May 31, 2020
1 Corinthinans 12: 1-13
Part of today’s passage is a Pentecost standard.
We know the story of the tongues of fire … the flames of the Spirit that rest on each of the people gathered around the table and … suddenly … each of them develops linguistic skills and is able to comprehend what the other people are saying.
In other words, they each gain the ability to listen … discern … and to act in unity.
In the second section of today’s reading, Paul is still trying to heal the divisions within the Corinth congregation.
Earlier in his letter, Paul praised the congregation for being filled with the Holy Spirit. It was a felt presence among them.
The members of the congregation are able to speak the language of faith and have the understanding necessary to share the story of Christ. The tongues of fire have landed on the congregation, but it has yet to effectively engulf the people.
The congregation is divided along social lines – the haves and the have-nots; the congregation isn’t able to share the Lord’s Supper equally – some get leftovers after those with status within the congregation go first.
The Corinthian congregation is also divided by the various spiritual gifts possessed by the members of the congregation … some clearly believed their gifts were superior to the gifts of others … some believed that their gifts are more important to the functioning of the church than those of others.
And the congregation argues over how to best use the gifts that are present within them.
For some members, it’s clear that self is at the centre of their spiritual concerns.
But Paul reminds the congregation of their past attractions to the various Roman and Greek gods that are present in Corinth … idols that could not speak is how he puts it.
Now, they follow a God who speaks through them … through their actions … through the use of their various gifts … all of which come from the same Spirit. And this Spirit does not operate separately from God or from the gift that has been shared through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
The Spirit chooses what gift is bestowed on an individual and then activates these gifts for the good of the community and the good of the church.
In writing about this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, scholar Yung Suk Kim points out that … according to Paul … “The Spirit does not promote excessive individualism or flagrant elitism that does not edify the whole community.”
Paul stresses that the works of the congregation must be guided by the Spirit and not used for selfish, self-serving reasons. They must be used for taking care of the weak, the oppressed and those pushed to the margins by society.
Basically, the gifts they have received must be used for the common good.
In its original Greek, the word Paul uses for “gift” has the same root as the word for “grace.” So, to Paul, sharing our gifts is the equivalent of sharing the grace we have received with others. The community that Paul wants to see a reality is a faithful one that has love at the centre of all it does … a congregation that values one another despite any differences of opinion.
It is a community where the Spirit awakens faith and where faith is invoked through the word of the Gospel – a Word we are called to share.
In his book, Dynamics of Faith, Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich discussed the relationship of faith to love.
He wrote about two kinds of love – the Greek concept of love … eros, which looks for self-fulfillment, and agape, which is marked by the willingness to surrender for the sake of God. Both, Tillich wrote, need to be present for faith to be fully realized.
He wrote that the immediate expression of love is action and this action is an expression of faith. This action is an affirmation of self and drives toward transformation of the world’s reality through God’s love.
“This makes faith a matter of community,” Tillich said.
… faith is a matter of community and community and its relationship with God is the focus of Paul’s letter.
Through love in action … our faith is shown to those around us … our gifts are shared with others … and they, in turn, become empowered to share their spiritual gifts, as well.
Our various gifts and how we utilize them should be at the foremost of our hearts and minds during Pentecost Sunday. How have the flames of discipleship touched each of us and how have we fanned the flames? Have we stoked the fires of our ministry … our service to others … or have we allowed the embers to cool?
Paul makes it clear that … when the Corinthians argue about whose spiritual gifts are more important or have greater significance … they are missing the point. Each of these gifts are symbiotic of the others … each one fits with the others … each one is necessary if the community is to realize the full expression of God’s love.
Think of it as one great spiritual jigsaw puzzle.
When we exit the pandemic … when we finally have an opportunity to catch our breath and look back … what will we see?
Will we see that our various spiritual gifts have gone unused or under-utilized? Or will we see that our spiritual gifts have built or reinforced a community through loving acts that have served to heal whatever divisions were present … to comfort those feeling anxious during the uncertain time … and that ministered to the needs of the people around us.
Have we shared the abundant grace we have received … or did we allow the pandemic to sever or diminish the ties that connect us?
In the weeks ahead, we will have to consider how we will minister in the post-pandemic world … how we are being stretched into new forms to meet the new realities. We’ll have to discern the needs of the community and how the different gifts we carry can complement each other and make a difference in this new reality.
In short, we need to discern what is the Spirit calling us to be … how we can value one another more deeply and fully … how we can be unified as a community.
I pray that you remain safe and healthy during this time.
God’s grace be upon you.