Summary: A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12 about various gifts to offer to the mission of the church
Leslie Griffiths, the well known Methodist minister and former President of Conference, tells of the time when he was invited to Easter People where thousands of people of all ages used to gather at a seaside resort for a Christian festival of worship, seminars, fellowship and fun.
He was ushered onto a stage in a theatre holding an audience of around 2,000 people. The leader was busy with the audience as Leslie crept onto the stage and took his seat. Several minutes later the leader noticed that he was there and announced his arrival to a crowd that was far more aware of his presence than the leader was.
Then in a kind of chat show experience the leader had a conversation with Leslie Griffiths. Leslie says that he felt an unwelcome intrusion into the carefully crafted event. But the interview continued.
Then, as if from nowhere came the question ‘Dr Griffiths, do you speak in tongues?’ Everyone there knew that the leader could because he made it quite clear. Dr Griffiths replied ‘Yes, of course I do. I speak French and Haitian Creole fluently. I have a smattering of Welsh, Italian and Spanish and a working knowledge of Greek and Latin. So, yes, I speak in tongues but only, as it happens, useful ones.’
The leader of the meeting wanted the audience to feel the weight of his disapproval. For him speaking in tongues was the hallmark of being a true Christian and a true Christian leader and Leslie Griffiths had admitted that he didn’t.
Spiritual pride. It’ so easy for us to end up with a sense of pride that comes from feeling as though we have been so blessed by God with a particular gift that we are better than others. And it’s not much of a jump then to thinking and even saying ‘my faith is so real, so deep, so fundamental, so all-important, that when I look at others they don’t seem to have had the same kind of experience I’ve had. They fudge on things that I think are central to faith and indispensable. They don’t show the same gifts I’ve been blessed with. Their faith can’t be as genuine as mine. True faith must be like mine.’
And it often goes further because we can begin to question who they should share fellowship with. I couldn’t possibly worship with people not like me, who don’t have the same beliefs and gifts.
And sadly it’s so true. I remember in my previous Circuit in local churches together a youth pastor at an evangelical church refused to acknowledge or have anything to do with the angelical curate because she had the audacity to be female. And that same church refused to worship with local Roman Catholics because they didn’t believe the same. When I first arrived in Chesterfield I met with the pastor of the church to introduce myself only to be part of what was an interview to see if I believed the right things, to see of I was acceptable to that particular church.
And in the past I’ve received a letter from a church member saying that they could no longer attend worship and listen to me preaching because my theology was at odds with theirs. Sad.
And so to the scripture, the epistle set for today. No-one in scripture saw clearer evidence of this kind of thinking than Paul. Right from the start of the early church Christians fell into the trap of taking pride in gifts, or pride in who they followed. Speaking in tongues, having the gift of tongues is one of those things in question. Many Christians will argue, wrongly, that you cannot be a true Christian unless you speak in tongues.
But in that list that Paul gave in the reading from 1 Corinthians there are many other gifts mentioned before the gift of speaking in tongues. Paul talks about wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy before he mentions tongues and their interpretation.
A whole list of gifts, and many more besides, that we have been given, not for our own benefit, but for the sake of the gospel. The glory of the church is that, in fellowship with each other we find a whole range of gifts. And rather than feeling superior because we have certain gifts, or inferior because we haven’t got particular gifts, feel threatened or uncomfortable, we should enjoy the gifts, learn from each other, feed on each other, seek to orchestrate the diversity into unity.
In that passage from 1 Cor 12, Paul starts by making a very bold and profound statement about who God is and what God is about.
There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but the same God.