Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Jonathan Dixon
February 5, 1995

This evening I'm going to focus on the second lesson, which is a continuation from last week's lesson and draws on many of the same themes.

Throughout this section of I Corinthians, Paul addresses the fact that the congregation at Corinth has come to regard tongues as the paramount gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul tries to correct this problem in the 12th and 13th chapters of the letter. For example, twice in chapter 12 he puts tongues at the end of lists of the Spirit's gifts.

Now, in today's lesson he explains why he places tongues in that position. It isn't because there is something wrong with speaking in tongues, but because it generally doesn't serve to better the church. Evidently, in Corinth, as is sometimes true in Pentecostal groups today, tongues became a status symbol, a sign that affirmed a person's faith. This can often lead to self-righteousness on the part of those speaking in tongues and feelings of inadequacy on the part of those not having that gift.

Paul's lists, instead of focusing on ``glory gifts'' like tongues, focus on gifts which involve reaching out to others. For example, in one of the lists of gifts, Paul puts apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, healing, and administration above tongues in importance. These other gifts all involve working with others, rather than being just a personal spiritual experience.

These lists are then followed by the ``Love Chapter,'' where Paul expresses the idea that without love our actions are meaningless. This leads right into today's lesson, where he tells the Corinthians to ``strive to excel in (spiritual gifts) for building up the church.'' The coupling of these two ideas becomes clearer if we use a definition of love like that given by Scott Peck in his book {\em The Road Less Traveled}; namely, that love is ``The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.'' With this in mind, can we use our gifts for anything other than building the church and still be using them lovingly? Also, can we be loving if we fail to use these gifts at all?

The second thing I want to touch on this evening is the last verse of the epistle, ``Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.'' This verse struck me because at first it seemed to be out of place. In fact, it seemed like a little island of wisdom just stuck in the middle of Paul's discourse on spiritual gifts, since the letter continues on talking about tongues after this verse. It was as if an idea had come to Paul while he was writing, and he stuck it into his writing as he thought of it and then returned to his initial train of thought.

But as I thought more about it, I came to believe that it really says a lot about how we are to apply our gifts. It is a clarification of Christ's call for us to be childlike and is similar to Paul's statement in the previous chapter that, ``When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.'' He calls for us to be mature in how we face things in this life, even as we seek to retain the innocence of youth.

As I considered what qualities are involved in ``thinking like an adult,'' the three that came to mind were understanding, vision, and discipline.

By understanding, I mean being aware of what is going on around us and having a grasp on its meaning. When we were younger, things went on around us and we didn't understand them -- adults came and went and we didn't really comprehend where they went and why. But as we've grown older, we've become more able to comprehend what things like this mean. Similarly, in Christianity, we haven't been called to bury ourselves in naivete, but rather we've been called to seek a greater knowledge. In the 2nd chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that through the Spirit we have received the mind of God, and through it wisdom and understanding. It's important that we learn to use this resource to reach greater awareness of what goes on around us.

The second characteristic of mature thinking is vision. We need to look at the broader context of our actions, and not judge things just by their current context. Learning to do this is an important step in growing up --- a child learns that by forgoing an immediate pleasure, a greater reward can often be obtained at some point in the future. This is an important concept for our faith life as well, learning to pursue present actions which enable us to better reach our spiritual goals. If we don't achieve the longer vision, then our actions generally wind up being directionless and ultimately get us nowhere.

Discipline, as the last part of mature thinking, is what enables us to put into practice the first two parts. As a child, it is what enables us to forgo a snack before dinner so we can really enjoy the dinner, or makes us take the time to learn about the world around us. In our faith life, it allows us to grow in our understanding and put into practice our vision. Earlier in this letter of Paul, he compares our spiritual life with a race and says, ``Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.'' This is probably the hardest part of a mature spiritual life to obtain, since it is the one which takes the most time to develop.

Now the question is how we apply these ideas to our own lives. First I think we need to look to discover the gifts God has given each one of us. These don't need to be spectacular -- often the most important gift is time and the willingness to use that time in service to others. The discovery of gifts can happen in many ways. Some we discover through personal reflection or prayerful meditation. But many of them we don't see until somebody else notices them and encourages us to explore them. That is one reason that the church is a good place to explore your gifts --- as you work together in Christ, the people around you often will be able to see things in you that you have never noticed.

