Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I wonder what first comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘church’?
For many people, it’s a building; when they say, ‘our church’, they’re referring to the building in which they meet for worship. Those buildings are often full of hallowed memories for people, especially if they’ve lived in the same place and gone to the same church all their lives. For them, the presence of God is somehow especially associated with these familiar places of worship.
For other people, it’s an institution. There used to be a saying, at least in England, that when a young man (it was always a young man in those days) decided to become a priest he was ‘going into the Church’. Never mind that, from a Christian point of view, it was faith and baptism that made you a member of the Church; these folks saw the Church as a great national organisation, comparable to the army or the civil service. If you decided to become a soldier you were joining the army; if you decided to become a priest you were joining the Church.
There’s a variation on this today when people say, ‘the Church should be getting involved in the community more’ or ‘the Church should be doing something about housing issues’, or ‘the Church should be feeding the hungry’. What many people mean by this is that ministers should be visibly involved in this. Never mind that three quarters of the members of the board of a particular charity might be members of Christian churches; never mind that ministers are trained in biblical exegesis and not housing policy – unless there’s someone with a clerical collar on the committee, some people will say that ‘the Church doesn’t care about these kinds of issues’ – by which they mean, the Church as an institution, as represented by its paid professional ministers.
So there’s the church as a building (preferably old and beautiful), and the church as an institution. A third common use of the term is the church as a community. This is usually a local thing; people talk about ‘my church’, meaning the particular congregation of which they’re a part. It’s especially important for it to be a welcoming community, a friendly community, a community that has lots of activities and programs to support people through the stresses and strains of their lives. At St. Margaret’s we try to give a lot of attention to this aspect of the church; we think it’s important for members of a church community to know each other and care for each other, and there’s no way we can do that without being willing to spend time together. We also try to make sure new people feel welcome and can easily find their way into this community of faith.
Well, there’s probably some truth in all three of these common ways of thinking of the church – the church as a building, as an institution, and as a community – but they all fall short of the image that Paul uses in our epistle for today when he talks about the church as a body. And not just as any body, either – as the body of Christ. What’s he trying to get at here?
Well, let’s remind ourselves first of the context. Paul is writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, a church that seems to have been full of the Holy Spirit, with many great strengths but also many problems and weaknesses. If you read through 1 Corinthians, you find exciting things about supernatural gifts – speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles and so on. It seems that Corinth wasn’t the sort of church where people get bored and fall asleep half way through the service – you never knew quite what was going to happen, and not all in a bad sense, either. People came together with a lively sense of expectation that they would meet God and see God do spectacular things.
But there were also weaknesses. In 1 Corinthians we read about sexual scandals, and about disagreements about whether you should eat meat offered to idols. We read about divisions in the church, with people splitting of into little cliques grouped around their favourite charismatic leader. We read about disruptions in the fellowship meals, with some people eating more than their fair share so that others had nothing. Paul is very concerned about these things. People seem to have lost their sense of purpose; they don’t know what church is about, and they’ve come to think that it’s all about me. I want to have an exciting time when I come to church; I want to have a thrill; I want to be able to speak in tongues or lay my hands on someone and heal them, so that I’ll be seen and noticed and people will admire me for being such a spiritual person. I doubt if anyone in Corinth would have expressed it as blatantly as all that, but when Paul scratched below the surface, that’s what he saw.
To address these issues Paul comes up with this image of the church as the body of Christ. It’s as if he’s saying to the Corinthian Christians, ‘You folks have forgotten what the purpose of the Church is. You need to ask yourselves why God needs a Church in the first place. What was in the mind of God when he looked out over the earth one day and said, “I know what that place needs – it needs the Church of Jesus Christ?” What did he have in mind that the Church should be and do?’
The answer is that Jesus needs a Body. When he walked the earth as one of us, he had a body, and he used that body to do God’s will and to love God and other people wherever he went. He used those legs to walk around and go to new places to share the good news and heal the sick. He used those hands to heal people and to touch the untouchables and no doubt to hug people who hadn’t been hugged in a long time. He used those ears to listen to what his Father was saying to him and to listen to the needs of the people he met. He used that mind and that voice to proclaim the gospel and to teach people how to live into the Kingdom of God. And ultimately he offered that body up as a sacrifice, allowing nails to be pounded through his wrists and feet and a spear to be thrust into his side, showing everyone that there was a price to be paid for doing God’s will, but if you were faithful to God, ultimately God would be faithful to you as well.
