We’re Different Folks

Delivered January 21, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
I Corinthians 12:1-11
and Isaiah 62:1-5

Now let us turn to 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12, the first 11 verses. I will be reading from the New Revised Standard Version. I know you have the Revised Standard Version and I know you have the New International Version at least in the pews and some of you may even have the New Revised Standard Version, I am a little partial to that because of some translation differences. So listen to 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12, verses 1 through 11, and God’s word into your heart.

Now concerning spiritual gifts brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts with the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services with 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. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All of these are activated by one and the same Spirit who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. God give us his understanding into his holy word.

This is the best way to start a sermon and may not be the best PR for Central Church, but may I tell you about a low point of Central Presbyterian’s history, at least as far as I am concerned. It was in the early 80’s and I was in charge of the college age ministry at the time, some of you may remember this first hand, if you were here then, and of that age. There was a very disturbing disunity among the students and folks that came to that ministry, and it centered around the activity of God’s Spirit and also somewhat around the whole theology of good and evil. As it happens in a number of those types of cases, it didn’t end with a party. It ended with a party spirit and with schism. It took some of the wind out of my sails, when it came to church. Have you ever been part of that kind of experience? Have you ever, in other places and times, ever experienced that sense of disunity among brothers and sisters in Christ? No matter what the content issue is, whether it’s spiritual gifts or carpet color, facetious as that may be, it is no fun. Our text today tells us one thing for certain, that division among the ranks of God’s people is not new. It’s been going on the thousands of years. In fact, I believe that one of the evidences for God’s reality in this world is that the church still exists. I think if the church was not put together by the Spirit, we would have phased out a long time ago.

Paul was dealing with the problems of Corinth. And as Chapter 12 begins he is dealing with a profound question. What type of activity is the fingerprint of God’s spirit and what ?

MISSING WORDS – TURNING TAPE OVER

When it comes to God’s Spirit, what is genuine and what is hype? We would all like to think that we’re being led by God’s Spirit in our worship, and we know that there are various forms of worship expression and experience. Do worshiper’s who have a more exuberant style of worship demonstrate the Spirit more than those who prefer a more subdued approach? I think we would all agree, exuberance can be authentic or it can be shallow. And quiet worship can be real or it can be dead. The Corinthians interestingly enough didn’t think Paul was very spiritual at all. And so lets look at how Paul responded to all of this in this text that we looked at today.

That’s what he is starting to answer in 1st Corinthians 12, what marks the genuine exhibition of the presence of God’s Spirit? And he starts in verses 1 through 3. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, concerning spirituality, it’s almost like one word in Greek, brothers and sisters I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were enticed and led astray idols that could not speak. He starts to connect their previous experience of worship before they were Christians and their experience now that they are Christians. He says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God could ever say ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’, and no one says ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit”. Paul contrasts their pagan experience in an effort to correct something. They had elevated one gift, one gift above all the others, and that was speaking in tongues. And so much so that they were insensitive in public worship, they were insensitive to the people who had come to worship around them and who could not understand. Paul desired intelligibility and order in worship because that was what built worshipers up. And through these verses he eludes to their pagan ways of inspiration. Their ecstatic utterances. History shows that ecstatic utterance and glossalgia and all of that was part of many different cultures, it wasn’t just a Christian expression. And of course it was a very different expression than the pagan experience when the Spirit was really in control. And what he is trying to say is, no one who is led by the Spirit is going to be so out of it that they don’t know what they are saying, so much so that the unthinkable could occur. That in the midst of all the ecstatic expression somebody could actually say, “Jesus is cursed”, and they wouldn’t even know it.

Paul wanted intelligibility and order. He wanted clarity. He argued clarity in the Corinthian church. One time a pastor was taking a whole new venture into his ministry and he said you know this week I am going to let the Spirit lead, I’m just going to wait on the Spirit the whole week, I going to give myself over to the Spirit and I’m going to believe that the Spirit will give me the words that I need to say in church this Sunday. Well, all week he is waiting on the Spirit, nothing came, no voice, by faith he enters the pulpit on Sunday morning fully believing he is going to hear the voice of the Spirit and finally he did. He heard the Spirit’s voice clearly in his mind. The Spirit said to him, “You should have studied.” Paul doesn’t want just free wheeling expressions, he wants clarity and order and so I ask you inspired expression, inspired utterance, in of itself, may or may not be evidence of the Spirit. Dancing in the aisles and waving arms, that may be evidence that the Spirit is working and it may not be. But the core nature of any expression is this and this is where he drives his point home, in verses 3. He says, “No one can say Jesus isLord, except by the Holy Spirit.” There is this core thought that the central motive of any expression of worship should be to magnify Jesus Christ as Lord. To lift him up, because that’s what the Spirit does when the Spirit is working amongst us. It’s not just mouthing the words, Jesus is Lord, and we have to understand the first century context. If a person said somebody was Lord in the first century, it meant they were giving their complete allegiance to that person, like saying, “Cesar is Lord”, or some other deity is Lord. And so to say “Jesus is Lord” in that culture and in that context would be to put themselves on the line, that everything they had and everything they were was Christ. And he was basically saying that in that context nobody could say that, nobody could have that kind of commitment unless the Spirit is at work in that person’s heart.

