Useful Gifts

“Useful Gifts”

1 Corinthians 12:10-17 (12:13) – January 23, 2022

            Who remembers Mr. Potato Head? That wonderful children’s toy provided hours of pleasure and play for my children, to be sure! They would laugh when they put the feet where the eyes ought to be, or the ears where the arms fit in the potato body. And, how much laughter and silliness would happen when my children made a Potato Head person with all eyes, or all ears, or all hands – and nothing else!  

            That is exactly what comes to mind when I read these verses from 1 Corinthians 12. A Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head, and all of their representative plastic parts. The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian believers “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. [The Spirit] decides who gets what, and when.”

As we heard last week, God continues to give gifts to each believer. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

We never can hear this enough! All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! It’s possible you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Each Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

            Today’s sermon is the second part of a sermon series on spiritual gifts. Last week, we focused on the whole Church and the God-honoring service we could give to each other, individually. This week, we will highlight our service to the whole Body of Christ. Paul gives us such great examples! Each of us matters. It’s not only a current, popular message of today – Paul wrote it right here two thousand years ago in this letter to the Corinthians, too!

            Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Paul did say. I am using Eugene Peterson’s marvelous modern translation The Message. “A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, transparent and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body?”

            Paul’s emphasis here: “you matter because the body [of Christ] won’t be the body without you, without the gift that you bring, without the person that you are.” [1] I realize that some church members and some believers in Christ feel inferior, regarding their spiritual gifts. They might throw up their hands and say something like this: “My contribution doesn’t mean much. It isn’t worth much at all. I can’t measure up to what important Christians are able to do.”

            Some years ago, I happened to know an elderly Christian woman who felt exactly this way. She had tremendous spiritual gifts of helps and mercy, but because she had been taken advantage of numerous times by a church (long since closed) in Chicago, she was so sad and dispirited that she had given up. Her amazing spiritual gifts were simply lying unused. She even had given up going to church. Her once-abundant gifts of helping and showing mercy were sitting on a shelf, sadly gathering dust.

            Isn’t it so true that God directs different gifts to go to different people? Each one is given something fashioned exactly for that particular individual, but ALL these various gifts and people (or, parts of the Body) come together to make one Body of Christ, one Church. The Church would be pretty silly if everyone was an eye, or everyone was an ear, wouldn’t it?

That is why the Church has all different members – or limbs – or parts to do lots of different functions. And, some of these functions in the Body of Christ are unseen from the outside. It’s like with an ordinary human body. Lots of a body’s functioning is – necessarily – sight unseen. Yet, we would look silly if we saw all of our arteries and veins on the exterior, or our digestive system on the outside of our skin.

This is where our responsibility comes in. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to the service of our local family of faith. We are called to use these gifts for the larger Body of Christ, the Church Universal. As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”       

One of my favorite commentators is Carolyn Brown, retired director of Children’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Church. She gave an excellent example of the whole local church contributing to ministry: “Since my church is hosting the community winter overnight shelter for men for whom there is no space in the permanent shelters, I’d [like to talk about] people who are cooking meals, playing games during the evening, decorating the room and tables to welcome our guests, etc.  Together we are like a body taking care of our guests.” [2]  What a wonderful way to work together as a healthy Body of Christ! A great reminder to the rest of us, for sure.

Some good questions to ask: “What staff people are often neglected in the thank-you moments in the life of the church? Which volunteers are plugging away unremarked sometimes for years without proper recognition?” [3] Helping people find their worth is a valuable and necessary effort. And, it’s blessed by God! Whatever you do, in thought, word, or deed, do it all to the glory of God – and for the benefit of your family of faith, too! Amen!