So Jesus’ mission during his three years on earth was very physical; without his body, he couldn’t have done it. But Jesus’ physical body is no longer on earth; he has ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father. So how is he going to heal the sick and touch the untouchable and hug the lonely and spread the good news and teach the ways of God to the people of the world?
The answer is that the Holy Spirit is gathering a new body for Jesus – a huge organism made up of hundreds and thousands and millions of limbs and organs and members – each of them a living, breathing human being. It’s you – you are the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul says, ‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’. When he says, ‘members’, a better translation of the Greek might be ‘limbs’. We aren’t ‘members’ of the body of Christ in the same sense that we are members of the Elks or of a political party. There is an organic connection between us Christians that isn’t present in any other human society.
What is that connection? Look at verses 12-13:
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.
What is the connection? The connection is the Holy Spirit. By the work of the Holy Spirit we have all been baptized into one Body, and we have all been given the same Holy Spirit to drink.
This is important, because this Body of Christ is actually a very diverse group. Paul names here two of the strongest social divisions he can think of in the world of his day – the division between Jews and Greeks, and the division between slaves and free. Many Jewish men prayed every morning thanking God that he had not made them Gentiles, and they called Gentiles ‘dogs’. Slaves were tools, not human beings like free people. But in the Body of Christ Jews and Greeks, slaves and free met together as equals, all loved by God, all saved by Christ, all filled with the Holy Spirit. And the same is true today. In our church we see people of different ethnic backgrounds; we see people with widely divergent political opinions; we see people of different ages and economic backgrounds; we see people with different theological opinions on many different subjects. But we have all been brought into this Body by the Holy Spirit and we have all been given the same Spirit to drink.
In other words, what we have in common is that the Holy Spirit is quenching our spiritual thirst. In John 7 Jesus says,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
And John adds the comment,
‘Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive’ (v.39).
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in that verse Jesus says, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”. If Jesus was taking about the Holy Spirit quenching our thirst, you’d have thought Jesus would talk about water flowing into us. But no – it’s as the Spirit flows out of us that our thirst is quenched. In other words, true Christian spirituality isn’t about ‘me, me, me’ – it’s not about me getting my spiritual needs met. Rather, it’s about me taking my place in the Body of Christ and using the spiritual gifts that God has given me to help Jesus in his mission to the world.
In this mission everyone is important and everyone has a place. Paul goes on and on at great length to drive this point home to us, riding his illustration of the body for all it’s worth. He says that just because a foot isn’t a hand, that doesn’t mean it’s not a member of the body, and just because an ear isn’t an eye, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a member of the body. If the whole body were an eye it would be in trouble when it comes time to listen to people! And if the whole body were an ear, it would be in trouble when it came time to smell your food! No – our bodies have many different types of limbs and organs – some are up front and some are hidden, some are beautiful and some look rather odd! But they all make up one body, and if one part suffers, the whole body suffers with it. It one part is honoured, they all rejoice together.
The church is like that. Look at Paul’s summary in verses 27-31:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Every member of the body of Christ is important; everyone has a role to play; everyone has been given a gift by God that they can use to help further the work of Christ. Some of those gifts are up front and obvious: preachers and teachers, musicians and worship leaders and so on. Others are less spectacular, but equally important: administrators, those with the gift of listening and caring for others, those who fix broken furnaces and build houses with Habitat for Humanity and so on. But all work together for one end – to build up the strength of the Body and to serve the world in the name of Jesus.
Paul’s church knew no distinction between clergy and laity. He knew nothing of the idea that only the minister could say grace at a potluck or pray for the sick. Indeed, he didn’t necessarily think that the person who was the preacher and teacher should also be the person who prayed for the sick. Maybe the preacher didn’t have the spiritual gift of healing – they are very different gifts and very different personalities. We do a great disservice to the work of the church when we expect that a paid, full-time minister will all the work. What inevitably happens in those situations is that the minister concentrates on the areas in which he or she is gifted, and the other areas get neglected. And that’s not unreasonable – generally speaking, we’re happier and more productive when we’re using the gifts God has given us, not the ones he hasn’t!
