Life in the Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:1-12
One of the great blessings of the Church is that the Gospel can reach across borders, transcend racial divides, breach economic and social walls, and it can bring together people from “east and west, north and south, to form,” the old hymn says, “one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth.” It can do that because Christ does that.
In reality we often fall short of that lofty goal. Churches are divided by borders, separated according to racial divides, and closed off by economic and social walls. In fact for many this goal has been replaced with a church growth theory which says, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So, experts advocate “target marketing,” create new churches aiming for a particular demographic. Churches become known by non-biblical descriptions like rich or poor, white or black, old or young, liberal or conservative.
In our text today we encounter a church which was the epitome of division. It was divided by class, torn asunder by personalities, split by lax attitudes toward sin. For the Apostle Paul, pastor and pragmatist, this was the worst of all possible worlds. This fledgling church would never grow if visitors only saw bickering. The membership could not grow spiritually if their attention focused on power, feuds, and politics, rather than prayer, meditation, and immersion in God’s Word.
In this great twelfth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, he outlines what he sees to be the key to unity and community. Note that he will not advocate a new church polity to govern these people into unity. He will not even create a new confession of faith to regulate their theology. Rather he turns to the one who by nature makes us one. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Before I go further, I have a confession to make. It’s not exactly a sin. In fact it is something intended to be good and wholesome. But, like all things good and wholesome, it does have the potential to be turned into a sin, if you’re not careful. Your curiosity is peaked, I know, so I’ll just tell you flat out. I used to be, when my son Ryan was younger, a “Little League” parent.
Now, some of you are probably thinking and maybe even gasping, “It cannot be! Our pastor can’t be one of those maniac parents that scream and yell at their kids, the umpires, and parents from the other team?” Let me put your thoughts at ease; I was not one of those parents. In fact, I never even saw one of those parents on the team in which my son played. We were fortunate because I have heard stories of parents losing perspective and priority and embarrassing their kids.
Every Saturday and a couple of nights a week I was at the ball field encouraging my youngest in his pursuit of this great American past-time. It was a blast! There is nothing like watching a dozen ten-year-old kids play their hearts out against the backdrop of green grass and blue sky. Better yet, was the spirit I saw, the encouragement our players showed to one another when one struck out; the forgiveness that was so easily expressed when a player made an error; and the celebration which followed each home run.
It occurred to me as I was working on this sermon that if we could experience to even a small degree the sense of unity that these players had on the ball field, we’d be a lot better off. For they recognized the gifts each one brought, and the role each player had on this team. Even the best player knows that the game will not be won without each member contributing his or her very best. Baseball teams need pitchers and catchers, infielders and outfielders, and even a scribe to keep the record. A good team is one body, with many members.
The Apostle Paul earlier in this letter to the Corinthian church used athletics as an illustration for the spiritual truths he was trying to describe. Had he known of baseball, we’d probably have some record of that. He didn’t know baseball, but I do, so indulge me for a minute as I make my pitch.
A good team begins with a good coach. In the beginning of this chapter, there is no question as to who our coach is. “Therefore, I make known to you that no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Spirit.” Some of you are thinking, “So who’s the coach, Jesus or the Spirit?” This is the tricky part of Trinitarian theology. Our minds like crisp categories, but there is no real box into which we can place “three in one.”
Even so, it is clear from the words of Jesus that he sees the Spirit as working as a coach in our lives. He said that when he leaves, God would send the Holy Spirit who will “teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, all things that I have said to you.” In other words, the game is really about Jesus, but the Spirit acts as our coach so that we might better understand the game. Good coaches know that they are not the stars. Their job is to help the player play better. In a somewhat similar fashion, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to point us towards Jesus and to help us follow him more closely. It is the Spirit which brings us to the place where we can say “Jesus is Lord.” It is the Spirit that whispers quietly those instructions to bring out the best that is within us.
