Sunday, January 14th's wonderful message “Gift-Giving” by Rev. Toni Carmer.
1 Corinthians 12:4-14
First United Methodist Church, January 14, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
It's been 3 weeks now since Christmas, and we've just packed away the Christmas trees and decorations. I'd leave them up all year if I could, but you'd all think I was pretty odd driving by the house in March or July with the tree lit up in the living room.
But I love this season of gift-giving. It started with the gift of Jesus, and then the magi brought gifts, and now we give gifts to one another.
As we do that, I'm always reminded of the phrase, "Whose birthday is it anyway?" and yet, gift-giving is something we do—we offer the ones we love a gift that we've chosen for them out of love.
Ultimately, I think that's what gift-giving is about. When you give a gift, you want the receiver to know you love them and care about them, and that you’ve been thinking about them. You want to give them something that they’ll like, something a little special—something that they probably wouldn’t just go out and get for themselves.
I have a friend who tells the story about one particular Christmas he can remember while he was growing up. His mom spent the whole day in the bedroom, while his dad would move back and forth between preparing the holiday meal in the kitchen, and going back into the bedroom, talking to his mom, who wouldn’t come out. It wasn’t until later that my friend understood that his mother’s gift of a dehumidifier from his dad who heard her say they needed one—probably triggered some of her unhappiness that day.
Scott and I agreed years ago, that generally speaking—if it plugs in—it probably isn’t a good gift. This year Scott gave me a stereo—which I love—so that's not an absolute rule, but: Guys—just a word of advice--appliances and kitchen gadgets for your wife for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries or Valentine’s Day will probably not cause her heart to melt. Okay?
Today, we’re talking about gift-giving: about how God has given gifts to us, and how we give them back to God. We make promises when we join the church that we will give our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. It would probably be worth our time to do a series and talk about each of these things, but for now, we're focusing on the gifts that we bring. Our financial giving is a significant part of our gift-giving: how we give shapes us in significant ways. But the way we make use of our spiritual gifts is life-shaping as well. We pray in the Joy Breaks prayer time each Thursday that the members of our church will be aware of and make use of our spiritual gifts. I thought that today, on this second Sunday of the new year, it would be good for us to spend some time talking about how we do that.
We'll begin by recalling Jesus at his ascension. There, Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them—he would be with us—always—even to the end of the age. We would not be left as orphans, but would be given an Advocate—God would give us the gift of the Holy Spirit—who would equip us to do God’s work in our world (John 14:12-18, 26).
That happened at Pentecost: as the winds of the Spirit blew through the city, Christ’s followers began speaking in the tongues of the various cultures and peoples who were gathered there. God’s message was heard, people believed, and the church was born.
It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that individual believers today continue to be blessed with spiritual gifts; gifts given for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ. Paul talks about spiritual gifts in his various letters. The text this morning is from his first letter written to the people of Corinth, as Paul attempts to settle their differences and their arguments among one another, because it’s tearing them apart. He wants them to recognize that God has gifted each of them, and that they’re all important—they’re all members of the Body of Christ—and they need to use their gifts to build each other up, rather than to tear down their community and all that they could have.
In another one of Paul’s letters, the one he wrote to the people of Rome, Paul instructs these new believers about how they should live among one another as Christ’s disciples. He concludes with a slightly different list of spiritual gifts, but addresses the significance of these gifts as being to build up the Body, and to accomplish Christ’s work. Listen now to these words of Paul from Romans 12:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace give to us; prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (Romans 12:1-8).
Some of us are more aware of our spiritual gifts than others. Some of us are making good use of our gifts, and others aren't really acquainted with what spiritual gifts are, but you know what you’re good at, and what you enjoy doing—and so you’re serving in those areas and feel pretty good about it. Others of us are serving because you’ve been asked to, or because you know you want to serve—but perhaps you’re serving in an area that doesn’t bring a lot of joy or satisfaction or fulfillment, even though you’re carrying out the task in an acceptable way. Some of us aren’t serving at all—not because you don’t want to serve, but you don’t know where to begin—you can’t quite figure out what you’d like to do, or what you might be good at doing. So, you’re playing it safe, and not doing anything—and also, not experiencing all of the benefits that you could be, if you were serving in your area of giftedness.