So, to use again an illustration I used last week, Paul doesn’t see the church as a school bus with a driver up front and a whole bunch of passengers. Rather, he sees it as a team, with a coach or coaches at work helping everyone to discover their gifts and use them to serve the church and the world in Jesus’ name.
So let me close by encouraging you to do two things.
First, remember what it is we have in common. Paul says that we have all been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was at work in our baptism, joining us to the Body of Christ and putting the life of Christ in us. But it doesn’t end there; Paul also says, ‘We’ve all been given the Holy Spirit to drink’. Baptism is once for all, but drinking is not – we need to drink again and again, or we’ll get thirsty again. And in the same way, none of this Body of Christ stuff will work unless each of us goes on and on being filled with the Holy Spirit. So pray every day, and keep on praying, that God will fill you with the Holy Spirit and quench your spiritual thirst. That’s the first thing.
Second, discover your spiritual gift. What’s your place in the Body? What is God challenging you to do in his work in the Church and in the world? Are you a talking person or a doing person? Are you a listener or a teacher? Do you have an artistic mind or an analytical mind? Are you a good musician or a good carpenter? Do you know how to be a friend to the friendless, or are you a thinker who loves to study the Bible and share what you’ve learned with others?
Every gift is vital. To have a healthy Church Jesus needs accountants and fix-it people; he needs Sunday School teachers and musicians; he needs people who can lead public prayer and preach and administer the sacraments; he needs visitors and counselors and people who just know how to be a shoulder to cry on. He needs people who can raise huge amounts of money to serve earthquake victims in Haiti, and he needs people who can get involved in the political process and try to change the unjust structures in society. He needs people who can share the gospel with others and help them become his followers. No one person has all these gifts. You will kill ministers if you expect them to fulfil all these roles. In the Bible, all Christians are seen as ministers, all willingly sharing their gifts so that God’s work can go forward.
In Philip Yancey’s very fine book Where is God When It Hurts? he points out that often the answer to that question is another question: ‘Where is the Church when it hurts?’ More to the point, where am I when it hurts? Where are you? Are we praying for the help of the Holy Spirit and then using the gifts and talents the Holy Spirit has given us to help others? Or are we neglecting our gifts, preferring to live for our own selfish ends rather than do the work of God?
Jesus needs a Body. We, his Church, are that Body. There is no other plan. So let’s joyfully take up the challenge, pray for the Holy Spirit’s help, and then move out in faith, using the gifts God has given to us to make a difference for Christ in the world.
Monday, January 25, 2010
February 7 - Epiphany 5 - Eucharist – Combined Coffee
Greeter/Sidespeople: C & M Aasen
Counter: C. Aasen/ D. Schindel
Reader: R. Betty
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-13, Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/L. Thompson
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: L. Thompson Luke 5:1-11
Altar Guild (Green): 9:00 J. Mill/10:30 T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin
Sunday School: M. Cromarty
Kitchen: - 9:45 am J. Mill/E. Gerber
February 14 – Epiphany 6 - Eucharist
Greeter/Sidespeople: E. & D. Mitty
Counter: E. Mitty/B. Rice
Reader: T. Cromarty
Readings: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/L. Thompson
Intercessor: D. MacNeill
Lay Reader: E. Gerber Luke 9:28-43
Altar Guild (Green): 9:00 M. Lobreau/10:30 L. Schindel
Prayer Team: K. Hughes/M. Chesterton
Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen
Sunday School: B. Rice
Kitchen: B. & L. Popp
February 21 – Lent 1 - Eucharist
Greeter/Sidespeople: D. & L. Schindel
Counter: T. Laffin/ D. Schindel
Reader: T. Wittkopf
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 9 1:1-2,9-16, Romans 10:8b-13
Lay Administrants: V. Haase/D. MacNeill
Intercessor: M. Rys
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill Luke 4:1-13
Altar Guild (Purple): 9:00 M. Woytkiw/10:30 L. Pyra
Prayer Team: E. Gerber/M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor: E. McDougall
Sunday School: P. Rayment
Kitchen: V. Haase
February 28 – Lent 2 – Morning Worship
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty
Counter: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty
Reader: V. Haase
Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: E. Gerber Luke 13:31-35
Altar Guild (Purple): 9:00 J. Mill/Worship
Nursery Supervisor: K. Hughes
Sunday School: C. Ripley
Kitchen: V. Haase
Sunday, January 24, 2010
C A L E N D A R
Monday, January 25th
Tim’s day off
Thursday, January 28th
7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café
2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house
Sunday, January 31st – Epiphany 4
9:00 am Eucharist
10:30 am Morning Worship with Sunday School
Hugo and Doreen Neufeld return to St. Margaret’s. 9.00 am: Hugo and Doreen will share their stories in the sermon spot. 10.30 am: We will have a relaxed informal service of singing and reading with opportunities to hear many more stories from their new book. No doubt Hugo and Doreen will bring copies of the book with them for sale after the service
I TE M S T O N O T E
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Lord and His Gifts
For many Anglicans, reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen is really like visiting a foreign country; it’s as if we got lost on the way to St. Margaret’s and wandered into a Pentecostal church instead! These chapters talk about supernatural gifts – speaking in tongues, prophecy, healings, miracles and so on – things that we tend to associate with more emotional and sensational forms of Christianity. We Anglicans don’t tend to ‘do’ this sort of thing; our favourite verse of the Bible is the one that says, ‘All things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40)!