So, it is incumbent on us to listen to those instructions. I remember one day I was coaching first base, and one of our best hitters, but slowest runner, hit a single. When he got to the bag, I told him more than once, “Don’t try to steal unless I tell you, and I won’t tell you unless the catcher misses the ball.” I was very clear about that. But wouldn’t you know, at the first pitch this kid takes off and lumbers toward second. He looked like one of those instant replays where they show the play in slow motion. Well, the catcher caught the ball and threw the ball to second before my kid was halfway there. Not only was my runner called out; he was really out. I don’t know what prompted him to run and why he thought he could make it, but sometimes people get ideas in their heads all on their own.
Those of you who are following my analogy are probably thinking that the Holy Spirit never speaks to me with the same clarity with which you spoke to that little boy. My main problem is that I’m never sure whether the Spirit is telling me to take off or stay at home. I’d love to have the Spirit of God speak to me as clearly as a first base coach, but I never hear God that way.
That is one of the challenges of the Spiritual walk. It is sometimes difficult to know for sure which way God is calling you. One thing is sure, that God is not going to call you to play the game contrary to the rule book. God will not say, “Sure everyone else runs around the bases counter-clockwise, but you’re special so you can skip a base if you want or even run backwards.”
In other words, God’s Holy Spirit will never direct you, coach you to do anything that stands in opposition to His Word. If you think the Spirit is telling you to do that, it may not be God’s Spirit, but another spirit speaking. If you think that you are so special that God’s commandments don’t apply to you and that the Spirit working through your feelings confirms this, I have a message— it’s better to trust God’s Word than it is to trust your feelings. They change all the time, but “the word of the Lord abides forever.”
Another way in which the Spirit of God works is by what He does through the whole team. Remember there are “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” This has always been one of the strengths of the Presbyterian way of doing things. The underpinning of our polity, that is, the way in which we make decisions, is that when God speaks, we believe God speaks to and through the whole community.
I’ll give you an example. Following my conversion, my decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, I had a sense that the Spirit was calling me into the ministry. I felt pretty strong about this. Yet no matter how strong your convictions are, there always remains some nagging doubt. What confirmed this call of the Spirit for me was the response of those who knew me well. When I told them, nearly everyone who had known me for any time at all said, “I always knew you’d end up in the ministry.” For me that was the confirmation I needed to assure me that I was truly discerning the guidance of the Spirit.
So, if you believe that the Holy Spirit is calling you to move in a particular direction or respond in a specific way, it is always helpful to confirm that with others who know you and, more importantly, know God. That’s why it’s important to be part of the Church, part of the team.
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were made to drink of one Spirit.”
In a moment we will be eating of the one body represented by the bread and drinking of the one Spirit seen in the cup. Before you take the bread or put the cup to your lips, take a moment to consider the ways in which God’s Spirit has worked in your life. Perhaps there was a time when He brought “to your remembrance something that Jesus said.” Maybe the Spirit worked in a way which made you uncomfortable because He “convicted you of some sin and led you to repentance.” Can you recall a time when “the Spirit helped you in your weakness; helped you to pray with sighs too deep for words?”
Maybe the Spirit is moving right now, leading you to renew and reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe the Spirit is calling you to Jesus for the first time to declare and really believe “Jesus is my Lord, and from this day on I will follow him.” If so, understand that the Gospel is not complex nor complicated. It is as simple as a prayer. “Lord, I come to you as a sinner and lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. I believe that you died that I might be forgiven and given new life. From this day on, I will follow you, love you with all my heart and soul and might.” This is the beginning, and what follows is the great adventure of growing closer to Jesus as the Spirit moves within.
Let us pray:
Come, O Holy Spirit.
Come as Holy Fire and burn in us,
come as Holy Wind and cleanse us within,
come as Holy Light and lead us in the darkness,
come as Holy Truth and dispel our ignorance,
come as Holy Power and enable our weakness,
come as Holy Life and dwell in us.
Convict us, convert us, consecrate us,
until we are set free from the service of ourselves,
to be your servants to the world.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536