Spiritual Gifts Given

Heritage Presbyterian Church http://heritagepresbyterian.org

June 9, 2019
Day of Pentecost
Scripture readings – 1st Corinthians 12: 1-11 and Acts 2: 1-21

Every year, the Day of Pentecost rolls around 40 days after the triumph of Easter morning.  And every Day of Pentecost, the Christian churches dig out their best red decorations, attire, and paraments to add to the worship service.  And every Day of Pentecost, reformed preachers such as the Presbyterians struggle to make clear and easily-understandable sense of exactly what the Holy Spirit is.  This is a major task!

Trying to clearly understand the Holy Spirit is about as easy as trying to explain the US tax code.  We know how it works – sort of – and we can explain parts of it.  Yet ten different tax experts will give you ten different tax returns on the same information.

So perhaps the best we can do for now is to explore the various gifts of the Spirit that we heard about in the Scripture readings today.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he gives a pretty clear list of what those gifts are.  Recall what he said:

  • Wisdom spoken aloud
  • Knowledge spoken aloud
  • Faith
  • Healings
  • Miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discernment of spirits
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Interpretation of what is said in tongues

That’s a pretty clear list.  But what is also clear to most of us is that this list contains some intimidating gifts, and most of those gifts are not apparent in our own Christian lives.  Just about the only ones that most of us might be able to claim ON OCCASION are either wisdom or knowledge; the problem with these two is that to claim them is to also set yourself up to be seen as a fool by those who disagree with either your wisdom or your knowledge. 

“So…look who thinks he has the spiritual gift of wisdom!”

Or…

“You call that the gift of knowledge?  I read the complete opposite on the internet just last night.”

See what I mean?  You know it’s true.

At least we can all easily grasp the main points of that reading from Paul:

  1.  All gifts of the Spirit are from the Holy Spirit; they are not human-derived.
  2. All gifts – no matter how different they are from one another – are equally good and important in the work of God.
  3. In the one Spirit that all of us receive – whether we understand it or not – all of us are equal in God’s eyes.

That’s pretty important!

Next, we get that old familiar reading from the second chapter of Acts.  The Apostles are all gathered together, they hear the sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire appear above them, they all begin speaking and praising God in various languages, they rush out into the street, Jews from all over the Empire hear them and marvel at what they are hearing…

And, of course, there are a few in the crowd who sneer at the whole scene (there’s always a few in the crowd who sneer)…

This is also very intimidating to us.  Most of us don’t speak other languages, let along speak in tongues through the Holy Spirit.  We Presbyterians recognize and acknowledge that speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift – but the concept makes us very uneasy.  Doesn’t it?

And most of us are not as bold as the one Apostle who took on the whole crowd on Pentecost morning: our hero, Peter.  The same Peter who had been afraid to even acknowledge that he knew Jesus on Maundy Thursday is now standing in the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming his faith to a crowd of out-of-town strangers. The same Peter who was locked in the upper room with the other Apostles for fear of the people was now in the street, running around and probably shouting for joy in some odd, distant language.  The same Peter…was not the same… because of the Holy Spirit.

The whole scene in the second chapter of Acts is inspiring, but also a little intimidating.  The list from 1st Corinthians that most of us like is the one so often read at marriages: “Love is patient.  Love is kind.”  The other descriptions and lists of spiritual gifts and actions would seem to be something that passes most of us by.

But perhaps those are not the only gifts of the Spirit that are given.

What about the spiritual gift of tenderness?  Not everyone can be gentle and tender with others.  Far too many of us are more prone to tell others to “wipe your eyes, put on your big girl pants, and get going.”  Sometimes those in pain need someone to listen and just sit with them and be gentle…be tender.  I think that’s a spiritual gift.

What about the spiritual gift of understanding?  If you have ever been through something awful and survived it…and then you know of someone else who is going through the same thing that you survived, then you understand.  When a spouse passes away, who better to comfort you and understand your pain than someone who has also lost a spouse?  This church, at one time, has a support group called “Good Grief” that supported those who had lost their life partners.  From what I was told, it was a wonderful group of very understanding people.  They shared a gift of the Spirit, a gift that none of them wished to receive. 

Currently, we have a group called the “Support Group” that understands what it is like to be a care-giver for a loved one.  Who better to support and give comfort to those who care for others – than those who care for others?  I think this is a spiritual gift too.

And what about boldness?  What about courage?  I don’t mean recklessly running your mouth.  That’s not a gift at all.  I mean standing up to whatever situation scares you right down to your feet…but doing it anyway.  Risking looking like a fool, but proceeding anyway because that gift won’t let you just stand there and see trouble.  I think that’s a spiritual gift too.

I believe that Paul’s list of spiritual gifts is a little too short.  I think that hard-to-understand aspect of God – the Holy Spirit – is alive and working in the hearts and minds of believers everywhere.

But there remains one more problem: like all gifts, when we receive them, gifts of the Spirit won’t do much good…

if all we do is receive them…

and then we do nothing with those gifts.

What a colossal waste of God’s Holy Spirit!  To be given a gift and then not use it?  Who does that?

Can you imagine your best friend giving you a wonderful gift, a complete surprise, something you didn’t know was coming…

…and all you do is to put it away in the closet!  That’s not what you’re supposed to do with gifts!  Especially gifts that are given in love and trust.

Gifts like that are to be used and displayed proudly for all the world to see.  Gifts of the Spirit are even more precious, even more important, and so they should be used at every turn.

So today is a day to think about the Holy Spirit.

Today is a day to discover and ponder what spiritual gifts we are given.

Today is a day to remember all the Lord has done for us because of his love for us.

Today is a day to hold fast to our own understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

And today is a day to begin using our spiritual gifts to further the Kingdom of God.

Amen!