Well, interestingly enough, that verse comes right at the end of these three chapters in 1 Corinthians, and so apparently Paul didn’t see any contradiction between using supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy and healing on the one hand, and doing everything decently and in order on the other. And so perhaps we need to get over our phobia about things that aren’t traditionally Anglican, and ask ourselves if there are gifts that God has given to other parts of the Christian family that we can learn from, just as there are things we have to teach other parts of the Christian family as well. So for the next couple of weeks, following our lectionary, we’re going to look at these three chapters and ask what they have to say to us about the life of our church today.
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves about the people Paul was writing to. Corinth was a city in ancient Greece, famous throughout the world for its sexual immorality. It was also a hot-bed for the Greek mystery religions. Those religions went in for spiritual experience in a big way; the people who participated in them were used to being moved by powerful supernatural forces. They might go into a trance, or experience a powerful emotion like ecstasy, or be transported out of the body, or carry out some other strange course of action. This sort of thing was regarded as normal in the mystery religions; not only that, it was the way you knew that you were encountering something real. If you didn’t experience any of this, then there wasn’t much point in being involved in that particular cult or religion.
But now these Corinthians have left all this behind. They’ve heard the good news of Jesus, they’ve believed it, and they’ve been baptized into Christ. As they stood at the waters of baptism they made the Christian confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’. They testified to their belief that by raising Jesus from the dead, God has made it clear to the whole world that Jesus alone is Lord of the universe. They used this word, ‘kyrios’ – ‘Lord’ – in full awareness of its significance. In the Roman world it was one of the titles of the emperor. In the Greek version of the Bible it was used commonly as a translation of ‘Yahweh’, the name of God. To say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, then, was to testify to your belief that in Jesus God has come to visit this world, and that he is supreme over all other gods, over the Roman emperor and any other civil authority, and over every possible cosmic principality and power.
What a huge change has happened in the lives of these people - to go from believing in the power of the mystery religions, or belief in the divine Caesar, Lord of the universe, to belief that there is only one God and Father of all, and only one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God’s anointed King! What could possibly bring about such a change? Paul is quite clear about this: ‘No one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit’ (v.3). Of course, he’s not talking about the casual use of that phrase; he’s talking about the decision to commit yourself to Jesus in baptism and to consciously accept his Lordship over the universe and over every part of your life. This is what the Holy Spirit does; he works in people’s hearts and minds, leading them to the place where they can accept that Jesus is Lord.
But how does Jesus exercise his Lordship in the world today? After all, we can’t see him, and he certainly doesn’t seem to be in control of the world in any political sense. Empires and kings and tyrants have continued to come and go down through the centuries since Jesus walked the earth; some of them have claimed to be Christian, but the things they’ve done in the name of Jesus certainly cause us to doubt whether they really know anything about him. So how can we claim that God has made Jesus the Lord of all, when the world doesn’t seem to submit to his Lordship in any tangible way?
It’s a fair question, and in answer we need to remember how Jesus exercised his Lordship when he walked the earth as one of us. He consciously chose to reject the political and military model, and chose the way of humble service instead. In John chapter 13 he gets up from the supper table and washes his disciples’ feet – the job the servant was supposed to do when people came in from walking on dusty roads. He then says to them,
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:12-14).
