Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 31, 2020
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 Commentary
God’s adopted sons and daughters profess that the Holy Spirit graciously gives us a relationship not only with Jesus Christ, but also with other Christians. The Spirit whose Pentecost Christians celebrate on this Sunday links us not only to Christ our brother, but also our adopted brothers and sisters in Christ.
God’s people generally like being related to Christ. Through him, after all, we receive the gifts and eternal life. On top of that, his adopted brothers and sisters don’t have to deal with our Elder Brother face to face. So he doesn’t get on our nerves by doing things like hanging around too long or offending us.
God’s adopted family members can’t always, however, make the same claim about our Christian brothers and sisters. They, after all, are with us almost always and everywhere. While our siblings in Christ are often a source of blessing and encouragement, they also sometimes annoy, disappoint and anger us.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, 1 Corinthians 12’s proclaimers might point out that while we generally like the privileges that come with being a Christian, we don’t always enjoy its obligations. Jesus’ followers sometimes appreciate the gift of being a Christian more than its responsibilities.
When the Holy Spirit unites Jesus’ followers with Jesus Christ, the Spirit doesn’t make us solitary Christians. There are no “only children” in God’s family. The Spirit makes us one with Christ’s body and its individual members. As a result, the Spirit makes God’s dearly beloved people, in one sense, responsible to and for each other.
The Holy Spirit gives to God’s adopted children Christ and all his blessings, in other words, not just for our sakes, but also for the sake of the people around us. So we serve the Lord by, among other things, serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We try to care for the various parts of our physical bodies. Because I have cancer, I take medicine to control it. When our son broke his wrist, doctors put a cast on it to protect it. People who are overweight do what we can to lose weight.
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson reminds its proclaimers and hearers that God calls us to extend our care for our physical bodies to our care for Christ’s body. Jesus’ followers want to care as much for the body that is Christ’s Church as we do our own bodies.
Yet even those God adopts into God’s family are naturally sinful people whose own welfare naturally obsesses us. So we sometimes view showing concern about other members of Christ’s body as a burden. What God’s people will gladly do in the new creation we now view as a command.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, God challenges Christians to care for each other. After all, Christ’s body doesn’t just include the people for whom its members naturally care and whom we generally like.
The Church also includes Christians who sometimes frustrate, anger or hurt us. In fact, God repeatedly challenges God’s adopted sons and daughters to love and treat even Christians whom we don’t like as God loves and treats us.
Of course, Jesus’ followers recognize how much we actively sin against each other. Yet we naturally overlook how easily we also fail to do each other good. Perhaps that’s because Christians don’t always consider the sin of neglect to be as serious as, for instance, breaking one of the commandments.
Our consciences sometimes quickly and unmistakably remind us when we’ve done something God doesn’t want us to do. Yet God’s dearly beloved people don’t always listen to them when we fail to do what God calls us to do.
However, God’s dearly beloved people profess that the sin of what we once called “omission” is fully as serious as what we called sins of “commission.” God takes very seriously our failure to use what verse 7 calls “manifestations of the Spirit … for the common good.”
Each time I help our church’s food pantry feed our hungry neighbors, I proudly remember the sheep and the goats’ parable’s commendation of those who feed the hungry. I more readily forget, however, Jesus’ condemnation of sins of omission.
Some of those the King scolds, after all, ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” After all, if we knew Jesus was in the hospital or a homeless shelter, we’d rush to help him.
“The King will reply,” Jesus answers. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” What, in other words, we fail to do for society’s most vulnerable members, we fail to do for Jesus himself. Such neglect is a failure to lovingly share some of the gifts Christ lived, died and rose again to share with us.
Of course, the gifts Paul mentions in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson don’t necessarily refer to financial gifts. They refer to all of the abilities that God has given God’s adopted family members for God’s glory and each other’s benefit.
So, for instance, Paul refers to talents for wisdom, healing and even speaking in tongues. He implies that, for example, even the person who is materially poor who is bound to her home can exercise the manifestation of the Spirit that is prayer for the creation and its creatures, including people. While the exercise of that gift may not seem like much, it’s at least arguably the greatest gift we can give each other.