So maybe, at the beginning of this New Year, it’s time to do something about that.
This morning, you have 2 resources in your worship folders. One is a spiritual gifts inventory, that I want you to put aside for now: we'll talk about that in a few minutes. The other handout lists a number of spiritual gifts, along with the scriptural references. We're going to go through them on the screens, but I want you to have the list so that you can think about them as we're talking through them, and maybe put a checkmark or draw a circle around those that sound like you, or about someone you know.
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 (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
Apostleship (Ephesians 4:11-13; Acts 6:2-4; 2 Peter 3:2: 1 Thessalonians 2:6)
Is one who feels called or sent to preach or teach God’s word—it’s when you hunger to share God’s word with people who haven’t heard it before…these people may feel called to be missionaries (who don’t always serve in other countries, but are needed here, as well).
Assistance/Helps (Hebrews 6:10; Acts 24:23; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philippians 2:25-30)
One who works alongside others, often behind-the-scenes in their actions…working quietly and without public recognition.
Discernment of Spirits (1 John 4:1; Acts 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Acts 17:11)
One who is able to differentiate between good and evil…can be intuitive in recognizing people’s motives—can rely on their instincts. Need to temper this gift with mercy and compassion…(we can build up the community without tearing others down)
Evangelism (Acts 5:42; Luke 9:6; Acts 16:6-10; Acts 8:26-40)
Speaks comfortably about their faith—enjoy responding to people who have questions or concerns about faith and religion…
Exhortation (Acts 14:22; Acts 20:1-2; Acts 15:31-33; 2 Timothy 4:2)
One who encourages, intercedes for, and is an advocate for others. Can be done in a variety of ways…(personal relationships, music, writings, intercessory prayer)
They often have more faith in an individual than the individual has in themselves…
Faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 6:11; Acts 14:22; Matthew 9:2, 22)
Recognize God’s presence, and believe deeply even during times of great challenge…
Generosity (Luke 3:11; Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:8)
One who gives generously and joyfully and freely of their material wealth. They generally ask themselves—how much of God’s money do I keep? Rather than, how much of my money should I give to God?
Healing (Matthew 4:23; Luke 9:11; Acts 10:38; Acts 4:28-30)
People who have the divine ability to bring wholeness to others…physical, emotional or spiritual.
Interpretation of Tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14)
One who has the ability to translate the message of someone who speaks in tongues.
Leadership/Administration (1 Corinthians 12:28; Acts 6:1-7; Titus 1:5)
One who can organize and manage information, people, events, and resources to do ministry.
Can handle details, set priorities, accomplish goals…
Leading with Diligence/Leadership (Philippians 3:17-21; John 13:12-17; Hebrews 13:7, 17)
People who are visionary, and who can inspire others. Can build up a team…are called to be servant leaders, who do so by example in their own lives.
Mercy/Compassion (Matthew 9:36; Luke 10:30- 3:12-37; Colossians 15)
One who can feel and see the suffering of others…and respond with love and compassion.
Effecting of Miracles (John 2:11; 6:2; Acts 2:22; 8:6, 13; Hebrews 2:4)
The divine ability to perform miracles that testify to the truth of the Gospel… They’re able to get people’s attention and to motivate them to believe and to follow Christ’s message…
Pastor/Teacher (1 Peter 5:1-4; John 10:1-16; Jeremiah 3:15; 17:16; Ezekiel 34; Ephesians 4:11-16)
One who can guide, protect, and care for others as they grow spiritually…Enjoy working with others and nurturing them along the journey
Prophesy (Ephesians 4:11-13; Revelation 19:10; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 14:3)
One who can proclaim God’s truth, making it relevant to today’s situation, and envisioning how God might want things to change… May proclaim the consequences of not listening (Remember the prophets of the OT)
Teaching (Matthew 28:19-20; Colossians 1:28; James 3:1; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:7-11)
One who can understand and clearly explain God’s truth, helping people to apply that truth in their lives… They enjoy studying, reflecting, paying attention to detail…good communicators..
Tongues (Acts 2:11; 1 Corinthians 14)
Speaking God’s word in a language that no one else knows… It’s a sign to unbelievers, and builds up the body if there is an interpreter.
