will never forget a conversation I once had with my friend, the late Riddick Bowles. It
was not long after I came here for the first time way back in 1979. Riddick, already an
old man, came to me and said to me, “Worth, I believe in what we are doing here. I want
to help; but I want you to know that I am not very keen to teach a Sunday school class,
or to pray publicly, in worship; but there is something I can do.” And holding out his
weathered old hands, he said, “I am pretty good with these, and I will use them where
ever they are needed.” At the time, I did not realize how much he was offering. Then,
several months later, Riddick Riddick came to the Board of Trustees and asked them for
$300.00 for some lumber, so that he could build the wind-chest for the 23 rank pipe
organ that Michael Westmoreland played this morning. And they gave it to him! But
that is another story for another time. The story today is your gift, and your story. Are
you willing to give your spiritual gift back to the God who gave it in service of his
church which meets in this place? Of course, if you commit to that, you are also
committing to make an effort to be present with the body Christ here at Fries Memorial
as often as possible.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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