• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

You Are Gifted

Who Are You? An eight week sermon series for the new year on being and becoming our true selves, preached January 16, 2022 for the 930am Worship


Context

There are things about us, everyone who knows us… knows. There are things about us, very few people know. There are things about us, others may know that we may not know about ourselves. Here in this new year, Rev. Caitlan and I are doing an eight-week sermon series titled “Who Are You? Being and becoming our true selves.”


There are things about us we may or may not know or believe, truths about us that define our identity. Caitlan and I combed the scriptures and found eight things to help us remember Who We Are.


Last week, Caitlan reminded us, We Are CALLED. We each have a purpose and a role to play in God’s kingdom. God brought us into being and gave us life as a gift, yes, and God called us together as a church to learn, pray, and break bread together, We are also called to make earth look more like heaven, to ask God over and over again, What now? What should we do now?, and to overflow the loving community of equity, justice, and love we grow here all throughout Kent County and beyond.


Today, we remember, we are Gifted. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…


Prayer


Scripture 1 Cor 12:1-11

12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 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.


4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.


Sermon You are Gifted

Have you ever wondered why Paul wrote this bit of this letter to this congregation? It’s a question we pastors try to ask ourselves quite often. Sure, we ask WHAT does the scripture say, and we also need to ask WHAT difference does this scripture make in our lives today. But to get from A to B, we also need and want to ask WHY, WHY did the author write this, say this, feel this?


The church in Corinth has some respect for Paul, who he was and how he taught, and at the same time, there were people who didn’t agree with Paul, or like Paul very much, or want Paul’s opinion about how they would do church or life.


In the earlier chapters of this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has already addressed lots of things troubling the church in Corinth. They disagree on how to do meals, what to bring, what to eat. They disagree on some theological things, whose ideas about God are right or wrong. They disagree on what is or isn’t the church’s business, like marriage, and affairs, and divorce. They disagree on budget, how to use offerings. They disagree on worship things, how to dress, how formal or traditional to be, how to pray, how to do communion.


Then we get here, to what we call chapter 12. “Now, concerning spiritual gifts…” Oh, great. They must be disagreeing about spiritual gifts too! Paul has heard about their disagreements regarding spiritual gifts and takes a moment in this letter to clarify.


To read this section of 1st Corinthians, one would be right to assume that a major issue at their church centered around glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues.” I’m not sure if you’ve ever worshipped with someone who possesses this Spiritual gift. I would imagine for most Presbyterians… well, probably, for most American Christians regardless of denomination, it can be uncomfortable. I’ve only been around it a few times, and each time I was a bit uncomfortable, confused, and curious.


Paul takes time to address speaking in tongues as one possible spiritual gift. Although, Paul doesn’t appear to think speaking in tongues is THE issue. We don’t know if Paul spoke in tongues himself, or ever found himself trying to interpret someone else who did, but we do know, from this passage anyway, Paul did consider it, speaking in tongues, as a spiritual gift. For Paul, it’s not the gift or the using it that’s the problem. Paul’s diagnosis is strife, division, or argument in the church when people use their spiritual gifts.


To segue, Paul reminds them that no so long ago, these folk were worshipping idols, symbols in rock or wood that did not speak. Now, they worship a God who is alive, a being, who died and rose again in Christ, and who still dwells among them by Holy Spirit. As a living being, this God speaks, communicates. Even today, our worship services are full of music, images, symbols, filled to the brim with words we hope express truth about who God is, what God wants, and what God is doing.


This church is so preoccupied with speaking in tongues, they’ve forgotten worship is not all about speaking. It is about listening, for God. In that first paragraph, I hear Paul saying something like, “Look, y’all are so worried about what others are saying and doing in worship. Don’t worry so much about who is speaking in tongues, and who isn’t. Listen through their words and see if God in Christ by Holy Spirit is talking through them. If the words are destructive, demeaning, gossipy, distracting, and build fear, suspicion, jealousy, or envy, then that isn’t Holy Spirit speaking, and doesn’t deserve your attention. If the words are giving God glory and honor, and are faithful, trusting, sacrificial, humble, passionate, committed, obedient, inspiring, cooperative, then it could be Holy Spirit speaking, and deserves your attention.”


I wonder if speaking in tongues had become a bit of a competition. There might have been some who were sincerely gifted in it and appreciated for it. They might have been lifted up by others, sought after, thanked in the church because of their gifts. Then, as often happens, there are two typical reactions to gifted servants.


One reaction is to try and copy them, to insert our ungifted selves into that ministry. It would be like me inserting myself into the kitchen… Not a good idea… I can do scrambled eggs, frozen pizza, some stuff on the grill, but cooking is not my gift. I have no feel for things in there. I don’t know the vocabulary. I don’t enjoy it. Those who are gifted at something, are good at it in other people’s opinion, and they love it, enjoy it, and work hard at it, and care about it, and practice it as an art, and a way to do something expressive of themselves and and important for others. It would be a shame for me to crash one of those gifted folk’s kitchen with my clumsy self just to get some credit for the meal.