Rich and poor, slave and free, educated and uneducated, they all became one around that common phrase “Jesus is Lord”. The presence of the Spirit and the power and the gifts of the Spirit, led God’s people to think that the Spirit always comes in power and gifts. But Paul saying no, that’s not the case. The ultimate criteria of the Spirit’s work is what is going on in our heart when it comes to Jesus. Is Jesus Lord, and are we seeing him in greater and greater ways, or are we not? If he’s not increasing and we’re not decreasing than it may not be the work of the Spirit. When even expressiveness is going on in worship, when one is truly touched by the Spirit they will see Jesus in more clear ways in newer light. John was on the ___missing_words___ in Revelation, Chapter 1. And he said that he was in the Spirit on a Sunday morning, he was in the Spirit on the first day of the week, now remember he was the same man who sat at the supper with Jesus, who saw Jesus resurrected from the dead, and ate breakfast with him on the beach and the same one who saw Jesus turned around and now he sees him new, in a new way, bright and like the shining of the sun and he reveres him in a new way. That’s what he said “I was in the Spirit on Sunday and I saw Jesus in a new way”. That’s the work of God’s Spirit. Thomas Merton said “A true saint is not one who has become convinced that he himself is holy, but one who is overwhelmed by the realization that God, and God alone, is holy”. And so Paul’s answering the question, what distinguishes the mark of the Spirit among us? His first response is the ability to say, “Jesus is Lord” from the heart in a progressive sense and mean it. The second thing he says, he goes on to say is that, and this is from 4 to the end of the text, is that the Spirit’s work is a diversity of types of work in the midst of a common oneness of community and it comes out so clearly in the text. He says there are varieties of gifts, same Spirit. Varieties of services, same Lord. Pick up the triune part of this, same Spirit, same Lord. There are varieties of activities but the same God. You see how he ties in the varieties of workings that the Spirit does with the Godhead. He is basically saying that the unity and the diversity that the church represents is born out of the roots of who God is and God’s very being. Next Sunday you will see 25 different varieties of workings of the Spirit but it’s all the same Spirit that drives each one. Now if somebody comes along and says this working is better than this working, they’ve got it wrong. Because it’s the same Spirit whose prompted each type of ministry and working. That’s one reason why I think why Paul makes such a long list of the evidences of the Spirit. You see they had gotten focused on one, he makes such a long list that it gets lost in the list, so that they won’t focus on one, so they will see the collage of the way God’s Spirit works. So what does God’s Spirit desire? That we accept our differences in the Lord and more importantly that we accept one another, that we use the Spirit’s work in each one for the common good, even though it’s different, so that the whole church is built up, so that we can recognize and proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” Anyone who wants to proclaim Jesus is Lord is in the portrait of God’s family.

It reminds me of something I read in the newspaper just a few weeks ago when all the buildup was happening for the Ravens going to the Super Bowl. It was something that Coach, Brian Billick said in training camp back in the summer. He said to his players, he said, “We have a choice, I think from this team six people could go to the Pro Bowl, or this whole team could go to the Super Bowl.” You know what he was trying to say ,right? He was saying we could have six players if they really want to express their individuality to the diminishing of what we can do as a team. They could be exulted, but if we recognize that we are all part of a greater whole, we will reach a greater goal.

