Space-Eaters and Pew-Fillers

What is your gift? And how are you using it to serve God?

SCRIPTURE – I Corinthians 12:1-11

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you 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. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 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. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

SERMON
Space-Eaters and Pew-Fillers
I Corinthians 12:1-11
Jan. 17, 2010

I played basketball in high school. I didn’t play well, but I played. I couldn’t jump over a phone book, but what I lacked in leaping skills, I more than made up for with my bad shooting. The only thing I had going for me was that I was tall. So when the coach would send me into the game, he would say, “Kory, go stand under the basket.” I’d say, “What do you want me to do?” and he’d say, “Just eat space.”

I was a space-eater. It was my job to simply take up space near the basket so that opposing players couldn’t just waltz in and score two points. Occasionally I would make a basket or get a rebound, but I was mostly known as a space-eater. That might not be a bad skill as a basketball player, but it’s not a good thing for a Christian. As Paul tells us in our reading today, we were not put here on earth to eat space. We have each been given a gift that is to be used for a specific purpose in doing God’s work in this world.

The Corinthians needed to hear this message because they were starting to believe that there were starting to create a spiritual gift hierarchy, believing certain gifts were more valued than others. Some of the gifts the church members had were the kind that received more attention and notoriety, and some of the uppity folks in the Corinthian church were beginning to look down upon the people whose gifts weren’t as glamorous or sensational as theirs.

What Paul is fighting against in the Corinthian church is the human tendency to value individuality over community, something that’s run rampant in our culture. So many shows today send the message that some people’s gifts are more valued than others. Otherwise, wouldn’t all “American Idol” contestants be winners? No, some gifts are more valued than others. When we have contests to vote people off islands until only one survivor remains, convincing people that every single person has a contribution to make can be a steep order. Think about how doggedly our culture works against that.

This was captured for me in a serious of commercials a few years ago featuring Leon, a fictitious pro football player who was the epitome of individuality. In one commercial, after his team loses, a reporter asks for Leon’s reaction. He says, “Football is a team sport, so I’ve got to put the blame for the loss squarely on the shoulders of my supporting cast. I’ve been carrying these guys the whole season but I can’t do it all.”

The reporter follows up: “So your four fumbles weren’t a factor in the loss?” Leon replies, “Not if one of those other guys would have jumped on the ball. Leon can’t do everything.” The commercial ends with the reporter saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” and Leon says, “Yeah, there’s ain’t no ‘we’ either.”

What the Corinthians seem to have forgotten is the spiritual growth is a team sport. There’s no “I” in church, but “we” are in church and we are called by God to be the body of Christ together, sharing our gifts and honoring the gifts of others that have been given them by the Holy Spirit, regardless of how the world judges their worthiness. I wonder what Leon or the Corinthians would have said about the widow who offered her two coins or the person who only gave a cup of cold water. Such paltry gifts! And yet they both drew special attention from Jesus for their generosity.

The nature of our gifts is that some are going to be more visible than others. The gift of working miracles may draw more attention than the gift of cooking a fellowship dinner, although I would argue they are one in the same. The gift of administration may not be the most glamorous gift, but is no less important than the others. Paul is trying to help the Corinthians see that the church is more than just a collection of individuals. The church is a community with a variety of gifts, some more visible and some more behind the scenes, some big and some small, but all with a significant role to play in the church.

That reminds me of this story. There once was a boy who went to hear a famous speaker. The boy took a lunch with him in case he got hungry. While at this function, the speaker’s assistants realized that no one was in charge of getting refreshments for this large audience. So the assistant asked the boy if he could borrow his lunch. The assistant took the lunch – just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread – to the speaker, who miraculously multiplied that simple meal into a feast big enough to feed every person present, with doggie baskets left over.Do you know that boy’s name? Me either. But not only did his simple act feed 5,000 people, his story has been instrumental in bring millions of people to faith. When his gift was placed in Jesus’ hands and used for God’s service, it was multiplied exponentially. There’s no such thing as an insignificant ministry.

So how are going to live out Paul’s words here at Crestwood? Now that we have covenanted to use our gifts together, how are we going to make sure we honor God by using the gifts we’ve been given? I think we need to continue to pay attention to the emphasis behind this message. Not only is Paul stressing that we each have gifts and that each gift is important, but he is also lifting up the fact that although there are a wide a variety of gifts, we are united together by the Gift Gifter, God’s Holy Spirit.

Unity is an important word in understanding how we are going to live this out at Crestwood as we move into the future. Unity does not mean uniformity; God has brought us together through our diversity, not in spite of it. As one of your ministers, I bring certain gifts to the table, as do Colette, Cyd and Mike. None of the four of us have the exact same gifts. There will be things we do well and things we don’t do well. But thankfully, we don’t have to do everything. No one has all of the gifts, but no one has none of the gifts, either. That’s God’s way of insisting that we work together, and as we move forward, that’s what God is calling us to do.

In other words, we are called to do more than just fill pews and offering plates; we are called to plug into the community of faith. I remember the old times, before there was wireless internet. Can you remember that far back? To connect to the internet, you actually had to plug a phone line into your computer then dial into a network. It would make a bunch of funny electronic sounds, and in the meantime, you’re computer would say, “Connecting.” And finally, after what felt like hours, your computer would say, “Connected!” and the World Wide Web was at your fingertips.

Thankfully, God doesn’t rely on dial-up. In order for us to make the most of the gifts God has given us, we have to connect into a network and that network is the church. To give each individual a gift is only the beginning. When we are connected into the network and our gifts are linked together, then we truly become the body of Christ here on earth, ministering to this community and world in a powerful, life-changing way.

We’ve seen an example of this in the response to the tragedy in Haiti. If each of us tried to respond individually to that situation, very little work would get done. If each person or each church were on their own to get their donations or relief kits into the hands of the people who need them, it would be a hopeless situation. But when we connect into the network of compassionate, responsive believers and combine our gifts and resources, we are able to do so much more through organizations like Church World Service and Week of Compassion than we could ever do by ourselves. My gift isn’t working for Week of Compassion, but I thank God someone like Amy Gopp has that gift and is using it to serve God.

I think that point gets at the irony about the Corinthians’ situation. Their narcissistic approach to assessing spiritual gifts was that they were trying to focus on individuals, and yet when we connect into a network, we are freed up to be who God created us to be as persons. When I join together with a number of other gifted believers, I can use the gifts I was given without worrying about whether I’m doing enough or making a difference or standing out, because the importance of all of that fades away. As a part of God’s team, we are freed to be ourselves and we learn the truth that Paul expounds here, and that we are all dialed into God’s network.

We’ve got a lot of work to do together. That’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time here. And I’m pretty sure I can’t do it all and still remain sane and married. So that means we’re going to have to work together. I need your gifts. I need you as a partner in this worker, as a co-laborer for the kingdom. I don’t care what your gift is. We have refugees to resettle, Room in the Inn clients to serve, sports leagues to run, newsletters to mail, donations to count, shut-ins to visit, worship services to plan, classes to teach, tables and chairs to set up and put away, prayers to offer up. I can’t do that all by myself and even four ministers working together can’t do all that. We will need you.

We don’t light a candle to make the candle more comfortable; we light it so that it will do what it was created to do, so that it will give light. God didn’t give us the light of Jesus Christ so that we could spend the rest of our days eating space and filling pews; we’ve been given that light so that we can let it shine. Yes, we were saved by Christ’s service, but I believe we were also saved for Christ’s service. I have a gift and you have a gift. What’s going to happen when we start using our gifts together? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out.

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