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Sunday Message for 20 January 2019: “Spiritual Gifts”

A huge question prefaces today’s message: How do you strengthen your church?  The issue is critical because of the escalating numbers of people who check the survey box marked “other” or “none” when it comes to religious affiliation.  There are many ways to respond to the precipitous decline in Americans’ church participation.  A starting point involves peering within ourselves, to better understand what’s happening.  After all, if the people who are part of the church are unhealthy, then the church as a whole will likewise suffer.

One of the ways to revitalize the church amid a hostile and apathetic national culture is to focus on an individual believer’s spiritual gifts, which is one potential measure of a person’s spiritual health.  Therefore, today’s and next week’s lectionary selection from 1 Corinthians 12 are combined because they are vitally connected on this issue.  There’s much to discuss about spiritual gifts, which include discernment, teaching, preaching, prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, etc.  Some of the spiritual gifts involve miracles, such as curing the sick and predicting the future. Other gifts such as those of administration are lower-profile yet still vital for running an organization.

People are often reluctant to focus on spiritual gifts. Unfamiliarity, awkwardness, and worship style often interfere with a healthy treatment of spiritual gifts.  Despite the troubles, persistence is critical.  The continued existence of most churches depends upon finding a new way for a new day.  Spiritual gifts may for many churches represent a new way of personal empowerment, a path forward that can revitalize a declining congregation one person at a time.  Are you ready to possibly reinvent yourself and your church?

Paul’s Corinthians writing emphasizes the value of spiritual gifts. Paul uses an analogy to discuss spiritual gifts in relation to body parts, and how each arm, leg, or eye must work together toward optimum health for the whole of the person. Similarly, individuals contribute to church wholeness ensuring that their part in collective life is healthy and functional.  Paul considers the church to be a corporate entity, acting interdependently like an individual human yet also as a vital element within larger society. While a solitary person may stand individually before God, together a group of Christians form a church, which is then part of a larger collective such as a denomination or a religion.  People live and manage their lives as individuals yet as they come together they contribute to a greater good which reflects the sum of the parts.

Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts highlights the potential power that many Christians fail to realize.  A spiritually thriving church requires enthusiastic and energized members; apathy and casual neglect spell doom. There’s been a major problem using spiritual gifts as a means of empowerment due to controversy.  The problem boils down to fear and revulsion on one side and the peddling of an over hyped-version of spiritual gifts on the other side.  A better solution over either of these debilitating extremes involves incorporating spiritual gifts in a more loving yet disciplined manner, realizing that not everyone faces the same challenges or opportunities.  Not everyone will manifest the same gifts to the same degree.  With these caveats in mind, progress is possible.

A goal of spiritual gifts is to strengthen individuals and the larger church.  People who are encouraged to recognize, develop and share their gifts will contribute to a healthier church that can better minister in cultural storms.  There are some helpful instructional resources designed to assist people incorporate spiritual gifts into their life.  Yet there are so many interpretations that you must tread carefully through the jungle of information.  Realize that there is no one solution for how best to deal with spiritual gifts.  As a child of God, you have gifts or at least the potential for gifts, so understand that the main struggle may be in recognizing what you have while remaining open to what gifts you can strive for.

How does an individual function optimally within a larger whole, as when an organ contributes to the whole body or a solitary member contributes to the larger church?  The struggle to maintain cohesiveness amid individual differences exists whenever body organs or church people come together.  As to church, St. John is blessed with a healthy plurality of opinion, from conservative to progressive, and we have people of disparate age and abilities.  St. John is a body of individual believers, each invited to contribute to the health of the whole congregation.  In other churches, internal divisions may prevent the church from realizing organizational potential.  We are blessed to not have serious division in our church.  Because of this, God unleashes mighty favor and blessings.

Enjoying unity of purpose amid individual differences is challenging.  Churches struggling to discern a unifying vision encounter troubles when everyone seems to be going in a difference direction.  Diversity is a positive attribute in one sense but it can simultaneously undermine organizational cohesiveness.  In attempting to enable and encourage all voices there’s a risk of losing focus or of not moving in the same direction at the same time.  If people are scattered without a unified vision then it’s difficult for a church to make progress.

Spiritual gifts and the leadership required to manage them challenge even the best leaders.  Comparing spiritual gifts among people is tempting, and even more problematic is the issue of why some people seem gifted whereas others appear or feel gift-less. Perhaps it would be better if we substituted the words talentskill or ability for gift. Whatever you call it, some folks still feel short-changed.  Disturbing questions inevitably arise such as, “Are people without gifts being cursed, judged for their sins, or are simply not as righteous or as spiritually sensitive as others?” Another problem is that some people report feeling so pressured to possess a spiritual gift that they excruciatingly yearn for one, exhausting themselves in the search or deluding themselves into thinking they have something which they clearly do not possess.  Whatever the complications, it’s helpful to encourage the disheartened because they may possess gifts waiting to be unlocked and affirmed.

You and I are invited to recognize and develop gifts in renewing our church.  Hence, our task is to celebrate diversity while simultaneously leveraging individual strengths orchestrated toward a unified vision.  You are invited to draw closer to God, to unleash power, and to celebrate your contribution in advancing God’s love and truth.  I believe in and declare God’s blessings upon you. Together in 2019 you, I and all those in our faith family will do great things in the name of the Lord.

–Reverend Hoxey