Many Made One – Beyond Nice to New

THEME:  Growing lay leaders – Centered in the Spirit
The body of Christ is given leadership gifts for growing into love
TEXTS:  Psalm 104:24, 27-28, 33-34; John 20:19-22;  Acts 2:1-4;  Romans 8:14;  1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16

Prayer

God of One Spirit and many gifts, thank you for each person whom you have brought here this morning. Thank you for every person whom you have brought into our midst across nearly a half century of your Seattle Mennonite Church salvation story. Thank for each person’s gifts and for making out of our many gifts one body. We offer our gifts to you with gratitude that they come from you and that you make them one with Christ. We offer them as a measure of your love in Christ growing within us. Amen

God-given Spirit-gifts poured upon us like rain

Last Sunday Sarah followed the lead of the oft-forgotten prophet Joel proclaiming that God’s Spirit is being poured out upon all flesh – all people. That pouring rain of the Spirit comes into the muddiness of life.

Well it is now mid-autumn and the rains have returned to the great northwest. Do we welcome the rains? Or do we lament the dreariness?

Our scriptures today sound like the pouring rain. Are they the muddy waters of life? Or are they the refreshing rains that replenish God’s creation and quenches the thirst of God’s people? God is always at work. The question is: are we open to who God is and what God is doing – particularly what God is doing in and through us?

Jesus’ resurrection in John’s Gospel

In a short portion of John’s gospel account of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, disciples locked themselves inside a house in fear. But fear-filled and hidden disciples didn’t stop Jesus. The Risen Christ surprised them by appearing and greeting them in peace: “Peace be with you.” Jesus repeated “Peace be with you,” to make sure they got it! (John 20:19-22)

What happened next? Jesus breathed the Spirit on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Earlier before his crucifixion Jesus told them he would leave and promised to not let them alone but that he would return and be with them as Spirit breath, “an Advocate to be with you forever”   (John 14:16, see vv. 12-21).

But Jesus didn’t become One with God and the Spirit’s breath just to get us to unlock the doors of our fear-filled lives. Jesus did it to unlock the doors of our love-filled lives and life together. Jesus breathed Spirit-love into us so that we receive and recognize our giftedness and unite our gifts to each other in this Spirit-love.

The Pentecost Spirit poured out in The Acts of the Apostles

We heard a very short portion of the Pentecost story of God’s Spirit poured out on God’s gathered people in those days after Jesus left the earth. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and discovered they had a gift for languages they didn’t know they had (Acts 2:1-4).

God is not just being nice to needy people. Richard Rohr reminds us that the word nice isn’t in the Bible. No! God has more in store for us than being nice: either God-nice or people nice. God has a bigger plan and purpose. God gives us gifts that are not gifts until they are offered to one another in love.

Paul’s Comprehensive Word on God-given Spirit-Gifts

The twelfth chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is the most comprehensive account of our God-given Spirit-gifts in scripture: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All [gifts] are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one…as the Spirit chooses.

In these flowing words of the Spirit’s gifts poured out on everyone flow a series of promises. What are these promises that Paul wants us to be informed about? Most of them we know. But one word struck me in a new way this week as I listened to them over and over again. Let’s listen again in four steps.

First: concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. We are to be informed of our God-given Spirit-filled gifts.  Be aware. Be receptive. Be confirming – calling out each other’s gifts.

Second: there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities These God-given Spirit-filled gifts come in great variety – all sizes and shapes. They are not all the same and they are not all lived out the same way. Isn’t that wonderful? Thanks God for our gift-diversity!

Third: it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. Reaffirmed is that truth that our true gifts are from God and activated in us by God.

Fourth, we receive our gifts from God and enter into what God is doing. Or as we have long claimed here at SMC, we listen to what God sets before us and do our best to live into what God sets before us. This fourth phrase ends with words that struck me and surprised me this week. Do you remember the three words that end that phrase?
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for [what]? For the common good. All [gifts] are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one…just as the Spirit chooses.

God-given spirit-filled gifts are not gifts until they are recognized and received. Equally true, they are not gifts unless and until they are manifested – lived for what? For the common good!

The words the common good have been on my heart and mind a lot lately. But I did not remember that they were in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians as a key to the gifts we are given by God. I have been primarily pondering the common good in terms of our civic life more than our church life. I wonder if a key to our polarized political scene isn’t primarily a loss of our sensibility about and commitment to the common good? This loss of a sense of the common good cuts across all political persuasions.

If we as God’s people filled with Spirit-gifts defy a sense of the common good is it even possible for there to be a sense of the common good in the civic sphere?

Two things are held together: God acts in Christ and the Spirit and we receive and respond. Our receiving and responding is never alone and isn’t even primarily our own. We join others receiving and responding to these God-given Spirit-gifts so that our gifts are always being united in Christ in the church for the common good not only of the church but of the world as well.

God-given Spirit-gifts in SMC

Every one of you has amazing God-given Spirit gifts equally valued equally needed.  During the past week I started preparing a prayer litany of gifts I see in everyone at SMC. I didn’t get this prayer completed and knew that it would take more time to share than we had this morning.
Your gifts are not offered in the church alone but in the world as well by who you are and how you are in your daily life and work.

I also remembered a conversation I had this summer with Susan Lohrentz who was using her good gifts on our Discernment Committee. Susan’s insight was that perhaps the Discernment Committee is more a nominating committee than a real discernment of our gifts. We tend to focus more on the work we have to do in the church and our need to find people to take on a given responsibility (E.g., education coordinator on Leadership Council is still open).

Yet hearing these scriptures in this worship series on “Growing lay leaders – centered in the Spirit,” I believe that woven through all of our functional efforts is a discernment of the gifts we offer to Christ and the church. There is good discernment happening that is confirming and calling out gifts for the common good of the church. It would be good to explore that further.

Rather than sharing a prayer litany of everyone’s gifts or exploring how well or not we do discernment, I want to guide us in a short prayer of gratitude for the gift of who you are and who we are together in Christ. As Mary said in the children’s time, we are all members of the body of Christ and all members are needed to be the body of Christ.

Guided Prayer for our gifts

I invite you to sit comfortably in silence….Wait upon God in silence….
Know that you are in God’s sacred presence….that you are a member of the Body of Christ.
Know that we are in the Presence of God’s gift-giving Spirit in Jesus Christ….
Please pray for the person on your right. Pray for his or her God-given Spirit-gifts. Perhaps you don’t know the person very well. You can pray that that person know he or she is a child of God with God-given gifts….Thank God for this person and their many gifts – gifts that God has brought here today to be offered for the common good, for God’s good purposes in this community or elsewhere for this Sunday or for a lifetime.

Pray for the person on your left. Pray for his or her God-given Spirit-gifts. Perhaps you don’t know the person very well. You can pray that that person know he or she is a child of God with God-given gifts….Thank God for this person and their many gifts – gifts that God has brought here today to be offered for the common good, for God’s good purposes in this community or elsewhere for this Sunday or for a lifetime.

Pray that we personally and communally receive and recognize our God-given Spirit-gifts….Pray that we live our gifts together in love….Pray that we embody together Paul’s word of promise to the Ephesian church…a word also meant for us and for all people:

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into [Christ] who is the head…  from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). AMEN

We have many gifts both within our own beings and within this body. Yet we are One. What God sets before us God gives us the gifts to be and do.

We are many yet one. We have many gifts united as one in the One who loved us so that become love. Thanks be to God!

John 20:19-22

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.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Romans 8:14

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

1 Corinthians 12

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

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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. All 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

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. For 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.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.