What Really Matters?
1 Corinthians 12:1-6
I vividly remember talking with a friend at school when I was about 13 about the Holy Spirit. This friend explained to me the Holy Spirit was a source for great and dynamic worship. The Holy Spirit could make someone sway and clap, testify and speak in tongues, shake and even fall out. Now as a young United Methodist kid this was amazing to me. You see I didn’t know much about the Holy Spirit. Sure I knew it existed but don’t ask me to explain it. At least tradition calls God male and we know Jesus to be an actual human being from Nazareth. But the Holy Spirit-I had no idea.
Now please understand that I know wonderful faith communities where the attributes my friend described are real elements of vibrant worship where the Holy Spirit is real and active among them. But for me, at 13 years old, from a faith community that didn’t really talk about the Holy Spirit it was easy to begin to think the only way the Spirit worked was through dynamic worship and nothing else.
This morning we find ourselves in the midst of a discussion between Paul and the Corinthian people over the actual function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and the individual Christians. For the people of Corinth, they thought the purpose of the Holy Spirit was simply to inspire the gift of dynamic worship-the worship like at my friend’s church. The Greek word they attest to the work of the Spirit is kharisma. This is where we get the term for charisma and we can understand their interpretation of this type of gift by thinking of charismatic worship. In other words, the church in Corinth believed the work of the Spirit lie in the context of worship and was measured by the extent to which one could speak in tongues, among other charismatic traits. Even more simply, the church in Corinth understood the work of the Spirit to be limited to worship like I did when listening to my friend.
But Paul does something very interesting in the Greek translation. He uses their term but uses it in the plural charismata; a variety of gifts. You see, Paul is seeking to broaden their understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit by defining it beyond worship. Paul explains the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t just limited to worship. It isn’t just about feeling and intensity of emotion. It’s about all gifts and graces. It’s about being empowered for the work of the Kingdom of Godà something that is much greater than we are as individual people. All too often we take for granted the need for spiritual gifts when there is work to be done for the Kingdom of God.
Bishop John Taylor puts it this way:
I have known projects abandoned for lack of funds, but not for lack of gifts of the Spirit. Provided the human resources are adequate we take the spiritual resources for granted.
So if we recognize the Holy Spirit being the source of all gifts and graces we’re led to recognize two dangers of using these gifts in the life of the church. If the work of the Spirit is something individual only like we treat it in the context of worship then it has no outside reference point. Paul addresses this by reminding us that though there are a variety of very diverse gifts they are all empowered by the same Spirit. Further, if Paul tells us that all workings of the Spirit lead us to confess Jesus is Lord then that is our reference point as to how and why we use our gifts. These are gifts to be used to build the Kingdom of God. They are gifts not to make us famous or noteworthy, but rather they are gifts we use for the benefit of others. As Christians we are often guilty of being so caught up in how all of this is to be processed in our own hearts. We think the Christian life is to be lived in the personal realm of our own hearts. We “ask Jesus into our hearts.” We sing in the hymn “you ask my how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” All of this is fine but we can’t leave Jesus in our hearts. We are an extension of Jesus’ ministry and we are called to give ourselves to the world as we live a life worthy of the call of Jesus Christ. In other words, if we leave Jesus in our hearts then we can “talk the talk” but we aren’t too worried about “walking the walk.” And to live such a life we can’t hide within the safety of our own hearts when there is a world that so desperately needs witnesses to Christ.
In that same Spirit we have to guard from going too far the other way. If we have a tendency to hide Christ in the safety of our hearts then we can also risk the same misunderstanding if we get too caught up in the greater need of the world. We have all seen or been a part of church programs that simply fold because they feel the needs of the world are so much greater than we are able to meet. We have to be careful not to forget that which we may call little can be very, very large. We can’t forget that a simple glass of water, or a meal can help to transform the life of another. And not only that, but our seemingly small activities can also give us small glimpses into what the Kingdom of God really looks like. There is no such thing as a gift, or an offering, or a ministry too small. What we see as small, with the Holy Spirit for the service of other in the name of Jesus Christ can make for great outcomes.
The story is told: A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was “too crowded.”
“I can’t go to Sunday School,” she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.
Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kindhearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements.
As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red
purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read: “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.” For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building.
But the story does not end there…
A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a wealthy realtor who, in turn, offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to sell it to the little church for 57 cents.
Church members made large donations Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl’s gift had increased to $250,000.00–a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends. When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.
In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the
picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, “Acres of Diamonds.” You see, there is no such thing as a gift or grace, when given for the service of the world in the name of God that is too small.
The need of the world is indeed great. And we are given the formidable task of working to address such a need by helping to build the Kingdom of God right here. But take heart, that gift that seems small can be used. That glass of water will quench someone’s thirst if only for a day. That meal will feed a hungry belly if only for a day. That visit will lift someone’s spirit if only for a short time. God is at work in this world even if it sometimes seems to be in small increments. And God has trusted us, even us, to offer whatever we can that this world may know God more fully. It is daunting but we can do it. We can do that which is little because it can turn into that which is so much bigger than we expect. And this is what really matters!