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Generosity – How?

June 1, 2017

1 Corinthians 12:  1-11

May 28, 2017

As I was preparing this week, I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury, entitled “A Sound of Thunder”.  Written in 1952, it’s about a hunter named Eckels who pays $10,000 to travel back in time 65 million years, to the late Crustacean period, in order to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

To minimize the impact of the T-Rex’s death, scouts have been sent back in time to identify and tag one that would die within minutes anyway.  Any alteration to the past could snowball into catastrophic changes in the future.  For example, one mouse accidentally killed eliminates all the future families of that mouse.  And also the future, future families of that mouse.  Which in turn eliminates the foxes.  For want of ten mice a fox starves.  For want of ten foxes a lion starves.  For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, and a myriad of other life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction.  Bradbury writes, “Fifty-nine million years later, a cave man, one of a dozen in the entire world, goes hunting a wild boar for food.  But you, friend, have stepped on all the wild boars in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So, the cave man starves. And with the cave man, an entire future nation.  From his loins, would have sprung ten sons.  From their loins one hundred sons, and onward.  Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life.”

To keep the hunters from touching the world of the past, a levitating path is provided.  Leaving it is forbidden.  But when the T-Rex approaches, Eckels loses his nerve.  He jumps from the path and bolts into the forest – leaving the guide to kill the T-Rex.  Furious, the guide orders Eckels to collect the bullets from the dead T-Rex and return to the time machine.  Upon his return to 2055, Eckels immediately notices a number of differences.  A different man is President.  Words are spelled differently.  People even sound different.  Looking at the mud on his boots, Eckels notices a crushed butterfly from the woods in the past.  Its death has set in motion as series of subtle events that have changed the present.

Bradbury’s point?  Small actions have large consequences (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder).  The accidental death of a butterfly can alter all of history.  Simple gestures on our part have a way of transforming the future.  We are going to talk about that this morning.  In particular, how our stewardship of God’s grace.  So, take your Bibles and turn with me to the New Testament letter of 1st Corinthians chapter 12.  We will read verse 1 – 11.

Paul is writing to 1st century Christians living in Asia Minor.  We know from studying Paul’s letter that the Corinthians are big into the Holy Spirit.  They prophesy.  They speak in tongues.  And yet their time together is also marked by conflict and pride.  And so Paul seeks to clarify what it means to have the Holy Spirit alive within us.  He wants the Corinthians to be able to recognize if God is at work in them, God’s spirit within them. Or if it’s just some bad pizza from the night before.  Let’s see what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gift of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to 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. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

So, two key teachings in Paul’s letter about the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  And the first is that the Holy Spirit always points to Christ.  Therefore, I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3

One day the mother of James and John kneels before Jesus and asks for a favor.  Grant that my two sons may sit at your right and at your left hand in your kingdom.  To sit at the right and left hand of the king was to sit in a place of honor.  Such close proximity meant that the king trusted you.  It signaled that the king had given you authority.  Sitting there meant that you would be treated with respect and deference.  It’s a request that does not make James and John popular with the rest of the disciples.  In response, Jesus calls his disciples over and makes it clear that humility and self-sacrifice are musts for following him “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).” 

The founding father of the Methodist movement was John Wesley.  He argued that self-denial is a fundamental requirement of following Jesus.  That if we don’t deny our own desire, we cannot follow Jesus.  If we are not moving away from all those things that don’t come from God, we are not following Jesus.  He points to Christ’s own word in Luke 9:23 – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  But because ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, our will has run contrary to God’s will.  Consequently, we are faced with a choice.  We either have to deny God’s will and walk in our own.  Or deny our own will and walk in His (see Wesley’s sermon on self-denial).  We can’t do both.  A day we don’t pick up the cross or day without the opportunity to deny ourselves is a wasted day.  Because it is a fundamental requirement for following Jesus.

According to Paul, this is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  He says that it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to set aside our own will and follow God’s will.  That it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to remove ourselves from the center of our focus.  And to put Christ in the center.  In short, that it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to turn to Jesus as Lord instead of ourselves.  “and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3

This means that when we encounter actions in ourselves and others that are focused upon self-promotion we can be confident that it is not the work of the Holy Spirit.  For example, in the church in Corinth certain gifts were thought to be more important than others.  And, evidently, this was resulting in pride in those who possessed them.  And disregard of those who didn’t.  Paul says that this clearly was not the work of the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit always points to Jesus.  And not to ourselves.  Likewise, when we hear teaching that emphasizes self-fulfillment we can be sure that it is not from the Holy Spirit.  In our culture, there is for example, the idea that financial wealth is always God’s will for us.  Or the linking of a national agenda with God’s desire.  These are not the work of the Holy Spirit.  Because they place us at the center.  And God’s Spirit always puts Christ as the center not us.

Second, the Holy Spirit never ends with us.  Verse 7 –  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

In 2010, Julia Roberts stared in the romantic comedy-drama Eat, Pray, Love (pic 3).  She plays Liz – a woman who has everything.  And yet, finds herself in a sort of a mid-life crisis.  Her marriage has lost its spark.  Her job is going nowhere.  And she is unsure of what she really wants in life.  So, she decides to set out on a journey of self-discovery.  Stepping out of her comfort zone, she heads to Italy where she discovers the true pleasure of indulging the senses.  Followed by time at an ashram in India, where she learns the power of prayer.  And finally, she heads to Indonesia where she encounters new and true love.