Of course, it’s easiest for me to recognize when you aren’t using your gifts and talents for the “common good” than when I’m failing to do so. Perhaps that’s why Paul challenges Jesus’ followers to examine ourselves. We relentlessly ask ourselves not only what gifts God has given us, but also how we can use them.
Christians then use those talents the Spirit has given us not only for each other’s spiritual welfare, but also for their physical well-being. Jesus, after all, didn’t just feed the crowds the bread of life that is salvation. He also fed hungry people bread that they could eat and from which they could draw nourishment.
Of course, some Christians concentrate on peoples’ physical well-being, focusing on what they can “use.” By doing so, however, we basically treat each other like animals that only need food and drink.
Other Christians, however, focus on others’ spiritual well-being. They only worry about peoples’ “souls.” Yet by doing so we ignore the fact that God created us not only with souls, but also with bodies that God will raise to reunite with our souls when Jesus returns.
The Bible suggests that the manifestations of the Spirit that is care for peoples’ material well-being is especially focused on people who are poor. In fact it at least suggests that it’s no less sinful to fail to care for people’s physical needs than it is to neglect preaching the gospel or discipling people.
So God’s people bring our offerings to the Lord, not just for the work of the church, but also for our care for the poor. In our daily lives we also look for ways to support kingdom causes that minister in Jesus’ name to needy people. On top of all that, we also look for ways to minister to needy people ourselves.
However, Christians also share our spiritual gifts with each other when we show loving concern for each other’s spiritual well-being. We don’t just talk to others about our concerns for peoples’ spiritual health. Jesus’ followers also lovingly and prayerfully speak to those we know who seem to be spiritually wandering or endangering themselves.
God has, after all, given God’s beloved people rich spiritual treasures not only of salvation and eternal life, but also of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t, however, give us those gifts so that we can hoard them. God graces us those wonderful gifts so that can, in turn, share them with each other, encouraging and praying for each other.
That sharing, in some ways, begins in families. That sharing begins within relationships that are founded, both in our families and friendships, in the Lord. Yet Jesus’ followers don’t only share our gifts with our believing friends and family members.
God also challenge us to share them with Christians with whom we have some kind of contact. Some of those Christians don’t deserve our gifts and talents. But we remember that those the Spirit gifts didn’t deserve those talents either.
So those whom the Spirit has so gifted don’t just share our talents with people we like or those who are easy to be around. Jesus’ followers perhaps especially find ways to share what we have with those who bother or disappoint us.
However, this sometimes requires the kind of attentiveness our busy and often distracted culture doesn’t always cultivate. The people who are hurting in our own church communities, for instance, don’t always publish their misery.
So those who are eager to share their gifts for the common good find ways to contact such people outside of the church setting. Christians find ways to swallow our annoyances with needy Christians in order to minister to and with them in Jesus’ name.
However, God’s adopted sons and daughters also remember that there are also spiritual gifts that we can use for the salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. So Christians pray for family members and friends who haven’t yet faithfully received God’s grace.
Jesus’ followers also pray for missionaries who proclaim the gospel on our behalf. What’s more, we find ways to share our faith with those we know who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. The ultimate good people can experience is, after all, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as their Brother, Lord and Savior.
Since it is, frankly, not easy to recognize how 1 Corinthians 12’s specific “manifestations of the Spirit” might be applied to the current pandemic, those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson may need to be a bit creative. In fact, rather than stretching it to fit this crisis, its proclaimers might want to draw on other lists of spiritual gifts such as those found in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4.
Not everyone’s conception of the manifestations of the Spirit is for the common good.
In a 1983 article in Context magazine, Martin E. Marty quotes an article in Sports Illustrated about the retired professional boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard. It relates how Leonard told an audience at Harvard University: “I consider myself blessed. I consider you blessed. We’ve all been blessed with God-given talents. Mine just happens to be beatin’ people up.”
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