Summary: What are your gifts?

I’d like to share with you how this sermon came about. A few of us had been talking about the Gifts of The Spirit. What they were and how were they to be used and we thought that this might be the basis for a sermon. When it comes to writing sermons, some of us need all the ideas we can get! So I had an idea but where did I start? I had no readings, no symbols, no special time of the year.

So I started to look into “The Gifts of the Spirit” It seems that over the years people have tried to quantify the Gifts of the Spirit. To try to put them into neat little boxes or lists. In the reading from Corinthians Paul lists seven different gifts. Scholars have tried to separate gifts into spiritual and secular gifts. When we first discussed this series, John Simmons had a book that listed about fifteen different gifts. Then it got worse! Some things were called gifts of the Spirit, others the fruit of the spirit.

I was talking to a friend of mine about this and he asked me what I thought spiritual gifts were. I said that I thought that any skill or talent we use to make the world a better place, or to help another person could be considered a gift of the spirit. I also thought that gifts were not just those that descended on us in a flash, like Pentecostal Fire. I wasn’t sure where the dividing line of gifts and fruit came in. Why is patience a fruit and teaching a gift? To me they seem the same. So I found that I had some questions and tried to find some answers and this seemed like a good place to start.

So, first of all, why do we try to divide up talents into spiritual gifts and earthly gifts? We seem to be saying that some skills come from God, others don’t. We even separate two people with similar skills into God given gifts and ordinary work skills. We think of people who find that they have the gift of healing by the laying on of hands as having been given a gift by the Spirit. Yet we think of a person who has trained and studied for years. Who has committed their life to save others, who they have never met and have still to meet, just as common or garden doctors. No God given gift there, just a work skill.

I must admit that this way of thinking worries me. Are we saying that the skill of a doctor is not a gift from God? Is it that the gift has to be given fully formed to be a real gift? Must it be easily seen, easily defined, and have an obvious result to be a real gift? I don’t think that this is the way to view gifts at all.

All through the Bible we see how God uses people to do his work. Sometimes he gives a gift just when it is needed. Sometimes he leads people through life, so when the skill is needed it is already there. Practiced and developed. Tried and tested. People have needs that have to be fulfilled. People need to eat, we have farmers and fishermen. People need to learn, we have teachers. People fall ill or hurt themselves, we have healers, doctors.

People who have the gift of determination, the ability to learn, to use tools, so that when their gifts were needed, they were there. When Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho, he followed God’s orders and used musicians. God used the skills of Noah to build an ark. When Jesus travelled across the Sea of Galilee, he did not magically conjure up a boat, but trusted in the skills of the shipwright and used a boat just there.

People who developed and used their ordinary skills, not knowing that they would used for his purpose.

It reminds me of the story of the man and the flood. A man lived alone in a house a long way from town. He heard on the news from the weather girl that a flood was coming where he lived, but he said, “I’ll be OK. I love my God and he will look after me” As promised, the floods came. As the water rose to his upstairs window, a man in a rowing boat came and offered to take him to safety but the man said, “I’ll be OK. I love my God and he will look after me” The man in the boat left. The waters rose higher and the man had to sit on the roof. A helicopter came by and offered to take him away but he said, “I’ll be OK. I love my God and he will look after me” The helicopter went away, the waters rose higher and the man drowned.

When he got to heaven, he asked God “Why did you not save me?” God replied, “I gave the lady the gift of working out what weather would do, but you ignored her. I gave a man the strength to row against the currents and sent him to you, but you sent him away. I gave another man the love of flying and the skill to fly a helicopter, but you sent him away as well. Just what did you want?”

Gifts and skills come in many guises. Some come upon us suddenly. Some have to be worked at. Sometimes they are all the experiences of our lives that come together at one time to be used just when God wants them seen.

This led me onto my second thought. If all our gifts, skills and talent come from God, what makes the difference between a secular gift and a Spiritual gift?

I wonder if it is the way we use our gifts, the way we want to use our gifts that make the difference? Many people just use their skills to make their way in the world, just to improve their own lives. Some people use their gifts to help others, to improve others’ lives. We can live in either group. We should know which one, the one whose commandment is “to love one another as I have loved you.”

Yet some people see a divide between what they do at work, what they do in the world, and what they do at church. The accountant says “I only work with books and figures, what can I do?” The street sweeper says “I have no skills at all, what can I do?” They do nothing, yet still come to church on a Sunday. The accountant sings in the choir, the street sweeper takes the collection, counts it, banks it and keeps the records. World skills, Church skills.

