January 20, 2019
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
“The Wine that Jesus Brings”
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Our second reading this morning comes from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. I invite you to listen to God’s word for us:
Now concerning spiritual things, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand 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.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
This is the word of God.
For the last several months, Session has been hosting a first-Sunday potluck. I think these are great. Sometimes there is a program connected to the potluck: like learning about the people meeting migrants at the local bus station and participating in the creation of care packages for the travelers or, on the schedule in February, the annual congregational meeting. More often though, there is no program. I appreciate these laid-back opportunities to eat the delicious food that we have brought together, have fun conversations, and engage in community building. In some ways, these potlucks remind me of a wedding celebration; a time to relax after the service.
At the last brunch, I was sitting next to a person who started discussing the sermons – as we have had different people preaching these last few months. The person turned to me and asked, “Do you all compete to see who is the best preacher?” Before I could answer, they answered their own question, “Of course you don’t!” While having this conversation I thought of Paul’s words, the verses we heard this morning, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.”
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing to a congregation that is having some, as they say today, “issues.” In this community some people were still caught up in worldly rankings and factions: in a preceding verse we learn that the Corinthians were assigning allegiance to those who baptized them, “‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas’” (1:12). Paul responds, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” (1:13). The answer is, of course, “No!”
At the communion table there was also division, “For when the time comes to eat,” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11:21-22).
In addition to the divisions around baptism and communion, the Corinthians also seemed to be ranking themselves based on God’s gifts.
And this is what Paul is addressing in the verses of our epistle reading this morning. While there are different gifts, and Paul offers some examples: wisdom, knowledge, and healing (and we could add many more to this list: faithfulness, leadership, kindness, hospitality), Paul rejects the ranking of people in community based on their gifts. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are not gifts we have somehow earned, but all these gifts are like the love and grace of God, they are free gifts to an undeserving people. All these gifts, all that we have, are gifts from the God who loves us. What good news that is. And these gifts, Paul emphasizes, are given to each as the “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” They’re given for the common good. Not for any one person to boast – but for the benefit of all.
A few Sundays back, we ordained and installed new elders and deacons, and sometime in the future we will install a new pastor. What I think is so beautiful about our Book of Order, the constitution of the PC(U.S.A.), is that in the discussion of ordination and installation, we are reminded of Paul’s message that particular gifts do not elevate some people over others. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. . . . To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Our Foundations of Presbyterian polity, one part of our Book of Order, states, “This church shall be governed by presbyters, that is, ruling elders and teaching elders (also called ministers of the Word and Sacrament). Ruling elders are so named not because they ‘lord it over’ the congregation (Matt. 20:25), but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and guide in its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Ministers of the Word and Sacrament shall be committed in all their work to teaching the faith in word and in deed and equipping the people of God for their ministry and witness” (BOO 2017-19, F-3.0202).
Within our Reformed tradition we emphasize that ordination is not about status, as a now retired PMA theologian once wrote, “Ordination is certainly not about access to position, influence, and power in the church. Ordination is the church’s act of recognizing the movement of the Holy Spirit” (Small, “Ordination,” http://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/ministers/ordination/).
People are ordained to a function – not a status.
These functions that people are called to perform are sometimes difficult, thankless, and physically draining, and sometimes the functions are fun, rewarding, and emotionally nourishing. The people who have been, are, and will be on our Session are us. They are the people we worship with, pray with, cry with, and celebrate, as if at a big wedding in Cana, with. They are not appointed by a bishop, or elected by people we don’t know from another Presbyterian church, but they are elected from among us and by us because we see God’s gifts in them.
Here in our faith community at Crescent Hill Presbyterian, we have a strong desire to seek justice, a gift of the Spirit. Our English Language Learners classes are starting up again; we continue making and buying soup to support our connection to Guatemala; our congregation is committed to financially supporting organizations, like United Crescent Hill Ministries, that help those in need; we march in the streets, from Louisville to Frankfort, to Washington, D.C. to the borderlands. Sometimes we march in protest and sometimes in celebration but always filled with a bright hope for tomorrow.
Seven days a week we hear the message of the world, the enticing shine of idols that lead to nowhere, of idols that cannot speak to our true needs, but for at least an hour on Sundays, we are reminded of the star that shone bright over Bethlehem, reminded of the Word that does speak truth in the waters of baptism, the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and reminded of what the Lord requires of us.
For thirteen years or so here at CHPC, I’ve heard Advent sermons with a consistent theme, a counter-message to the loud drone of the idol of our time. In a nation where people are told, relentlessly told, that buying stuff brings joy, where we are told that buying stuff is a sign of patriotism, where we are told that people should be ranked based on what things they own, where people are told that opposition to such a cultural and economic system is un-American, we are reminded in the Scriptures read, in the water poured, in the bread eaten that we have a higher calling.
We are called to do justice, starting here in this place and in our whole lives. To acknowledge, understand, and change our own lives of privilege, and to challenge the racist, economic, militaristic system from which we benefit so greatly.
In his 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. called on people to, “ask questions about the whole society.” “Your whole structure must be changed. A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will ‘thingify’ them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.” “[T]he problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” (King, “Where Do We Go From Here?” 1967, https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/social-justice/where-do-we-go-from-here). A true “axis of evil.”
While, here in community, as we seek to examine and improve ourselves and the whole society, we are still a flawed people; we have, as they say today, “issues.” We will often fail at our attempts at justice and kindness and humility. Yet we return to the celebration, called by our faithful God, bringing our potluck of gifts into this community, continuing the work to which we are called – in and with a community where we have built, continue to nurture, and will build new friendships. Life in community is never perfect, but we are called to live in community, to listen to one another, to speak to one another, to care for one another.
The wine we bring to this community, to this wedding celebration that is our life together, may – will likely – run out at times: our ability to self-evaluate when fearful, our capacity for kindness when triggered, our energy to volunteer when exhausted, our striving for humility when angry – our wine is finite.
But fear not ye saints of the lord. . .while “there are varieties of activities. . . it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”
The wine that Jesus brings: God’s faithfulness.
The wine that Jesus brings: the varied gifts of the Spirit.
The wine that Jesus brings: the compassion that fails not.
The wine that Jesus brings: the liberation from sin.
The wine that Jesus brings: the call to each of us.
The wine that Jesus brings: the peace that endureth.
The wine that Jesus brings: the warm embrace of forgiveness.
The wine that Jesus brings: the promise of justice.
The wine that Jesus brings: the hope that keeps us marching on.
The wine that Jesus brings: the surprising grace of God.
The wine that Jesus brings – the wine that Jesus brings – will never, no never, no never run out!
I invite you to stand, in body or in spirit as you are able, turn to hymn 733 and join with me and sing what we believe: “We All Are One in Mission.”
Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
Preaching. Louisville, John Knox Press, 1997.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Excerpts from King’s speech ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ delivered at the
11th Annual SCLC Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967.” https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/social- justice/where-do-we-go-from-here
Sloyan, Gerard S. John. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.
Louisville, John Knox Press,1988.
Book of Order 2017-2019: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part II.
Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal.
The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version.