And in Mark’s gospel, when James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and his left when he came in his glory, Jesus says to his disciples,
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
So the New Testament holds up this paradox before us: God has exalted Jesus and made him the Lord of all, and yet he chooses to exercise that lordship, not by controlling the world, but by serving it. Apparently he is not interested in changing the world by political campaigning or military action or coercion of any kind. He is the servant king, and he calls his followers to follow his example.
So Jesus continues to exercise his lordship over the world by serving it. The difference is that today, unlike the days when he walked the earth, he serves the world through the members of his Church. It’s through his Church that Jesus is present in a physical and tangible way in the world today. Later on in chapter 12 Paul is going to use the illustration of a body; it’s as if Christ is the head, he says, and we are all limbs in his body. Each of us is a particular limb, with a particular job to do so that Jesus can continue to serve the world through us. No one among us has all the gifts necessary to do this job; no one of us can be Christ-like all by ourselves. Only a community can be Christ-like, because only a community can exercise all the gifts that Christ exercises.
And this is how Paul chooses to work his way into his discussion of spiritual gifts. The purpose of spiritual gifts is so that the members of the Body of Christ can serve each other and serve the world in the name of Jesus. It’s important to say this, because so often people exercise the gifts that God has given them, but they do it as a way of showing off and bringing glory to themselves. There’s a long history in the Christian church of musicians playing their music to their own glory and not to the glory of God. There’s a long history of preachers who want to make a name for themselves as great speakers rather than lifting up Jesus. There’s a long history of leaders in congregations who use their positions to throw their weight around and make sure everyone knows who’s really in charge here. And none of this comes from the Holy Spirit.
Look at verses 4-7:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
That’s the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: ‘the common good’. Jesus is building up his Body so that it can serve the world, and he does it by giving its members the gifts they need to serve one another and serve the world in his name.
What gifts? Well, Paul gives us a list of nine in verses 8-11. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, by the way – he gives another list at the end of chapter twelve, and another one in Romans chapter twelve, and while there’s some overlap there are some differences as well. So it’s not likely that he’s claiming there are only nine gifts of the Spirit – there are more, but he’s chosen a few to make a point.
Why has he chosen these nine? Well, it seems to me that he’s especially emphasizing here what we might call ‘supernatural’ gifts. Not all of his gift lists do that; some of them have a balance of the supernatural and the more ordinary. But the Corinthians seem to have been especially interested in supernatural gifts – they were sexy and exciting and all that – and Paul wants to point out how these gifts aren’t an end in themselves, but fit into Jesus’ plan to serve the world. That’s why he mentions them here.
So what have we got? He starts by talking about ‘a word of wisdom’ and ‘a word of knowledge’ (v.8). Sometimes people seem to know just the right thing to do in a given situation, or seem to have access to knowledge they couldn’t possibly have had by their own natural investigation; that’s the Holy Spirit at work. Rikk Watts, who teaches New Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, told a story about this at a conference I attended. He went to a healing service and went to the front at the end to be prayed for, and the person who was praying for him – who was a stranger to him – prayed through his whole life, mentioning details it would have been impossible for her to know in any natural way. This stuff happens, and sometimes it’s really amazing.
Paul goes on to mention special ‘faith’. We’re all called to have faith, of course, but some people seem to have it in a supernatural way; they can step out confidently, just knowing that God will be there to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that involves the next two things Paul mentions – healings and miracles. Modern western rationalism would like to dismiss these things as impossible, and of course there have always been charlatans and deceivers, but even today there are stories from around the world of God healing the sick and doing miraculous things, and I know some of you could tell a few of them yourselves.
Paul goes on to mention ‘prophecy’ – delivering a message from God to an individual or to a community. He talks about ‘the discernment of spirits’ – the ability to know when the Holy Spirit is at work and when it’s some other kind of spirit, one that we wouldn’t want to encourage at all. He ends by mentioning ‘various kinds of tongues’ – the ability to pray or to deliver a message from God in a language you don’t know – and ‘the interpretation of tongues’ – the ability to interpret what has been said by the person who was speaking in tongues so that everyone can understand it.
Almost all these things are related to the ministry of Jesus in a real way. We know from the gospels that Jesus healed the sick and performed miracles. We know that he sometimes knew things about people that he wouldn’t have been able to know under ordinary circumstances. We know that he ‘prophesied’, in the sense of delivering a message from God to the people. We know that he exercised great faith, speaking a word of healing in the absolute confidence that his Father would hear him and grant his request. We know that he exercised discernment of spirits, being able to detect when the powers of evil were at work in people’s lives.