As the gifts we have become apparent, it is important to find ways to use them to help the church, either in the local congregation or in the universal church. In our congregation here, there are many places where gifts can be put to good use. Currently, most of the work here is done by a handful of people. This is also true in a lot of other congregations, but there it is usually a group of people who have been around for years and have settled into those positions which suit them. In campus ministry, the population comes and goes so much that there is always a need for new people to step in and fill roles, and even when people are around for extended periods, their schedules are often varying so much that it is difficult for them to commit time very far in advance. As an example of how much things do change, of the 8 people selected last spring for the council, only 3 have served the entire year; most of the committees have undergone similar changes. Without new people to step into these roles, the ministry would stumble. But that turn over is dangerous when a small number of people do the work, because then the loss of one person means the loss of a significant fraction of the workforce.

But this constant turn-over also makes campus ministry a good place to work towards finding and developing the gifts we've been given. With the changes that take place, you can try many experiences to see which fit well with your talents. For example, I've been given the opportunity today to try my hand at preaching, which I probably wouldn't have had in a regular congregation. I'll let you be the judges of whether this is one of my talents.

There are many other opportunities available here at Christus Rex, and I'm sure that every one of us can find several which fit our own particular gifts. The hard part is deciding to allow ourselves to be used by God to fill the needs of the congregation. At least this is often the hard part for me, because it means giving up my own agenda in favor of what God wants me to do, and I'm often quite attached to my own plans. But I have found that through working in the church, I have discovered many gifts I would never have looked for on my own, and have been greatly enriched by these discoveries.

Once we have begun to uncover these gifts, we need to at the same time begin to develop the characteristics of mature Christianity. There are any number of ways to do this, and each person must decide which of those ways suits them best. I'll just offer a few of the ways I see to achieve this goal.

First is the building of understanding. Since knowledge is one pillar of understanding, it is helpful to learn about a wide variety of things. It is important to include religious knowlege in this, especially through things such as Bible studies and discussion groups. Another pillar of understanding is wisdom. Rather than just the accumulation of facts and ideas, wisdom involves insight into the heart of a matter. Wisdom is primarily a gift from God, although like any gift it needs to be developed to be truly useful. Probably the best source to learn about wisdom is the book of Proverbs, which emphasizes wisdom and the role it plays in our lives. The final pillar is experiencing the mind of God. Working on this is done by developing our spiritual life so we become more receptive to, and perceptive of, the messages of the Holy Spirit. This is strongly tied into the development of spiritual discipline.

Next we need to develop our vision. This generally involves taking our understanding and learning to apply it to the larger picture. What I have generally found helpful is a combination of quiet reflection and discussion with others, as well as reading the Bible and other religious writings to discover what others have found as their visions. I've also found it necessary to allow the vision to be constantly expanding to meet new levels of understanding and new circumstances, but at the same time it needs to be stable enough that the goal of life in and with Christ is not lost from sight. Keeping this balance is the challenge in maintaining a vision, and is a difficult one indeed.

Finally, we need to work on discipline. Discipline is a multi-faceted object, and it is important to work on all parts of it. First there is the self-discipline, which includes such things as promptness and dependability. While these aren't explicitly tied to spirituality, I believe that they are a necessary foundation for the other aspects of discipline. Without at least some degree of self-discipline, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop other areas of discipline. Next is the discipline of personal spirituality. This includes such things as regular prayer and meditation, as well as personal Bible study and anything else which enables us to develop a greater relationship with God. Finally, there is the discipline of the community. We come together through worship and fellowship, and as the community develops it gives strength to all those in it. Here at Christus Rex I have experienced this community in many ways, for which I'm quite grateful. But in order for it to continue and expand, all of us need to work towards being more loving and open. The main thing required to develop any of these areas of discpline is the willingness to devote time to it. This is where I've often run into difficulties, because I often allow various things to eat away at my time, and generally it is the elements of discipline which suffer the most. But when I've put time into developing my discipline, both spiritual and personal, I've never been disappointed with the return I've gotten. And I've also found that it is self-propagating --- with more discipline comes more time that can be used to develop even more discipline. The hard part is deciding to get started.

I'm not trying to claim that these are easy steps, nor do I make any pretext of having made great achievements in any of these areas. I also recognize that my vision of what is needed is neither clear nor definitive. But it is my prayer that we can all work together to move towards greater things. Amen.

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