The other reaction to gifted servants… Some might start bad mouthing, judging those folk, their way of doing something, or even their motivation for doing it. You will see these sometimes as direct confrontations, “Why did you do it that way? You’re not doing that right!,” or sometimes as behind the scenes gossip, “I can’t believe she did that. That’s not the right way to do it.” In both cases, it rarely has anything to do with the person who sincerely, generously offered their gifts, or were called up or appreciated for them. It almost always has to do with the feelings of the one complaining or gossiping. They ache to give of themselves freely, but don’t know how. They also want to be and to feel like an important part of the community, but they can’t find their niche. They want to be appreciated, loved, lifted up, but they haven’t found or used or offered to others their God-given gifts. Maybe that’s what was happening there at the little church in Corinth.


So, Paul reminds them all of three truths about spiritual Gifts. First, every spiritual gift is given by God. God is the source of the good that comes about when a spiritual gift is offered and received. It is God’s power, energy, intelligence, and imagination behind every true use of any spiritual gift. Therefore, all gifts are equal. No gift is greater or more important than any other. That means for someone blessed enough to have found a spiritual gift, and dared to use it, wonderful… But don’t start getting a big head about it. The source of that gift is God, and therefore all the Glory goes to God, not you or me. And for those who envy or resent others who use their spiritual gifts, be careful. The judgment or the gossip is not really against that person, but God, for they are only using gifts God gave them. Instead, if someone steps up, volunteers, is lifted up, is nominated, chosen, elected to service, teaches, decorates because of their gifts, spend no time judging them, obstructing them, or undermining them behind the scenes. Simply be grateful to God for them, for God gifting the community with those particular gifts through that person, and then offer to help them, anyway they might need. Paul’s first point was that every spiritual gift is an equal gift of God.


Paul’s second point is that everyone has a gift from God. God has spread the gifts out, all throughout the body, the whole community, and God has gifted everyone in some way, meaning everyone is important, and everyone has a purpose for God’s great ministry. There’s no need to try to fake gifts, skills, or talents that we might perceive are more or less important, or more or less appreciated. Some offer music, some offer organizational skills, some are artsy and creative, others are logical and good with charts or numbers, some are great with kids, others are great with senior citizens, some might teach, and someone else might preach. There are a variety of gifts, and to God they are all equal… and everyone is gifted in some way by God… so our task is not to mimic or undermine the gifts of others, but to find our own, the unique and special abilities God has given each of us, and then to find a place to use those… in, through, or beyond the church. That’s Paul’s second point, everyone has a gift and an important place in God’s purposes.


Then, Paul’s third point… A spiritual gift benefits the community, the whole body. Even a gifted person, who truly has found their God given gift and has dared use it, can slip and begin to use their gifts for their own credit, to increase their own fame or influence. A gifted person who once stepped up to help with a ministry and was good at it, and was appreciated for it, can begin to take control of that ministry, block others from playing and trying, protect it so it stays the way it has been. Paul teaches a spiritual gift is for the good of the body, the common good. Paul reminds us to never slip over into using God’s gifts for the wrong reasons, persona reasons, to have things our preferred way, but to keep having the courage and discipline to give our whole selves to God’s purpose for all God’s people.


As the newish Pastor, I worried what it would be like to follow the much beloved pastor Sara. I have found this church, this congregation loves Sara, but is less concerned with who is preaching, and more focused on listening for honest, faithful, challenging words from God. Those once came through Earl, or Sara, or John, and now they might come through Caitlan or me. It doesn’t matter who the preacher is, only if the words are true, and give comfort to God’s people, and inspire God’s people to change the world so it looks more like God’s kingdom.


Over the last two years, I learned this church is good and growing in our appreciation of diverse gifts in one another. This is a community of willing servants. I continue to see people give of themselves in abundant ways, for the glory of God. There is a little judgment when others try to use their gifts in new or different ways, a little underground complaining when things don’t continue the way they always did before. But I believe this church is founded more on grace and gratitude, receiving every gift of every person, including everyone, pitching in and helping anyway we can, than we are in keeping things they way they used to be.


Friends, you are gifted. Your gift is fun, and challenging. Others will see and appreciate it in you. Some may be jealous or even resist. I’m sorry. Don’t let it hold you back. Together, let’s build a church where every person finds clarity and affirmation in their gifts, and is encouraged and appreciated for using them to do God’s mission in this church, into this community and beyond.


To God be all the glory and honor now and forever more. Amen.


Charge


Benediction

And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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