Utterance of Knowledge/Word of Knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; Jeremiah 3:15; Malachi 2:7, 2; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Romans 10:2-3)
The God-given ability to understand, organize and effectively use information to advance God’s purposes… Used for projects, ministries or teaching…
Utterance of Wisdom/Word of Wisdom (Colossians 1:9-12, 28; 2:3; 3:16; James 3:13)
The ability to apply God’s word in complex or contradictory or difficult situations. They can practically apply God’s truth to life situations…
Here are some things for us to remember as we consider our spiritual gifts:
- Gifts are given for the benefit of the body…not for individual use… They won’t be fully realized until they’re used.
- They bring an individual satisfaction and fulfillment when they’re used.
- It helps to distinguish the difference between a gift and a talent: They’re different. A gift is God-given—it goes beyond one’s individual abilities, but is God breathed. There’s no way that you could do it without God’s help. A talent is also something that is a part of who you are. Maybe something that someone identified in you years ago—and something that just gets better with practice and training. Both gifts and talents are significant and important and useful in building up the Body of Christ.
- It’s really not so much what our gifts or talents specifically are—but that we are obedient in using them…Obedience is the one “gift” that everyone gets a chance to practice. (Michael K Blanchard in A Common Thread (July 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 17)
Now, I'd like you to look at the second handout in your worship folder, entitled, "Discover Your Spiritual Gifts." This inventory took me about 20 minutes to complete. I'd like you to take it home with you, and sometime when you have a few minutes of quiet time at home, I'd like you to complete this inventory, and along with what we've just done, I'd like to you to think about and pray about how you use the gifts that God has given you and how you are, or how you might use them for building up the body of Christ.
Next Sunday, we'll have available for you the listing of those who are serving in the various committees and work areas of our church. If you're not serving, there are a variety of places where you can. If there's a task or ministry that you're interested in doing beyond what's listed in our directory, that's a good thing, too…I would love to talk to you about how and where you feel called to serve.
God gives us gifts…and we respond by offering those gifts back to the community to build up the Body of Christ. No gift is too small….insignificant…unneeded. When we each give what we have, the entire community is blessed...something beautiful is created.
Mike Yaconelli (a pastor, author, and the founder of Youth Specialties who died about 15 years ago), in his book, Messy Spirituality, tells of the way in which individual believers, who may think they are insignificant, are brought together in the body of Christ to create a magnificent work of art.
Morehead, Minnesota is the home of Concordia College, and it is located just across the state line from Fargo, North Dakota, a very bleak part of the country (especially during the winter). All year, the community looks forward to Concordia's annual Christmas concert. Each December, a huge choir and a full orchestra give a musical performance in the concert hall at the college.
Every year, the people in the community create a unique background for the concert—a one-hundred-by-thirty-foot mosaic. Beginning in the summer, about six months before the concert, the community designs a new mosaic, rents an empty building, and the painting begins. Thousands of people, from junior high schoolers to senior citizens, paint the mosaic. They paint by number on a large-scale design that has thousands of tiny pieces. Day after day, month after month, one little painted piece at a time, the picture on the mosaic gradually takes shape.
When everyone has finished painting, an artist goes over the entire creation, perfecting the final work of art. When the mosaic is completed, they place it behind the choir. It has the appearance of an enormous, beautiful stained-glass window. The weekend of the concert, those people who helped paint arrive early, along with their friends and neighbors. Throughout the building, you can hear people whispering, "See that little green spot below the camel's foot? I painted it."
Every year in the middle of the summer in Morehead, Minnesota, thousands of unknown, ordinary people paint a tiny insignificant tile. Six months later, the result is a spectacularly beautiful masterpiece.
Gifts offered…gifts used…and the community is blessed.
I have a niece named Melissa, who’s in her second year of college now, but every year at Christmastime, I remember when she was just a few years old, opening her presents under the tree. After she'd unwrap one she'd say: “Oh, I’ve always wanted one of these!” And then she’d open another, and say with such delight--“Oh, I just love this—it’s my favorite!” Each of the gifts that we gave her brought such joy and delight to this little girl, that I wished we had a whole closet full to offer her—
I can’t help but think that God, too, is delighted—absolutely delighted—to watch us open up and discover the gifts that we’ve been given…
May we recognize, celebrate, and make use of them…that our lives together will be even more blessed than they already are. Amen.