Notice what Paul says about how these gifts are distributed: ‘to one’ is given through the Spirit a certain gift, ‘to another’ is given another gift by the same Spirit. This means that every Christian is a minister and every Christian has a gift to share. And this also means that some of our traditional Christian understandings about the role of priests and pastors are dead wrong. Paul does not expect that the leader or leaders of a congregation will be the only ones to exercise spiritual gifts. He doesn’t expect, for instance that the person who preaches will necessarily be the person who prays for the sick, or that the person who has supernatural wisdom will also be the person who has great faith. I myself know that God has given me the gift of preaching, but faith is difficult for me; I find it really scary to be in a situation where I have only God to depend upon, whereas some people, who have that spiritual gift, would revel in it!
Let’s close by facing the big question: where are these gifts today?
The answer is, they are still present in the Church of Jesus Christ, when the Holy Spirit leads his people to desire them and to exercise them. But because through the last three centuries or so the western Christian tradition has tended to emphasise the rational element of Christianity and neglect the emotional and the supernatural, we western Christians have found it harder to have the faith to exercise these gifts. We like to be in control; we like to know when the service is going to start and when it’s going to end, and we like to know what’s going to happen in between. We want God to touch our lives, but not in such a way as to make us late for our Sunday lunch!
But I would suggest to you that we do a great disservice to the mission of Jesus Christ by our neglect of these spiritual gifts. Paul seems to be suggesting to us here that this is one of the ways in which the Church is called to be Christ-like. Jesus healed the sick and did miracles and spoke words of prophecy and knew what he needed to know to be able to help people, and he did all of this by means of the Holy Spirit’s help. And the world needs the Church to be like Jesus here, as in so many other areas of its life.
In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul says, ‘Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts’. Let me finish by asking you to make that your prayer. Spiritual gifts aren’t about seeking thrills or causing sensations; they are ways of loving one another and loving the world that Jesus loves. So let us pray that God will help us to grow in love for one another, and also that he will give us the faith to exercise these spiritual gifts in such a way as to cause his kingdom to come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.
Monday, January 11, 2010
C A L E N D A R
Monday, January 11th
Monday, January 11th
Tim’s day off
Tuesday, January 12th
11:15 St. Joseph’s Eucharist
Thursday, January 14th
7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café
11:30 am Seniors Lunch at the church
2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house
Friday, January 15th
6:30 pm Potluck with travel stories and pictures at the church
Saturday, January 16th
10:00 am Moms’ group at the church
Sunday, January 17th – Epiphany 2
9:00 am Eucharist
10:30 am Eucharist with Sunday School
I TE M S T O N O T E
Rental Supervisors: We are still looking for one or two more people to be St. Margaret’s Rental supervisors. If you are interested in this job, please contact the church office by calling (780) 437-7231 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
January 15th, 2010 - Pot Luck Supper at the Church The theme for this supper is ‘travel stories/pictures’. Please sign up in the foyer
January 31st , 2010 – Hugo and Doreen Neufeld return to St. Margaret’s. 9.00 am: Hugo and Doreen will share their stories in the sermon spot. 10.30 am: We will have a relaxed informal service of singing and reading with opportunities to hear many more stories from their new book. No doubt Hugo and Doreen will bring copies of the book with them for sale after the services!
February 7th, 2010 – 9:45 am Let’s celebrate our children! St. Margaret’s is once again celebrating our new children. Please join us for combined coffee, and an exciting celebration.
Confirmation 2010 - Bishop Jane Alexander will be visiting St. Margaret’s for a service of confirmation on Sunday June 13th. Confirmation candidates usually go through a period of preparation in which they study the Christian faith and their own practice of it. For more information contact the church office by email email@example.com or by phone at (780) 437-7231.