Thanks so much to Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for www.umcdiscipleship.com and his excellent preaching notes for this week’s worship service and sermon. I used several ideas from these notes for the sermon today

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/12/year-c-third-sunday-after-epiphany.html

[3] Ibid, www.umc.discipleship.org  

Gifts for Service

“Gifts for Service”

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:4) – January 16, 2022

            Christmas was not that long ago. Less than a month ago! Remember the gift-giving? And, how much you wanted to see whether a close family member really liked your gift? Sometimes gift-giving can be stressful, especially when we exchange gifts with people who do not have a generous spirit. You know the kind, people who are so focused on themselves that they – or perhaps, we forget what Christmas is all about – receiving God’s greatest gift of all.

In this after-Christmas, post-gift-giving season, is there any wonder that many people are still up to their ears in the after-holiday bustle of gift returns or gift acknowledgements, and some even disappointment from all the gift-giving?

            God did not finish giving gifts when the Baby in Bethlehem was born in a manger two thousand years ago. By no means! God continues to give gifts to each believer, just as Eileen read to us. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

Perhaps, we might paraphrase Paul: “Since you have already received gifts from God, what are you doing with them – lately?” But, perhaps I am getting too far ahead of myself. All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! Perhaps you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Every Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

Oh, no, some say. I can just hear them. “Not me! I don’t have any special gifts from God! How could that be? I can’t do anything super special. I’m just a run-of-the-mill person.” Our commentator Karoline Lewis would strongly object! Lewis says we all need to recognize “that the gifts we receive are the very grace-acts of God. The term that Paul uses for “gift” has the same root as the word for “grace.” [1] These grace-filled gifts are charismaton in Greek, which is where we get the word “charismatic.” And, each believer receives these gifts!

            What a marvelous thought: each of us is a charismatic Christian, in other words! That is exactly what the apostle Paul says, right here.

Here in 1 Corinthians is not the only place where the New Testament gives a list of spiritual gifts. It talks about them in Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 12, too. Plus, modern lists of spiritual gifts draw from all over the Bible. We can see that each believer has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!). Individualized, and personalized!

So, what do we do, now that we know we all have spiritual gifts? Good question!

Just knowing about our spiritual gifts is only a small portion of actually having them and acknowledging them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an excellent way for each of us to serve God, in our own individual way. Do you know someone in the church who is a really helpful person? I can think of several. I think God may have given them the spiritual gift of helps. How about someone who is particularly encouraging to others? That person might indeed have the gift of encouragement.

What about the gift of administration, to organize and figure out what goes where? The gift of healing is seen physically, true, but it’s also used for mental, emotional or spiritual sickness or distress. And, the gift of leadership, of delegating tasks and gathering people together is another important spiritual gift.

            This is where our responsibility comes in. We don’t just sit on our hands and do nothing, now that we know about our personal spiritual gifts. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to us individually and then to use them to the glory of God in our lives at home, at school, at work, and in the community. [2] As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”

            Now, what about service to others? Specifically, I am thinking about the federal holiday that will be celebrated tomorrow. Yes, it is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday anniversary. Moreover, this holiday has been recognized as a Day of Service, nationwide.    

            The whole idea behind this service fits hand in glove with the United Church of Christ’s concept of the Beloved Community. Service is a hallmark for certain churches, especially in the UCC. The Rev. John Mingus describes the many-year journey of renewal his church took, Pilgrim UCC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a recent article on church renewal.

Rev. Mingus finishes his story with this moving summary: “the word is out about this church. Visitors come and stay. New folks go out and invite others. All kinds of folk see us as a safe place. We care for the homeless. We feed the hungry. We work for peace and public education. We have children and programming. We are a church in mission and when we gather it is as a beloved community. We are black and white, gay and straight, young and old, and much more. In our radical hospitality and at prayer people know that they are loved.” [3]

            Serving with spiritual gifts? Or providing a Day of Service? Or is it showing our neighbors we are indeed a Beloved Community? However you explain it, God will be so pleased that God’s people are given something to do that shows all people who God is.

God is indeed behind these marvelous expressions of Beloved Community, in exercising our spiritual gifts. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-121-11-2

[2] http://www.sundayschoollessons.com/gift.htm

[3] http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/unitedchurchofchrist/legacy_url/11073/10JourneyTowardBelovedCommunity.pdf?1418436796