Pentecost 16 – Celebration of Gifts – September 12, 2021

 Celebration of Spiritual Gifts

So, you may ask: “Why is the Stewardship Committee celebrating Spiritual Gifts?”

Some folks think that church stewardship is about fundraising, the pledge campaign, but stewardship embraces everything entrusted to our care, everything we are responsible for.  That includes this beautiful building.  As Rectors, both Anita and Della have led us imaginatively in caring for our spaces and making sure they serve the community

#EmmanuelNewportOf course, the “church” is not a building.  The most precious thing God has entrusted to us is each other, and the most important thing we have to care for responsibly are the spiritual gifts God has bestowed on me and you.

Spiritual gifts inventories like the one we sent to you last year have a practical dimension.  Like Myers Briggs and the many other personality type tests, they are a tool that can help us understand how we differ from one another, and see how those differences can be complementary instead of contradictory in our common life and work.

But the Spiritual Gift inventory is so much more.  Grounded in the earliest Christian scripture, it invites us more deeply to feel God’s presence in our very being.   We are blessed to see not just who we are, but why: how our differences represent our God-given vocation and purpose.  They are qualities and talents that fuel our passionate pursuits in the world—we’ll hear about that from Maggie Martin at the Celebration of Gifts.

Then, when we look at our collective gifts in church, we see how God brings us together as a whole Body of Christ, in which each of us can play our unique part in God’s purpose for Emmanuel, the mission of this congregation.

Spiritual Gifts inventories are based on the gifts in Paul’s letters, particularly 1 Corinthians.   The idea of spiritual gifts was divinely inspired.  It addressed Paul’s enormous problem with the church in Corinth.

Problems in Corinth

In his first letter to that community, Paul quickly got to the point 

 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[d] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.[e]

Quarrels and divisions in the church?  Yes, friends.

In fairness, the divisions in those early Christian communities made sense because of the extreme diversity among the members.   Our differences look trivial beside them.

Imagine the scene: slaves and freed people, Jews and Gentiles, women and men, aristocrats and poor farmers and fishermen, people from every class and from widely different cultures.  In daily life they either never met or did so respecting strict social hierarchies.  Suddenly they were expected to come together as equals, sharing the Eucharistic meal, breaking bread!

They had wildly different ways of living including speech, dress, and worship as well as social and sexual mores–—all of which they were supposed to leave at the door when they gathered.

But oneupmanship dies hard.   And some of the Corinthians claimed they were superior to the others because their spiritual gifts were more “godly”, more worthy than others’.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7Paul’s response came in the holy vision of 1 Corinthians 12.  It is foundational to Christianity

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.

Paul listed the gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  He continued

 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 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. 13 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….Now you [all] are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.

What follows is the transcendent poetry of 1 Corinthians 13.

“If I speak with the tongues of mortals and angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol…”

When we hear those majestic words, we may forget that the “tongues” Paul writes of are glossolalia, the spiritual gift we call speaking in tongues, and that he is actually scolding the Corinthians who took pride in that gift!

Then he puts other spiritual gifts in their proper place:

 “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Paul makes it clear that all spiritual gifts are equal and all are subservient to God’s love.   In Paul’s divinely-inspired vision, the spiritual gifts were God’s means of empowering each person with particular blessings, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” then creating and binding together into communities, each a unique Body of Christ to serve God’s people.

“Why is the Stewardship Committee celebrating Spiritual Gifts?”

Your Spiritual GiftsBecause your spiritual gifts are the heart and soul of Emmanuel.  They are our most precious treasure.   Led by God’s love, you use them with humility in all the parts you play in our common life.    We wanted to honor them and you!  We want you to honor them in each other.   And we want you all to take part in this discernment as Della and the Vestry lead us to reformulate our mission.

Some of you have been here at Emmanuel for decades—even generations.   In the long, blessed history of this congregation we see how the church evolves and changes as clergy and members come and go.    With every arrival, every departure, God is making this congregation new.   As ministries pass away and others arise God is renewing God’s mission for Emmanuel.

Paying attention to the people and the spiritual gifts that are present here is the key to discerning how God is equipping this Body—the saints at Emmanuel—for the ministries God envisions for us right now.


Your Favorite Brass Quintet plays Sunday, July 3 at 9:30 am on the lawn