Maybe this perspective will help as we seek to move to three separate worship services, as we seek to express our worship and our ministries in a new and variety of ways. Urban T. Holmes wrote a book called “The History of Christian Spirituality”. And his book he uncovered four authentic types of Christian religious experience. He studied all throughout the centuries and he kind of diluted it and distilled it, down to four basic types of Christian experience and expression. And he said that even though there is not one pure type, just like there’s not one pure temperament, he said that most people agree that they gravitate to one of these types of spiritual expression. And he also goes on to say that most of us are unaware that there is four different types of authentic expression and so the danger is that if we just have our type of spiritual expression, we are endanger of passing judgment on those who don’t experience that type of religious expression. Now, I’m going to tell you what those four types are in just one second, but according to Holmes what constitutes a meaningful spiritual experience in worship service is that which touches the will. No matter what type of religious experience you choose or prefer, the proof of a religious touch of God, as it were, is something that affects our will and moves us in a new direction. And what Holmes found out was that four different kinds of people report a spiritual experience that’s most likely to touch their will. And here’s the four. Four entrees on the menu, if you will. One type is a thinking type. One type is an action type. A third is a feeling type, and a fourth is a meditated type. This is why two people can sit through the same worship service and one person can say “Boy, that was really great. I got a lot out of that” and the other says, “that was kinda “C” to me, you know maybe a “C minus”, because they are different types experiencing the same thing. A thinking type needs thought content. Spiritual experience comes through the words of scriptures, through sermons, through position papers. They think it through. Action types need to express their spirituality in service, and they are just antsy, they’re itching to do something, and they say work for God is prayer. Feeling types find spiritual enrichment in music, and heartfelt testimonies. Emotional content for feeling types is crucial. And those in this category judge hymns, not such much by the content of the words, but by the way the music makes them feel.

The other day at the table my daughter said to me “Dad, you gotta pick better hymns at that 11 o’clock service.” I love those hymns. I mean the words of those hymns are so rich, but she’s listening to the tune. She’s a feeling type, I am a thinking type. Meditated types report that their best stimulated spiritually when they can focus themselves inwardly so that they can start to think and feel. These are the contemplative who like a lot of silence in worship. Now granted no one is truly one way. But most people today fall into the thinking and feeling categories. The main point is, that there is not a right way among Christians to experience worship; any more than there’s a right gift and a wrong gift. And every type that prefers one entree has to be careful not to become judgmental about those who prefer another entree. How many of you love liver and onions? I don’t see many hands going up. How many of you like liver and onions? Okay. How many of you despise liver and onions? Yeah, I’m in that category. I mean I have never gone to a smorgasbord and somebody says “I can’t believe they had pickled beets today, what’s wrong with them?” We go to a smorgasbord; we realize that everybody likes different things. Some of us may go “Ugh” to liver and onions or pickled beets, but it’s no big deal that they are there because we know that some people like them. Well, it’s the same thing with worship. And so as we divide into three services, think of it as a smorgasbord. Think of it in a new frame, it’s the healthy dividing of cells, because the body is growing and healthy. Think of it in another way, it’s the healthy dividing like an Army into different divisions to reach to same goal. Think of it in another way. Think of it like the Ravens – it’s offense, defense and special teams to reach the same goal. The same finish line. To exult Jesus as Lord and to help people to come to know him.

I am going to close with this. A VBS teacher writes of an experience that she would never forget. One Wednesday, an hour into her class, a new student enters the class. And she notices that the little guy only has one arm. And since the class is almost over the teacher couldn’t learn about the details of how this happened and what kind of adjustments that the boy had already made. And she was nervous and somewhat afraid that one of the other students was going to do something or say something to embarrass this new little fellow in the class. And so with no real opportunity to caution the class she proceeds carefully and once the class starts to move towards it’s end, she starts to relax. She thinks, oh boy I got through this. And then she asks the class to join them in the closing class ritual of every VBS day. She said let’s make our churches, you know she said “here’s the church, and here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the” and it dawns on her what she did. The very thing she was afraid of her students would do, mistakenly she had done. But she didn’t know how to correct it, until a little girl right next to the boy reaches her left hand over to his right hand and says, “Davey, let’s make church together.” That’s kind of a parable. It’s a parable about what makes for church. It’s taking are often handicapped, less than complete, kind of distorted lives, and putting them together so that people might see through all of that, so that we might reach our goal to exult Jesus as Lord, so that together by the power of God’s Spirit, we can move people toward Christ, in spite of our differences, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s pray to that end. Let’s ask God to give us that smorgasbord sense as we divide into healthy cells, may I ask the singers to come up and get ready to help us sing “Let the Walls come Down”, but as they do, let us pray:

Dear Lord we thank you that you have made us all very different. We know that the mark of your Spirit is that we desire the same goal. Jesus Christ exulted as Lord with all who hear his voice would be drawn to him. Lord help us to be part of the team no matter what part of that team we are, to see ourselves in the same united effort. If anyone has a different mind, Lord touch their will and help them to be open. Lord, we pray for your strength and grace as a new chapter of this church unfolds as a time in Central’s history that will be remembered a long time from now as a time when we went from two to three services. Bless this time that’s coming. Bless us as we seek your faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen.