A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on January 20, 2013.
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
I Corinthians 12:1-11
Congregational singing in years past likely sounded different than it does today. It was a time when there were no projectors or screens for graphics and the lyrics, and no amplification systems to fill the room with sound. Truthfully (please don’t be insulted), in those earlier days congregations may have sung better than they do now! Without the electronics, there was no soft singing, mumbling the words, holding the notes half-heartedly. If you sang, you sang with your hearts as if you meant what you were singing.
Take yourself back to those days and imagine sitting on a pew and perhaps singing the hymns of the church at that time. Imagine yourself as a little boy or a girl in the church where you find yourself sitting next to your father or mother or perhaps sitting some other adults on your pew. You sat with them and heard them sing a choral part and from that, you learned to sing along with them, listening closely to pick up the part they were singing.
The point of all of this is that most of us burned the songs into our souls by singing them over and over in our lifetime of singing in church. Some of you can only sing the song by singing your part from memory without even looking at the hymnbook. Remember Paul and Silas imprisoned in that dark prison cell? They began singing and all the prisoners could hear them. They sang those “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” from memory and the songs filled them with hope and comfort.
Roman Catholic priest W. Paul Jones wrote, “Each person is God’s love song, born of a divine imagination in love with infinite diversity.”
That’s a lovely thought, but I’m not sure the Christians in Corinth, to whom Paul was writing, would have bought it for a minute. This was over two thousand years ago mind you, but in its diversity, it was like many modern cities we know. The streets were filled with a true sample of the world: Asians, Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, male and female slaves and slave owners, gamblers, sailors and every other specimen of humanity one might imagine. It was true of the city and it was true of the church too. The inside of the church looked like the community itself. All that diversity was stretching the fabric of peace to the point of splitting.
A few years ago, Ari Goldman, a religion reporter for the New York Times, took a leave of absence and enrolled in the Harvard Divinity School for expanded studies. Being an Orthodox Jew, he had to expand his religious world to consider the existence of almost every different religious expression imaginable. He came to the conclusion The Harvard School of Divinity is the only place in the world that “has one of everything.” As one of the most liberal schools of theology anywhere, he’s right.
In this letter to the church at Corinth, Paul recognized the richness of the variety of gifts that exist in the church. Not everyone is alike nor were they ever intended to be.
Paul’s answer to dealing with congregational dissonance was not to try to slide dissonant notes together randomly creating a chaotic and confusing polytone. Rather he worked at spiritual harmony by trying to help the church resolve and modulate the dissonance by adding more notes, embellishing the music with a third and even a fourth note to the mix by adding more diversity, highlighting it and sounding them as strongly and hoping to eventually create a harmonic chord out of the mess. The church had to see that a certain dissonance could be refined by the seeing their diversity as a blessing not a curse.
Everyone here has been given the gift of their own note. It is a gift from God in the same way in which everything worthwhile in the church exists: namely, that the Lord distributes these gifts to us and expects us to take them and use them.
You have a gift. You are gifted for something in the church. The sampler list is outlined in Paul’s letter to those Corinthian believers.
One interpreter of this passage helped me understand how to identify my own giftedness by helping me articulate which of those listed really creates in me excitement about my spiritual life. That interpretation has helped me understand that the exercising of my spiritual gift creates joy within me.
In the church today, we’ve got to find ways to unleash our giftedness. We must recognize that the diversity of a God who has created the whole universe in all its splendor and lush diversity wants us to allow and to even bless the sharing of our gifts in the church.
The key to unlock the entire passage about spiritual gifts is held in verse 7. Do you see it? Paul reminds us that the manifestation is the assurance of the presence of the Lord among us. The manifestation is known as the “epiphany,” meaning the visible presence of the Lord. It’s the proof of the pudding that we are most certainly counted among the body of Christ. Literally, we are the visible form of Christ in the world today when we learn to identify our gifts and then begin to use them in the world. We demonstrate in the world the presence of Christ when we are busy using the giftedness that God has given us in the work of the Kingdom.
Did you hear that? It’s powerfully good news for all of us. It means that this church has the power to actuate the Good News in our community that our God is a God who loves and who can change lives. We can be a part of the movement of the Spirit by our finding ways to nurture and unleash the giftedness that exists in this one room today.
What you do with your gifts matters in the Kingdom. Your gift has been given in order that it is given away in service and gratitude. To squander the gift is to throw something God-given away as useless and cheap. While it may appear to be inconsequential or valueless, one will never know the value given it by the Spirit of God who gives such gifts.
Listen to the work of the Trinity in our passage today: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of workings, but the same God works in all of them in all persons.
I recently read of something that happened at a Special Olympics Meet in Seattle, Washington. Nine young people with varying physical and mental impairments lined up to participate in the 50 yard dash. At the sound of the starter’s gun, they were off, the thrill of participation and achievement pulsing in each young person’s heart. And there was the element of competition, too … maybe, each hoped he or she would be the winner!
But almost immediately, one of the contestants fell on the track, lay prone, and began to cry. And then a most amazing and wonderful thing happened: the other eight stopped, turned, and went back to where their fallen comrade lay. A girl with Down’s syndrome kissed the young boy saying, “There, that will make it better!” Then they all walked together to the finish line, arm in arm.
So accept your gifts, however glorious or mundane they may appear to be. Accept them as gifts from an imaginative God who appreciates diversity. Accept them as gifts that are meant to be shared both in the church and in the world. Accept them as evidences, or epiphanies, of the presence of God in our world. Accept them and let them flourish!
Sing your note; it’s the gift of God! Sing it loud; sing with confidence and assurance! Sing it and let it blend in with all the other notes that are sung, so that the beautiful music of God can be heard everywhere.
 W. Paul Jones, “Love as Intrinsic Living,” Weavings, Vol. XIII, No. 1, January/February, 1998, 34
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).