Saturday, June 20, 2009

Divine Diversity I Corinthians 12:7-13

I have to confess that I don’t like puzzles. I used to, but then came the summer of 1980. I was invited to join a friend, his family, and some other friends for a week at the beach. We would play at the beach all day, eat great seafood for dinner, and then head in for the evening. Someone brought a huge new puzzle with thousands upon thousands of pieces. We set a table up in the middle of the den and went to work. Each evening we would gather around the table and spend hours putting the giant puzzle together. After several evenings of solid labor the picture began to come together. On the final night we made the last push to finish our quest. And then it happened. With several small but significant holes left in the picture we ran out of puzzle pieces. We checked the box. We scrounged around on the floor. We checked every trash can. We looked everywhere. Apparently when the manufacturer sealed the box it was missing some strategic puzzles pieces. We stood around the giant puzzle and looked down on it. If memory serves me well, someone in the room speculated that some mean person on an assembly line may have pulled the pieces out as a mean joke. You would think that if thousands of pieces fit together perfectly it would be enough, but the beauty of the picture was forever flawed by the missing pieces.

In the book of Acts we read the story of the birth of the church in Corinth. It was a vital Roman colony along in the Greek isthmus. Paul poured 18 months into the birth of the church. He knew the folks that called this church family. He wrote to them trying to help them deal with some critical issues. A reoccurring theme in his letter to them was to remind them that they needed each other. He wanted them to remember that every piece – every person – and every gift - mattered. They struggled mightily with this issue. They fragmented over who had brought them to Christ – over where they fit in the social structure of the city – over their spirituality and their spiritual gifts.

It is amazing to think that some two thousand years later that many still are dealing with the same issues. Some boldly believe that their gifting and leadership are defining for the church. Some may think that their church tenure of economic status should command great respect. While still others quietly wonder if they make a difference - if they matter at all. Our church is blessed with a remarkable sense of unity and purpose, but even in our midst I imagine that there are some who sit beside you – and maybe even you – who wonder where they fit, how God might use them, and how they could make an impact in the world for God. This week in Experiencing God we will be looking at God’s Will and the Church. In the simplest of terms, I believe that God’s will for the church is to claim its divine diversity and act as one.

Look with me at I Corinthians, Chapter 12, verses 7 through 13. Paul starts with a defining statement in verse seven. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Before he begins the list of spiritual gifts he wants everyone in the room to be clear that the gifts are given for the good of everyone. He wants it clear that gifts of the Spirit were not given for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the whole church. With this on the table Paul pressed ahead.

We pick it back up at verse eight. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. This is not Paul’s definitive list of spiritual gifts. We hear other lists in the Book of Romans, in Ephesians, and even later in this same chapter. But this list is different. Its intention is to speak to the places where the Corinthians had faced the most issues and to the gifts that most profoundly impacted how they functioned as a community. Some of the gifts focused how they lived out their lives of faith as a community of faith. Some of the gifts were expressed in their worship together. Still others of the gifts were expressed in their witness to those around them. All of them were essential for the life and witness of the church.

This list was not for the Corinthians alone. Each of us has been given a specific gift or gifts for the ministry of the body. We often think of the word “ministry” in terms of those on a church staff…those in “ministry.” I bring you good news, while some have been set aside for full time ministry ”MINISTRY” belongs to each of one of us. You are a minister of the body of Christ! Each person’s ministry is different, each one called distinctly, and each one is commissioned by God! It means that your unique gifts are God given for the common good of the church and our witness in the world.

We pick our passage back up in verse eleven. 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. This echoes what they had heard from his letter only moments before. In the verses that precede our focal passage Paul wrote; 4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. These gifts, these acts of service, this way of working in the Kingdom begin at the hand of God. No one can take credit for the gifting they have been given. It is God given, at God’s discretion, for the good of the whole of the church. There should be no pride in the gift, only a sense of gratitude and an attitude of humility as we serve side-by-side.

I saw that lived out powerfully in the Friday night performance by the Kids Off Broadway kids. Some spoke; others sang; others supported the kids in set design or staging logistics. There were three distinct cultures and languages among the kids in the choir. It did not seem to matter. They were in this together. They spoke, they sang, they danced – and they touched us. In their diversity and in their simple gifting they led us in an evening of worship that pointed us toward Jesus. We experience this same kind community the first Sunday of each month when we come together in a diversity of gifting, culture, and language to worship God side-by-side. We witnessed this kind of blending of gifts when we served alongside of one another on a Saturday morning in McKinley Part in the heart of the Classen-Ten-Penn community. We claim it every time we set self aside long enough to worship together, to serve together, to work together.

We hear again from Paul in verses twelve and thirteen. 12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Paul’s vision is unity not unanimity It is not about all of us being alike, but rather celebrating the divine diversity of gifts, talents, and abilities that emerge from the hand of God. In a single sentence Paul addresses the boundaries of culture and status – and dashes both of them. Although we come from different homes and different lives, we are made one by the act of God. Although we are gifted in different ways, we are made essential to one another by the hand of God. The sum is really greater than total of its parts because God blends us together for the ministry God envisions for the church. God’s will for the church is for us to be one – leveraging our gifting to strengthen each other and to impact our world for God.

We are called to live out of our gifting…our God-given gifting…for this moment…for this time…for this community and the world. I still think about those missing pieces on that puzzle that I worked on over 29 years ago. I have to ask if the missing pieces for us to be the kind of church God intends us to be are sitting and wondering if they matter. Yes! You matter. Everyone one of you are essential. I am not concerned about whether you are a teenage or senior adult; whether you are male or female; whether you are rich or of simple means; or whether English or another is your first language. The critical questions if you are a part of this church family are “what gifting has God given you that are essential for the life and ministry of this church? And where are the places where you can leverage your gifts to strength the life and the witness of our church family?” We need you. We need each other. Viva la difference.

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