So last week I talked about who this God of ours is. I said that God is The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In theology speak, we say that he is one substance, but three persons. So we have to say of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that in every single act we hear about in Scripture, The Father, the Son and the Spirit are acting together. The Spirit isn’t going to do something distinctly from Jesus, different than or ‘new’ that Jesus or that the Father has not done. It’s actually impossible for the three Persons of the one God to act distinctly since, they are the very same, one God.
Now the reason I went into this bit of challenging and confusing theology, is because I said I wanted to guard against one thing: presuming that that you or I, or even one church, or one part of a church, could claim that they had the leading of the Holy Spirit, for example, and that no other individuals or Churches did. Or alternatively, to guard against the idea that usually the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus, could overturn something in Scripture that the one God has revealed to us i.e. to go against his own revelation. Now let me state at the outset that when we hear about Jesus acting or the Holy Spirit acting or confirming or directing, in a way that might at first sound to us as if God is suddenly doing something different, that in fact, what is truly going on is a matter of God redirecting or refocusing us on himself and his revelation to us.
We might hear it in this sort of language: “you have heard it said that you should love your neighbor, but I say unto you, you must learn to love not just your neighbor, but your enemy.” Why does Jesus seem to ‘add something’ to his revelation here? Well Scripture itself gives us a pretty good clue. Foremost, think about the chaos that ensues – disruption to family life, safety, food, culture, and of course worship of God, when individuals or the whole nation of Israel gets involved in violent acts against their presumed enemies without God’s direction. But then think about the parable of the good Samaritan. An expert in religious law says to Jesus that he wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life, to be faithful. And he then summarizes the law he’s supposed to follow. And wanting to demonstrate how righteous he is and how much he is considering this he says to Jesus, “I know I am supposed to love my neighbor, but Lord who is my neighbor.”
Jesus tells this parable about these supposedly wonderful law followers, priests, and men with esteem and place in their culture, they all see this poor man who has been beaten by robbers and wanting to AVOID contamination or getting too close to someone not appearing holy, or good or worth saving, maybe even a social misfit, and they cross to the other side of the street to get away from him. A Samaritan, potentially someone who could have merely been indifferent, if not actual enemies, with nothing to gain at all from helping the beaten man, takes care of him. Actually makes a sacrifice of himself in order to take care of him. Jesus asks the law keeper: who do you think, of all the people who went by this beaten man, was a neighbor to him?”
The law keeper answers: the man who had mercy on him. Jesus says, yes, now go and do the same. Now notice something key here: the law keeper had asked, ‘who is my neighbor.’ Jesus ends up answering him: ‘the true question is not for you to determine who is your neighbor, rather it is for you to be a neighbor to all people: whatever their status, whatever their stance, their position, their actions.’ You are not their judge, you are a sinner as they are, therefore you are the neighbor of all and as the neighbor of all, including your enemies, how should you, how should we respond? What does Jesus say? To have mercy.
Now I want to tie this back to my statement about who God is. We have affirmed that the Father, Son and Spirit are the one God and so they’re not going to do something that thwarts the will of this one God. Here’s the catch that’s happened throughout our history. You see, too many folks have looked at the particular gifts they’ve been given whether as individuals or as a church, and they have treated these as if God has given them something special, or better than others (again as individuals or as churches), things that set them above other people, above other Christians.
So on the Church level, in the 17th century for example, and again today, some Churches have claimed that they have the Holy Spirit’s leading over and against the claims of other Christians or other people, and frankly, against the tradition of the Church that has gone before us. In a figurative sense, they have seen followers of Jesus through time and in very difficult circumstances and they have said, I’m going to cross to the other side of the street: uhg, you are wrong, you are weak, you are bad, you are unholy, you will contaminate me and I will not appear holy before God, so I’m going to leave this church, I’m going to make sure I don’t waste my gifts on you.
In our Epistle or Letter, Paul echoes this message of Jesus to the Corinthian Church: friends, you are commanded by God to love him and to love one another, friends and enemies alike; you have been given these commandments in order to show the world God’s mercy. So guess what then? Your life – the way that you use those gifts God gave to you sometimes even through really terrible circumstance, or even out of struggles – those you are to use to tend to your neighbor, to tend to your enemies, to tend to them, to be with them, to share them, in order to show them who God is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the one who, as we heard last week with Jesus’s baptism, came into the world and took on our human flesh and the sin that comes with it, this one who was sent by the Father, who willingly endured the confines and struggles of human life through to his death, who in turn was baptized with the Spirit so that when we’re baptized into Jesus we too might have his Spirit too, all of us.
But if you’re baptized into Jesus, you’ve got a responsibility to come to know how your gifts ought to be directed. Your gifts are a responsibility in that they are to be used for pointing others to the very life of God seen in Jesus Christ’s own life: so then you’re gifts need to be used in the way that Jesus would use them. That’s not necessarily going to be obvious, you’re going to have to discern what it will mean to apply mercy in a whole variety of circumstances, and you have to be humble enough to accept that sometimes you might be wrong, sometimes, despite your best effort, you might be rejected, but ought not to lose hope. Listen to how Paul himself puts this: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed … 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. (As I said, this Spirit in whom we receive the gifts can only lead us to live out Jesus’s own life, for he is of the same substance, the one God, as Jesus). 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. (You see what I mean here: no one can claim to have a superior gift, or a gift only for herself, or that he or she has a gift by the Spirit but that another Christian does not).
(Now here’s the big key folks): 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 the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
In this congregation my friends, we have many gifts. How those gifts are developed and shaped by God, and for what purposes, can change over the years as our circumstances change. But one thing is true: whomever we are, whatever our strengths and weaknesses, whatever conditions, whatever our frailties, whatever our expertise, everything that we are, every gift drawn out of them, is an opportunity for us to point others to the mercy of Jesus Christ. How shall we do that this year as individuals and as a parish? AMEN.