Christian Basics Course: Four Thursday Evenings 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. starting on February 4th Our popular Christian Basics course is back again this winter. This is an introduction to basic Christianity designed for inquirers into the Christian faith, for new Christians wanting to learn more about their faith, for long-time believers wanting a refresher course in the basics, and for baptismal candidates and those bringing children for baptism. This course is required for all baptismal candidates, and adult confirmation candidates. For more information, contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-437-7231.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Baptized with the Holy Spirit
For some reason I was never a big fan of the character of Superman. I never read his comic book adventures when I was a boy, and I never went to see any of the Superman movies, even though they were very popular and got a lot of attention. But I know the story, of course – the story of how he was born on the planet Krypton and was rocketed to earth by his scientist father, minutes before Krypton was destroyed. On earth he was brought up as Clark Kent by a farming family, but as he grew up he was gradually seen to have what we would describe as supernatural powers. At a young age he decided to use those powers to benefit the whole of humanity, and the rest, as they say, is history – or, at least, comic-book history!
Superman can do amazing things because he’s not from earth and he’s not really one of us – he comes from ‘Another Place’. And I think a lot of people see Jesus in the same way. He comes among us as a human being, but he’s not really a human being – he’s the Son of God, a divine character. So it’s possible for him to do all sorts of things that we can’t do – he can work miracles, he can read people’s minds, he can live a perfect life without sin, and so on. In fact, he has an unfair advantage over us, and so he’s not actually very useful to us as an example, and all the biblical themes about the imitation of Christ aren’t really very helpful. How can we imitate Superman, when we weren’t born where he was born and we don’t have the same sort of nature as he does? And how can we imitate Jesus when he’s not a real human being with the same struggles as we have?
But the problem here isn’t with Jesus, it’s with our ideas about him. Real Christian theology stresses that when God decided to become one of us in Jesus, he wasn’t just play-acting. He took on a real human nature, with all of the limitations of that nature. For instance, he didn’t start out knowing all the stuff he was going to be taught in school; he had to grow and learn, just like other children. Luke emphasises this aspect of Jesus’ life; in chapter two of his gospel we read that ‘The child grew and became strong’ (v. 40) – in other words he didn’t start out strong, he grew strong with time, as other children do. And later on in the chapter we read that ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years’ (v.52). Once again, he didn’t start out perfectly wise – he increased in it as the years went by.
The story of the baptism of Jesus, which we read this morning, continues this theme. It’s interesting to me that when Luke tells the story he doesn’t actually give a lot of attention to Jesus’ baptism itself. In fact, he doesn’t tell the story of the baptism at all; he tells us what happened after the baptism. Look at Luke 3:21-22:
Now when all the people were baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.
Luke doesn’t seem to be all that interested in the fact that Jesus was baptized by John; he just mentions it in passing. What interests him is something different about Jesus’ baptism, something that happened only to him and to no one else around him: the fact that after he was baptized he received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Luke has in fact set us up for this. Earlier, in the first section of today’s gospel, he says that all sorts of people were asking whether John the Baptist was the long-promised Messiah, but John denied it, pointing out that there was a crucial difference between him and the Messiah who was still to come. Look at Luke 3:16:
John answered them all by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means to submerge, or fill, something. A ship that has sunk and is sitting on the bottom of the sea, surrounded and filled with water, has been ‘baptized’ in the literal sense of the Greek word. So what John is saying is, “Yes, I have the power to plunge you down under the water as a sign that you have repented of your sins, but the real Messiah will do something even more wonderful than that – he will plunge you into the Holy Spirit until you are completely immersed and filled with the Spirit’s power”.
But before Jesus can do this for us, he has to experience it for himself. And so after he has received John’s baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on him and fills him, and from that moment on he is completely dependant upon the power of the Holy Spirit. The next thing that happens is that he goes out into the desert for a time of testing, but it isn’t just his choice to go there and it isn’t just his own human resources that help him get through that time. Luke 4:1 says, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil’. And when the temptation is over, the Spirit continues to fill him and lead him. Luke 4:14 says, ‘Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee’.
Do you see the picture Luke is giving us here? It isn’t Jesus as Superman who can do amazing things because he comes from ‘Another Place’. It’s Jesus the first Christian, the model disciple, the truly human one who has come from God but who nevertheless needs the help of God to be able to do what he is called to do. So God sends the Holy Spirit to fill him and equip him, and because of the Holy Spirit he’s able to do what God asks of him on a daily basis.
And because of this, Jesus really is a useful model for us. He shares our human limitations and weaknesses, and so before he attempts to do anything for God, he first of all prays and is given the supernatural help he needs in order to do it. And this is where we must start in the Christian life. If Jesus is the model disciple, then we need to follow that model. If Jesus needs the power of the Holy Spirit, then so do we.