It’s the classic story of a spiritual quest.  But it is a quest that quickly wanders off the trail.  At least in terms of our Christian faith.  For one, Liz begins with self-indulgence.  And while our spiritual journey certainly involves our physical bodies, growth in spiritual maturity almost always starts with self-denial.  Jesus says, ‘deny yourself and follow me.”  St. Augustine for example, started where Liz did – lost and despairing.  But rather than making the fulfillment of his desires the point, he sought to let go of anything that had taken the place of God.  Things like money and pleasure and power.  So, that in time his desires were clarified and put in the right order (“Seeds of the Word”, by Robert Barron p. 22).  It was then that he was able to connect with God in a deeper way.  Liz begins in self-indulgence not self-denial.

After several months of chanting and meditation in India, Liz concludes that “God is in me, AS ME.”  She makes herself the focus.  She decides that she is at the center of life and crowns herself sovereign.  She chooses her own path.  She chooses her will over God’s will.  Which we have already said, is not the work of the Holy Spirit.  Ultimately, this sets her up for the end of the movie where she sails off into the sunset with her new love.  So, that her spiritual quest comes to an end with her.

Contrast that in 1 Peter 4:10 it says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  That is, the work of God’s Spirit is not designed to end with us.  God has given us gifts and graces and there is a purpose for that.  It is meant to be passed on and to strengthen them in faith and encourage them in Christ.  Thus, Paul writes in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”  Romans 1:11-12

We are to be stewards of God’s grace.  We are to take the gifts and abilities that God has put within us.  And use them for our master’s purpose – which is the greater good.  Specifically, we are to use them to help others keep strong in the faith.  And to support and encourage each other through the storms of life.

So, my challenge this week is to identify your spiritual SHAPE for ministry (pic 4).  SHAPE is an acrostic that spells out all the different ways God has equipped to serve others.  As Paul says in verse 4 there while there is one Lord and one Spirit, there are different kinds of gifts, and different kinds of service.  It is important that we identify ours.

S stands for SPIRITUAL GIFTS.  Every single one of us has them.  Now to each one the revealing of the Spirit is given for the common good.  In our passage Paul mentions wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers and prophecy.  There are several other lists in the New Testament.  And there are a number of on-line tests you can take to identify yours.

H is for HEART.  It stands for our motivations, our interests, the things that light our fire.  What gets you excited?  What bores you to tears?  The Bible says in Proverbs 4:23 that it is out of our heart that our good works flow.

How about our ABILITIES?  Maybe you are really good at numbers.  Or maybe, like me, you want to throw up at the mere mention of Math.  Perhaps you are good with words, or good with people, or good with animals.  Some of us have athletic ABILITY and some of us are totally uncoordinated.  Some have musical abilities and some of us are prison singers – always behind a few bars and never with the right key.

P is for PERSONALITIES.  When you go swimming do you like to plunge right in?  Or do you like to test the waters first?  When playing a game do you play for high stakes or do you like to play for pennies?  Would you say you love to be organized or that organization cramps your style?   God has created us with unique PERSONALITIES.  Some of us with very unique personalities.  In I Corinthians 12:6 it says – “God works through different people in different ways.”

Finally, EXPERIENCES.  Vocational experiences – jobs we have had in the past.  Educational experiences – things we’ve learned through schools and seminars.  Spiritual experiences – things at church, camp, retreats, conferences, podcasts, and other people.  God even uses our painful experiences.  The truth is God never wastes a hurt and often builds our greatest ministry out of our tragedy, failure, and mistakes.  Take time this week to learn your spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personalities and experiences.  One of the unique ways God has shaped you.

There was a time when I thought being called by God involved a larger than life event.  That you would be walking down the street and out of the blue you would be zapped by God!  And if you survived, you were called! It turns out that the way God call our ministry is through our SHAPE.  Through those unique experiences, personalities, and abilities that God has given you. And I used to think that being called only happened to certain people like the apostle Paul or missionaries and nuns.  But what I have learned is that every Christian is called.  Paul says the spirit distributes to each as He wishes.  In fact, the Bible says that my call to salvation and my call to service are identical.  The moment I sign up and say – God, I recognize I have needs that I cannot fill myself.  And only you can address them.  I want you to be Lord of my life!  I am also in essence saying Lord; I am willing to serve you with all my being.  I am going to take these gifts and use them for your will.  Part and parcel of being a Christian is heeding the call to serve.  They are not two separate things.

I ask you, what spiritual gifts has God placed in your life? What abilities has God given you?  What experiences can you use to strengthen another in Christ? What would keep you from using your SHAPE? What would stop you from being a steward of God’s grace?  The Holy Spirit always calls us on to Christ.

Here is the Good News is small actions have large consequences – if the death of a butterfly can alter the future millions of years later.  How much more can our stewardship of grace transform the world we live in?  I am going to use my SHAPE, I am going to encourage others, I am going to be a good steward of God’s grace.

How about you?  How about you?

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