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Have You Opened All Your Gifts?

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
The church at Corinth was a church that liked to fight. There always seemed to be some argument going on there. And apparently one of their arguments centered around the question of which church members really had religion, and which ones didn't. You see, some people at the Corinthian church were saying that the proof that you were a real Christian was if you could speak in tongues. And in their opinion, if you couldn't speak in tongues, your faith wasn't real.
Now we should probably start off by noting that when the Bible refers to "speaking in tongues", that doesn't mean "speaking in foreign languages." You see, the giving of the ability to speak in foreign languages was what happened on the Day of Pentecost. In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told how after Jesus had gone up into heaven, all of the disciples had gathered together in a room. And suddenly something like a mighty wind started to blow through the house where they were, and they saw something like flames dancing over each of their heads. And when the disciples started to speak, they spoke in different languages, so that when the crowd gathered to see what was going on, the people from all the different countries who were there were able to understand in their own languages what the disciples were saying about Jesus.
But to speak in tongues doesn't mean to speak a foreign language. No, speaking in tongues is something different. It means that God causes people to start making sounds and noises that really don't match up with any language.
As far as I recall, I've only witnessed people speaking in tongues one time. That was quite a few years ago when I attended an Assembly of God church one Sunday with some of my relatives. And at a point in the service, a couple of people just started to make sounds and noises.
But apparently, in Paul's opinion, speaking in tongues was getting out of hand at the church in Corinth. It seems that speaking in tongues was almost becoming a status symbol. And so Paul probably wondered whether some of the people there were faking it, pretending to be speaking in tongues just so they would fit in. So Paul told the church in Corinth that if no one there could translate, that is, if no one there could take what was being spoken in tongues and translate it into a language that everyone could understand, then the people who were speaking in tongues should just keep quiet. Because as Paul saw it, if people were just speaking in tongues and no one had any idea what they were trying to say, then they weren't doing anyone any good.
Something similar to that happening today is what some churches are calling "holy laughter." As best as I recall, it started with a church in Toronto. And what happens is when the people come together for church, at a point during the service, people start laughing hysterically. They quite literally start rolling in the aisles. And those churches are saying that it's the Holy Spirit that's making them do that.
But as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he told them that if something really is a gift from God, then in some way it has to be useful for the common good. For example, back in the fourth century A.D., there was a Christian by the name of Basil of Caesarea. And he was a man who really wanted to develop his spiritual life -- he wanted to be in touch with God. And so in order to do that, he figured that it would be best if he went off by himself and lived in the desert. And for years he lived a simple life there, staying in a crude hut, and eating only bread that was so hard that it almost broke his teeth. But then finally one day it occurred to him that if he really wanted to be spiritual, then he couldn't just stay there in the desert forever. Instead, Basil discovered that to be spiritual means to take what God has given us and to use those gifts to help others. So, for the rest of his life, Basil dedicated himself to organizing communities to care for the sick and the orphans.
What Paul wants us to see here in this passage is that God wants us to accept and make the most of the gifts and abilities that God has given us. Now, of course, we are not all given the some abilities, or the same amount of abilities. There's the one parable in the gospels where we are told that some people are given five talents, some are given three, and some are given one. So the point is that we shouldn't spend all of our time brooding about how someone else is able to do something that we can't. No, the point is that we need to take a look at ourselves; accept what we can't do; and then make the most of out of what we can do.
It's like the story of little boy who went out into his yard with a baseball bat and a ball. He threw the ball up into the air and yelled out: "I am the greatest baseball batter in the world." But then he swung and missed. Once again, he threw the ball up into the air and yelled: "I am the greatest baseball batter in the world." But he swung and missed again. And the same thing kept happening. Finally, after he had swung and missed for about the 20th time, he got a smile on his face and said: "What do you know? I'm the greatest pitcher in all the world." And that's the truth. Some of us are cut out to be batters and some are cut out to be pitchers.
But some of us seem to have a hard time recognizing anything that we're good at. For instance, back in the 1200's, Francis of Assisi had a helper by the name of Brother Juniper. And Brother Juniper was a very good-hearted soul. But it just seemed that he was never able to do anything right. He messed up every task that he was given. One day, Francis of Assisi thought that he would build up Brother Juniper's self-image by giving him a job that he was sure he would be able to do. He asked Brother Juniper to take a rabbit and cook it for their dinner. But apparently Brother Juniper didn't realize that he was suppose to skin the animal first, and he ended up throwing the whole rabbit, fur and all, into the oven. Later, when Brother Juniper was feeling down about what he had done, Francis of Assisi tried to comfort him by saying: "Cheer up. Because you don't realize it, but you have the greatest gift of all, because you have a loving heart."
There's no escaping the fact that some people are just able to do things that we can't. That's just the way that God has made us. For instance, I am not all mechanically inclined. The only tools I have in my house are one hammer, one screwdriver, and one stapler. So if I can't fix something with those things, I'm out of luck.
It's like this last week I had to take my car into the garage, because I was having some problems with it. And after looking at it, the mechanic told me that there was a problem with the head gasket. Now to be honest, I wasn't really sure whether the head gasket was a part of the muffler, a piece of the transmission, or one of those things under the hood. It turned out that it's one of those things under the hood. But I just sort of grunted and looked concerned. Later, the mechanic told me the good news was that the tensioner rod was OK. Again, I didn't have any idea what a tensioner rod was, or if he was just making it up, but I smiled and told him that I was glad. The point is -- in case you were wondering if there was a point to this -- is that each of us have different gifts that God has given to us. God has given my mechanic the ability to work with his hands and to understand mechanical kinds of things. And if he wasn't there, willing to use his abilities, then I would suffer because my car wouldn't run, and I wouldn't be able to get around to see people in the hospital or to visit in the nursing homes.
Later in this chapter in First Corinthians, Paul speaks of the church as being like a body. Some people are like eyes, others are like hands, others are like feet, and so on. The point is that we need each other. Because if any part of the body is missing, or refuses to do what it can, then the whole body suffers. You see, some people might be tempted to think, "Oh, all I can do is hammer nails." But the church needs people to hammer nails. And if your gift is hammering nails, then you have a responsibility to find some way to use that gift for the good of the church to help other people. And it's the same no matter what gifts you have. Whether you are good at praying, or visiting people, or singing, or sewing, no matter what. God has given us those abilities for a reason. To use them to do God's work.
Just like at Christmas time, we're given gifts with the hope that we'll open them up and use them. The people who gave us those gifts don't want them to just lie around unopened. And it's the same with the gifts that God gives us. God wants us to open them up and put them to use.
Tomorrow we observe Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. And one of the main themes of that holiday is for us to recognize that we are all different. God has made us to look different, and God has given us each different talents and abilities. But instead of resenting and fearing those who have different gifts than we have, our goal should be to accept each other for the way that God has made us. We shouldn't see the diversity around us as some obstacle that has to be overcome. Rather we should see that diversity as a resource. As something to draw from. As something that's able to enrich us all.
What are the gifts that God has given to you? Not necessarily, what are you better at than anyone else? That's not important. But what abilities and talents has God given you? And are you using those talents and abilities to do God's work? If not, why is that? Because God has given each of us gifts, not just for our own enjoyment, but to use for the good of others.
C. Edward Bowen
Crafton United Presbyterian Church
Pittsburgh, PA