“Well, that’s all very well for Jesus”, you say, “but obviously God gave him the Holy Spirit because he was special, because he was the Son of God. How does that help me? I’m not the Son of God, so God isn’t going to give me the Spirit, is he?”
Ah, but he is! That’s exactly what Luke is saying here! Remember what we read at the beginning of the section, when John said about Jesus, “I baptize you with water, but… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v.16). This is the special characteristic of Jesus’ ministry: he is the one who takes his followers and plunges them into the Holy Spirit until they are completely filled and immersed in the Spirit’s power. In fact, the gospel of John goes so far as to tell us that during his lifetime Jesus didn’t actually baptize anyone in water, although he commanded his followers to do that. Human beings can baptize people in water, but there is only one person who can baptize someone in the Holy Spirit, and that’s the only baptism he administered to anyone.
Luke continues this story after the resurrection of Jesus. He says in Acts 1:4:
While staying with (the disciples), (the risen Jesus) ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This”, he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”.
And in verse 8 he goes on to tell them,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.
How was this promise fulfilled? Acts chapter two takes up the story:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).
The immediate effect of this experience is that they are able to do things they couldn’t do before. The same disciples who had deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane now go out boldly onto the streets of Jerusalem and announce to everyone that God has made Jesus the Lord and King. And the same Peter who denied three times that he even knew Jesus now stands up before the crowd and preaches such a powerful sermon that three thousand people decide to become Christians in one day.
The Book of Acts is thoroughly drenched in the experience of the Holy Spirit. If you took the Holy Spirit away from the Book of Acts you’d have nothing left; everything the early Christians did was totally dependant upon the Spirit’s power and the Spirit’s guidance. When they wanted to have an outreach event to share the gospel with the city, they didn’t plan an enormous advertising campaign and construct a careful strategy; no, they prayed that God would give them boldness to proclaim the message, and that he himself would stretch out his hand to perform signs and wonders in Jesus’ name, and this is how God answered their prayer:
When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).
In Acts 13 when the early Christians were planning new evangelistic work they didn’t have visioning meetings or hire specially trained evangelists; they fasted and prayed together, and while they were praying the Holy Spirit guided them:
While they were worshipping the Lord and praying, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).
And let’s be clear that this power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t only have to do with the proclamation of the gospel as we send out missionaries to foreign countries to tell people about Jesus. No, it also concerns our efforts to live the sort of life that Jesus asks of us. Paul tells us about this in Galatians. In chapter 5:16 he says, ‘Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh’, and then in verses 22-23 he goes on, ‘By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’. He calls these things, ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit who plants them like seeds in our lives, and it’s the Holy Spirit who helps them grow. It’s not a matter of gritting our teeth and trying to be like Superman by our own unaided strength. It’s a matter of being filled with the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus and who helps us to live as Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus did.
Is this for real? Does this sort of experience of the Holy Spirit still happen today? Well, let me tell you a story. In the 1950s God guided a young Pentecostal pastor named David Wilkerson to leave his church and move to inner city New York to do evangelistic work amongst the street gangs and drug addicts. Wilkerson simply shared the gospel with young people, helped them commit their lives to Jesus and experience the power of the Holy Spirit for themselves. He used the same language John and Jesus used – ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit” – to describe this experience. Some time after he began his work he was discussing what had been happening with a group of former addicts who had become Christians through his ministry. He asked them when they first began to experience freedom from their addiction. Over and over again, they replied, “It was when I was first baptized in the Holy Spirit. That was when I started to get free”.
So the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus also filled and strengthened the early Christians so that they could follow Jesus and do his work. And the same Holy Spirit who filled and strengthened the early Christians also changed the lives of a group of young drug addicts on the streets of New York in the 1950s. And that same Holy Spirit can also fill us and set us free. He can grow his fruit of love and joy and peace in our lives and he can help us do the work Jesus calls us to do.
Jesus told his early followers, “Don’t try to do this on your own; wait until you receive the gift my Father promised”. That’s a word for you and me. If you have never received a baptism with the Holy Spirit, then pray that Jesus would give you this gift, and don’t give up praying until you receive it. Jesus said,
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13).
So let’s ask him, and keep on asking, until we too receive the gift the Father promised.