Posted on Tue, Jun 6, 2017
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
June 4, 2017
Gospel Text: John 20:19-23 “Holy Spirit, Holy Word”
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you,’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
3Therefore 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.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
One Body with Many Members
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Happy Birthday Church! With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church was and is still being born and renewed! Through the inc0ming of the Holy Spirit, we are not some social club, religious entertainment site, or whatever, we goofy humans become the “Body of Christ!” As good Lutherans, we now ask, “What does this mean?”
Paul begins chapter 12 in his letter to the people living in Corinth by saying, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed" (1 Corinthians 12:1).1
By all accounts, the Corinthians had a full measure of the Spirit's power. Prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, knowledge: the Corinthians had them all and more. Yet they also had conflict, misunderstanding about the deep meaning of the eucharist, and according to Paul there was, “A thoughtless disregard for one another.” How could they know something was a gift of the Spirit and not merely self-indulgence? Throughout this chapter and the next, Paul teaches us how to discern God's work in the activation of various gifts of the spirit and how to value one's brothers and sisters in Christ as a faith community.
“What is God up to?” This is a central question for all of our church leaders as we think about our ever changing mission as a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: "What is God doing in this place?" What is God doing in and through our church, in our neighborhood, in the lives of people within the fold of this congregation and the lives of those beyond it, and all those who have been touched through our ministry and are now all over the world?
What is God up to? Through God's Spirit, God is first of all bearing witness to the Good News that Jesus is Lord. That is what God is up to, making Christ known in the world. ”No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, 'Let Jesus be cursed!' And conversely, no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). In the book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat is sharply critical of what he calls “various Christian heresies popular in America, “from the prosperity gospel of people like Joel Osteen, to the preoccupation with "the God within" from Oprah Winfrey and others, to Glenn Beck's understanding of God as chiefly concerned to spread democracy throughout the world by means of American military might and foreign policy.” One of the things all of these voices have in common is silence about that which Paul told the Corinthians was all he decided to know among them: "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
According to the apostle Paul, one way to know whether a movement is led by the Spirit of God is to listen for its claims about Jesus Christ. The Spirit makes Jesus known to us in the cross (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-31), the supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-34), and the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15). By the Spirit, the church testifies that Jesus -- not money, security, self esteem, paranoia, power, or anything else -- is Lord.
Gifts from God's Spirit proclaim Jesus as Lord. They also serve the common good. Paul's second criterion for discerning the work of the Holy Spirit points to the Spirit's interest in the common life of those it draws together. Just as the Spirit is all about proclaiming Jesus as Lord, so the Spirit is all about building up the community of faith rather than enriching or lifting up individuals. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Individuals receive gifts from the Spirit, yet each gift is for the body as a whole. This implies that if a gift cannot be shared, and shared for the good of others, it is not from the Spirit. It also implies that any attempt to rank individuals according to their possession of "better" gifts would be at odds with each gift's common purpose which is for the good of all.
The third clue Paul offers to us as we try to answer what God is up to in our mission, is a sort of negative criterion. Whatever God's Spirit is doing, it will probably not be characterized by “tidiness.” When you are looking for the Spirit's gifts, look for a bit of a mess. This means, that the moment we think we really have the right ‘plan’ to ‘do ministry,’ like the Tower of Babel, God will throw in a curveball into our plans and everything will have to adjust to some new and unexpected issue… Ministry is messy. That’s just the way things are… True, Paul urges that Corinthians to do everything "decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40), but this requirement does not preclude God’s good sense of humor.
The Corinthians were the original enthusiasts, giving every evidence of having swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all. Many of them seem enthralled by the more dramatic external manifestations of the Holy Spirit's work (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.). Sadly, at the same time, they ignored the quieter work of the Spirit to draw them into a community that respects all its members. They could not, for instance, share the Lord's Supper together equitably (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-34).
When Paul tries to redirect the Corinthians' attraction for spiritual gifts, it is not because he likes tradition more than innovation or because he is trying to erase difference. Paul directs the Corinthians to the "still more excellent way" of faith, hope, and love (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:13) because that way will bring them back to valuing one another more than their own knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, miracles, tongues, and all the rest. The person sitting beside you in the pew or kneeling alongside you at the altar rail: that brother or sister in Christ matters more than all the spiritual gifts in the congregation. Paul's goal is not a tidy community life but a loving one.
How do we know the work of the Holy Spirit among us? The Spirit proclaims Jesus as Lord, offers its gifts to the church for the common good, and activates love for the neighbor. These criteria give us a place to start as we continue to look for what God is up to in our own churches and neighborhoods today.
When we praise God for God’s faithfulness and grace, then we are certain that the Holy Spirit is here, and this is most certainly true!
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