Both these people have many other gifts that perhaps they never realise that they can use. The patience to keep books might become the patience to teach a young person. The ability to smile on a wet and miserable day might be passed on to a stranger as they cross the road. None of these skills or gifts are better or more important than another.

The cleaner, the hymnbook collector, the communion glass washer none of them are lower or greater than the preacher, the pastor, or the steward. Just different people, doing different jobs. Just as Paul said, so many years ago:

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 works all of them in all men.

Many skills, and opportunities just waiting outside in the world for us to use them. Work skills, Church skills, our skills. Gifts from God, for us to use, in his service. And by making gifts of our skills, does that not make them gifts of the spirit?

I think it does, but only, only if they are really used with love. I said at the beginning that I thought that any skill or talent we use to make the world a better place, or to help another person could be considered a gift of the spirit. But cannot every gift be used for evil as well as good? Like Dr Schweitzer, who took his healing gifts into Africa and Dr Shipman who used his gift to kill and murder. Ghandi, whose skill as a speaker brought peace, and Hitler, who used his skill to wreak war on the world.

At the end of the day, all the gifts are there to be used. If they are not used with love then they are not worth a light! Don’t take my word for it. Follow Paul’s writing to the end of the chapter and into Chapter 13. After telling us all about the gifts of the Spirit he goes on to say, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” The way of love, the way that is the greatest way of all. I expect most of you know this chapter. If you don’t, it is well worth the read.

My third struggle was to try to understand why there is a difference between gifts of the Spirit and fruits of the Spirit. I find it hard to see the difference. Is it suggested that the gifts are a seed that will grow into something we can see, the fruit? Is it that the gifts are a starting point for something new? I am still unsure. Yet it does seem to me that all the work that we put our gifts to should have some sort of result. But how often do we see a result? How long do we have to wait to see something growing from the seed we planted?

In my work, I have been involved in a Community Garden Project. I am not a gardener. I do not have the patience to wait and see the plants growing. My technical expertise is limited to “green side up” Yet some of the volunteers I was working with will never see the results of their work. I was taken to see their tree nursery. I saw some shoots about two inches high. “Two year old Oaks” I was told. Then I saw some saplings about a foot high. Five-year-old Oaks. When will they grow to be a proper tree? I asked. “After I’m dead and gone!” was the answer. A man with the gift to grow forests, the patience to wait and the acceptance to never see a result.

When Jesus healed the ten lepers only one came back to say thank you. The other nine went on their way. Ungrateful bunch weren’t they? Yet Jesus never said, go and show the priests and then come back and say thank you. He healed them anyway, probably knowing what would happen. Maybe some of them went on to do good works in the future. Maybe they did not. Yet when people needed help, he listened.

I cannot begin to count the number of times people in churches all over the place has decided not to do something for the people who live nearby, on the grounds that they are not members of the church, don’t come on Sundays, and won’t start coming even if something is done for them. Does it really matter if you don’t see a result straight away?

Nearly forty years ago, I went to a youth club in Ilford with my friends. We used to run the leader ragged. We used to climb on the roof, sneak into the church to bang on the piano, smuggle in fish and chips. Oh it was great fun. We thought that he was a bit of an idiot giving up Friday nights. Trying to tell us about being a Christian. Maybe he planted a little seed because who’d have thought I’d have ended up just like him? No one at the Ley Street Chapel in 1963, I suspect.

Using the gifts of the spirit is not some vague church thing, but something to take into the world with us wherever we go. As Paul said:

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 works all of them in all men.

Working in God’s world whenever and wherever we can.

Not for the thanks of those we help. Even Jesus only got a 10% thank you, only one of the ten lepers came back to show his gratitude.

Not for the thanks of our Lord. As it says in Luke:

Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?

But because, as Luke goes on to say:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

We’ve been given the skills, the gifts of the Spirit. We’ve been given our task; love one another as I have loved you.

Use every gift and skill that you have been given. Everywhere, anywhere, wherever you can. Use them with love. Use them without hope of reward. Use them for the sheer joy of serving our Lord. Then perhaps we can understand and see the difference between the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit.

If you’ve started the work, may God bless you as you carry on. If you haven’t, isn’t it time you did?