Just a few weeks ago, Bp Jennifer was at Emmanuel and laid hands on N. and N.. As she laid hands on each of them she said “Strengthen, O Lord, your servant N. with your Holy Spirit; empower her for your service; and sustain her all the days of her life. Amen.” (BCP p.419)
Last week we heard Luke’s version of the Baptism of Jesus and we heard John the Baptist calling the people to a conversion of life and baptism. We renewed our own baptismal vows. We vowed to turn from and resist evil and to live the life of a disciple of Christ.
Wednesday night, those of you who attended our mid-week Bible study heard Jesus teaching the crowd and further explaining to his disciples that it is not the rituals we go through but the condition of our heart us that is most important and defines us. Our actions are the result of what we feed our hearts, souls, spirits, that part of us that influences our actions and responses to the world around us.
Today we hear the beginning of a conversation between Paul and the church in Corinth concerning spiritual gifts. These are not four different topics or conversations. These are points on a line that connect us with God.
First, in today’s reading Paul says 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.
“Jesus is Lord” is the oldest creed of the Christian Church and I was curious who had called Jesus Lord in the gospels. Unfortunately, this is one of those words with multiple meanings. In the Old Testament the word adoni or Lord is used to translate YHWH the name God gave to Moses which translates roughly “I am” or “I cause to be” when Moses asked who he should tell Pharoah had sent him. YHWH is considered too holy to be spoken. But adoni is also the polite greeting for anyone who is of a higher social status than oneself. This practice continues in the New Testament with the Greek kurios. Many people called Jesus “Lord” when asking him for a favor, telling him ‘thank you’, or asking a question. Jesus even responds in both Matthew and Luke at one time asking people why they call him Lord if they do not follow God’s commands. (Matt 7:21-22, Luke 6:46). In contrast, after Thomas saw the scars in the hands of the risen Christ, he fell down on his knees and declared “My Lord, and my God.” (John 20:28) Thomas was using Lord as spoken in the creed, “Jesus is Lord.”
Paul is addressing a congregation that is being torn apart by internal descension while at the same time is probably threatened by external forces that deny Jesus’ lordship. Some members of this congregation had established a check list of proofs to demonstrate if someone had the gift of the Holy Spirit or not. Paul’s point is that those voices who curse Jesus cannot be following the Holy Spirit no matter what they do and those who profess with their lips that Jesus is Lord – not using the title to be polite, but who say it intending to hold allegiance to Jesus just as one would hold allegiance to a particular philosophic idea, or political party, or nation, etc. can only do so because they have been filled with the Holy Spirit even if they don’t exhibit the remarkable gifts, such as speaking in tongues, that some people were considering “signs” that the person was filled with the Spirit.
At Baptism the priest places the sign of the cross in chrism (oil blessed by the bishop for that purpose) on the forehead of the one who has just been baptized and says, “ N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.” All baptized Christians are gifted with the Holy Spirit, but we still have free will to follow the Spirit or to bind the Spirit within us. At Confirmation we make that public profession faith, we are claiming “Jesus is Lord” and the bishop calls upon the Spirit that is already within you to strengthen you for God’s work.
Part of our Baptismal Covenant says Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers ? and we respond, “I will with God’s help.” (BCP p. 305)
We continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship when we gather together to read and discuss God’s word. We do this on Sunday mornings to a certain extent, but that is pretty much a one way conversation. I do most of the talking. We do this to a greater extent when we participate in our various small groups, share our thoughts, our doubts, our hopes, our questions, and our epiphanies .
We participate in the breaking of the bread in two different ways. First when we gather in community at Eucharist or when someone takes communion to those unable to attend. This has been more difficult during COVID. Secondly, which again as been even more difficult during COVID, when we gather together and share food. Several of you have been participating in the Orange County Community Luncheon or helping with the LOVE Food Pantry. Both of these are ways we share food with the larger community.
The prayers we should be doing “without ceasing.” Luke and Paul make statements to this effect in four different books of the New Testament (Acts 12: 5, Rom. 1:9, 1 Thes. 2:13, 5:17, 2 Tim. 1:3) . We pray Sunday mornings as a group. Thomas Cranmer intended for the community to come together for Morning and Evening Prayer every day. While that is more difficult now, we can still say the same prayers together spiritually, if apart physically when we pray the daily office. And we can pray individually in many ways. I would encourage you to keep our diocese and parishes and diocesan/parish leaders in your regular intercessions.
Finally, we are all gifted with gifts of the Spirit, but we don’t all have the same gifts and that is a good thing. Paul talks about the body of Christ. Immediately following the passage we read today he states.
“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.” (1 Cor 12: 12-13)
He goes on to talk about the hand or the ear or the eye being different, yet equally important. We as a congregation are a microcosm of the larger body of Christ. We all have a role to play. We all have different skills, gifts, and experiences that make us better at some things than at others, but we all have something to give to the whole. It is my hope this coming year that we can help one another discover our gifts and provide opportunities for people to use them. There is a term that comes out of the business world, synergy, which means that the sum of our output when we work together is greater than the sum of our individual accomplishments when we work in isolation. When we come together as the body of Christ nothing is impossible.
What are your passions? What skills have you acquired through work, hobbies, etc.? How can you partner with others in the congregation to use your talents to the glory of God?
Your vestries will be meeting in February to discuss our mission, vision, priorities and to set some goals for us as a parish in the coming days and years. They are your representatives, but your voice is important. Please share your hopes and dreams with each other so together we can best utilize the gifts God has given us.