Fairhaven Sermon 5-28-2023

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Pastor Dylan Parson’s sermon delves into the concept of spiritual gifts. He begins by discussing a spiritual gifts inventory, a tool designed to help individuals identify their unique gifts within the church community. The idea is akin to viewing the church as a puzzle, with each person’s gift being an integral piece. However, Pastor Parson also highlights a concern, the 80/20 rule, indicating that a small proportion of the congregation tends to carry most of the ministry’s responsibilities.

In the second part of his sermon, Pastor Dylan offers a nuanced view on spiritual gifts. According to him, these aren’t merely our natural talents or skills; rather, they are divinely bestowed abilities by the Holy Spirit, intended to further God’s mission on earth. He invokes the story of Pentecost to illustrate that when used for God’s mission, these gifts can have miraculous impacts. He emphasizes that a skill becomes a spiritual gift only when used for the betterment of the world in alignment with God’s work. In his conclusion, Pastor Parson encourages the congregation to remain open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, allowing their spiritual gifts to fully manifest and make a positive difference.

Transcript

So how many of you have taken a spiritual gifts inventory? Yes. So it’s fairly frequent, right? I know this is something we looked at about a year back. We did a project with the annual conference on mission and outreach consultation. We did that across the partnership.

But even if you didn’t participate in that, this is something that’s been around for a long time, and you’ve probably maybe seen it before. So you sit down basically and you take a quiz. It can be really abbreviated or it can be a few hundred questions. And you answer how true a bunch of statements feel to you.

So a couple examples, this is pulling from the one that’s on the general board of discipleships webpage. Through prayer, I see God’s miraculous work in my life. You rate that on a one, never, to a seven, always scale. I’m able to organize human and material resources to serve the needs of others.

One to seven scale. I enjoy teaching Bible study to a group, 1 to 7 scale, and so on. So this particular version, which is my usual preference because it’s easy and accessible, it asks 80 questions, which is pretty small as far as these things go. And then it gives you your top gifts in the end.

And there are 20 possibilities, many of which, not all, but many, come from our Corinthians passage today. got wisdom, faith, knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and so on. That’s about half of them. As the Apostle Paul writes here in the seventh verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.

Everybody’s got something, some or multiple gifts that makes them a particular part of the body of Christ, invaluable to the way it functions in the world in serving God, you know, no less than an arm or an eye or an ear enables a human being to fully engage with the world around us. And Paul is making a clear argument here and that’s that there is a role for everyone in the church. Not just a place, a spot, an opportunity, but a vital role, something that is a place that you have to be, that you are called to be in. When we are baptized by the Spirit into one body, as Paul says, that means we act like one body.

Your body would have a noticeable problem. You would notice its functioning got a lot more difficult if your ear decided not to hear. That’s happened to me a couple times the past few weeks with sinus stuff, I wake up and I notice there’s something wrong. Things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.

Or if your foot decided not to walk or stand, you would notice you have a problem. Things wouldn’t work the way they’re supposed to. And so, in the body of Christ, you are needed. And a body is not this loose association of pieces that are off doing their own thing, mostly with what they’re doing independently, a body is one unified unit where every single cell is working in the same direction to keep things alive, to keep it moving forward, to keep everything functioning.

And so is Christ’s body. From many parts, one body, each freely giving everything they have for the good of Jesus’ work here on earth. The body is moving through the world as Jesus’ body. And this is an extremely high expectation, obviously, and yet one that Paul and Jesus are clearly making of the early church.

And it’s an expectation that, you know, as far as I know, has never been rolled back. And yet what’s called the 80/20 rule—I don’t know how many of you have heard this—is a well-known adage both among pastors, among leaders in churches. And this is true in all kinds of organizations, but churches is our relevant one here. And the 80/20 rule is that in the vast majority of congregations, you know, 80% of the ministry is done by 20% of the body.

And you can easily see how this becomes really tremendously unhealthy. First, that 20% tends to burn out really quick. Second, the life-changing message of the gospel and the power of Jesus isn’t all that compelling to the outside world if most Christians don’t really seem all that interested in it, right? When I was serving at a pretty sizable church in suburban Raleigh, I worked with a pastor and a congregation that took this issue pretty seriously. And so in the summertime, the end of summer, as we started moving towards, you know, back to school, the kind of kickoff of the church year that seems to happen in September, we took a couple Sundays in worship to look very closely at spiritual gifts and service, helping everybody recognize what their role in the body might be and then how to live into it.

And so everyone took a spiritual gifts inventory the first Sunday of this thing, and then the following Sunday, tables were set up where all the leaders of various ministries and teams could talk about and answer questions about their ministries. Everybody from the hospitality group to, you know, the music ministries, things like that. And so then in worship, you know where the sermon would normally be, everyone filled out a sheet that included basically every single job in the church, from greeting people in the parking lot, to making the coffee, to teaching Bible study, to running the nursery, to being in the choir or the band. And every person ranked on a three-point scale, whether they would be happy to do it right now, whether they would be willing if they were asked and needed and trained to run the coffee pot, or whether they would never, no matter what, do it.

And then the staff got to work– by staff, I mean me. I was the intern– got to work gathering all that information, plugging it into a spreadsheet here. And we did our best to plug every single person in somewhere where they’d be willing or where we might be able to raise them up to do some particular task. And now this is really important.

So this is what I want to take away here, is that this sort of connection and expectation of service here is crucial, but not because there’s jobs to get done. Like in every church, yes, there’s jobs to get done. Someone’s got to make the coffee, right? But it’s not about frantically recruiting volunteers to fill holes, right, or filling committee slots as it comes around the nomination seasons every year. That’s not the point.

The reason this all matters is because we a body serving Jesus and the world together. And a body needs fingers and an ear and eyes and a nose. This is all for God. You know, every single one of those committee slots, every single person saying hello in the hallway, every folding of the bulletin, this is all for God.

All of this is sacred work. You know, running the PowerPoint, putting all these things together, playing the piano, all these things are sacred work. And all of us, if we’re seeking to faithfully follow Jesus, need to be offering of ourselves in our significant, special, whatever that gift is, way. But I will say something else and push this even further because today’s Pentecost.

Here’s the thing about how we tend to approach spiritual gifts. Even at that particular church where I think we did a really unusually good job with it. It’s still pretty domesticated. It’s almost like in some churches whenever you break out a spiritual gifts inventory, it can function like a churchy version of the Myers-Briggs.

I don’t know how many of you had to take those at work or in school or a personality profile or you know and your senior year in high school you take one of those tests to figure out what jobs are good for you. What makes this different than that? Because that, who cares, right? What about the Holy Spirit? Last Sunday, as we read the story of Jesus’ ascension and his farewell address to the disciples, we heard Jesus tell the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with heavenly power. So think about this for a second. If the gifts that are poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit are just things we happen to be good at, whether that’s teaching Sunday school or preaching or working technology, then what Jesus says before he ascends doesn’t make any sense really.

Why would the disciples wait? Presumably those who are good teachers were good teachers then. Those who were good preachers were good preachers then. Those who were good at praying for people were good before the Holy Spirit came. So why should the disciples wait and why should we want the Holy Spirit? I mean I like to think I’m a passively competent preacher and teacher but plenty of Christians who have, non-Christians rather, who have never even heard of the Holy Spirit can also give a great speech, can also teach a mind-blowing class.

There’s people who don’t believe Jesus who can teach the Bible really good. So what does the Spirit have to do with it? What do the tongues of fire that descend upon those gathered at Pentecost make possible that wasn’t possible moments before? The difference here is this inescapable, uncomfortable element of supernatural power. The Holy Spirit activates within us our God-given gifts, yes, but then it empowers us to do something with them. For the body of Christ, for the kingdom of God, those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the Judeans, the Parthians, the Medes, the Elamites, the Romans, the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Cyrenes, Cretans, Arabs, Phrygians, Asians, all those people.

They experienced the Apostles speaking in their own native language, you know, the gift of tongues. And not only was that a wonderful skill or something, like that could be a cool party trick, but the point is that it was a mechanism by which God miraculously grew the church. That God spread the good news of Jesus from Italy in the north to Greece to Egypt to Turkey to Persia all the way to India and China because of what happened in that moment, because of that gift. Like do you see the difference here? Like yes, first God did miraculously give them the power to speak foreign languages by the Holy Spirit, sure.

That’s cool. But what’s important is God’s use of that gift and their cooperation in receiving that gift. Your gift of wisdom or healing or knowledge or prophecy or faith or tongues becomes a spiritual gift, a gift of the Spirit when it’s used in the Spirit. Otherwise, it’s just a talent.

Every one of those gifts that any of the apostles had, that any of us have, can sit dormant. They can be wasted. You can use them for things that don’t build up the kingdom of God. But when you are using them as a part of the body of Christ to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world, only then does a gift become a spiritual gift.

And only then, maybe, will you be miraculously empowered with new gifts. didn’t know you had. Think of the hymn we sang this one a few weeks ago. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. There is a crucial piece here where receiving the gifts of the Spirit requires cooperation with the Spirit that break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. It’s not just working harder or finding more ways to serve, that’s probably there. It’s not saying, You know, I’m a good speaker.

I should speak in church. It’s, Holy Spirit, use my gifts for the kingdom of God. God, pour out your spirit on me that I can love you and serve your people in the world in the special way you called me to do it in your church. Gifts become spiritual gifts when they’re accompanied with a spiritual commitment and a spiritual vision.

Listen once more to the Apostle Peter as he quotes the Prophet Joel. In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions, your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days and they will prophesy.

God has every intention of including us all in the work of renewal, of transformation, of salvation in the world, but it is so much more than each of us deciding what we’re good at and then taking a stab at it by ourselves. Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the body, united with Jesus as our head. And Paul says this really beautifully, I think, in 1 Corinthians 12, chapter 13, or verse 13, We are all baptized by one spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free. We are all given one spirit to drink.

I never noticed that little piece there. We’re given one spirit to drink from, to be nourished by. Each and every one of you has gifts, and I suspect there are gifts that are more than you know of that you have, that God is just waiting to open up in you. And there is a magnetism in your soul, in everybody’s soul, that causes you deep down to long to use those gifts in the service and love of God.

Drink this day of Pentecost from that one spirit. Receive the Holy Spirit that you may prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams, and watch your gifts become spiritual gifts. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.