Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Since I grew up as a pastor’s kid, that meant we moved every few years and I started a new school while in high school. I decided that I wanted to be involved with this school’s drama productions. However, I quickly learned there was an unwritten rule. Kind of like here, it was a small rural school system. The choir director and the theater director were the same person. A musical production was put on in the fall and a dramatic production in the spring. The unwritten rule was that if you want any chance to be in the drama, which usually had a smaller cast, then you had to be in the musical which needed more people. So I showed up to try out for Bye, Bye Birdie. When it was my turn the director, Mr. Malone, asked what part I normally sing. I told him, “I really can’t sing.” To which he responded, “Nonsense, everyone can sing.”
So I had bit/chorus parts in Bye, Bye Birdie but then I did get cast in the spring drama. The next school year, I once again tried out for the musical. It was the Sound of Music and I was cast in the role of the butler. This is a notable role, because the butler is the only role in the entire production that does not sing a single note. This and other similar occurrences over the years have convinced me that I just can’t sing. Here is the thing though, I actually can sing. Only about 2% of the population is actually incapable of singing. My vocal chords work just fine, and I am not tone deaf. I am physically capable of carrying a tune, it just does not come easily or natural to me. I think the reason why from a very early age I have been convinced I do not know how to sing is because people to whom singing comes more naturally assume everyone knows how to do it. They do not quite know what to do with someone like me. Singing is something that I am capable of learning it is just not easy. In fact, it is not easy for most of us. Researchers have found that 60% of untrained singers regularly make pitch accuracy errors. That means that only 40% of us are naturally good singers, but 98% of us have the capability to be so.
I see a strong connection between my life long struggle with music and this morning’s scripture. This morning’s scripture puts forth that “Now to everyone the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Notice the scripture does not say just to the pastors, to the prophets, to the saints, to the gifted. It says everyone, all people who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, have a manifestation of the Spirit in them. Every single one of us have a way that we can be used by God to serve and transform this world. However, much like how only 40% are natural singers, on average only around 30% of United Methodists churchgoers report being “highly involved” in the ministries and outreach of their church. The reality is that just about everyone is capable of singing. The reality presented in this morning’s scripture is that every believer has the capacity to serve God in incredible ways.
It is easy for us to not really think about how important the Holy Spirit was to the early church. The church did not really exist as the church until the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was the fuel that got the fire of church going, and it was the Holy Spirit that fanned that fire into flames that spread and caught hold wherever it was blown. Today, the Holy Spirit is still what is responsible for the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel. For as this morning’s scripture says there are different kinds of workings but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Anything successful that any church does that bears fruit, changes lives, and makes a real difference is because God is at work. The way that God is at work in the world is through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of God’s people. Part of our mission as a church is the transformation of this world, and that is only possible by the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, the other part of our mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ is also reliant on the work of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that is the agent of God’s grace and love before we ever acknowledge God. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that our heart is softened and our soul is open to receiving grace and forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to say yes to God’s yes of salvation for us. The Holy Spirit then continues to work through the body of Christ. It is only through the words and actions of God’s people that others can be told the story of Jesus and his love. When you get right down to it, church without the Holy Spirit is not a church, it is just a less fancy country club.
It is through the workings and power of the Holy Spirit that miracles happen. It is through the working and power of the Holy Spirit that this world is transformed. It is through the working and power of the Holy Spirit that souls are saved. It cannot be overstated, the Holy Spirit is the power of God at work in this world. It is almost incomprehensibly amazing that this Sprit of the Living God, was promised by our savior Jesus to come and dwell in us. Again, this scripture tells us that to each one a manifestation of the Spirit has been given to the common good. To some that gift is a gift of knowledge to impart, or wisdom to counsel. To others the Spirit grants a faith that inspires others, generosity that makes the greatest impact, and the power to heal and to comfort. The list of spiritual gifts in this morning’s scripture is not complete. There are other gifts, and we need to be clear about what these are. Spiritual gifts are not just churchy sounding titles for our natural abilities. Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They are the very power of God working through you to bring life, love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, and justice into this world. If you believe in God and if you proclaim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then the witness of the Bible is the Spirit is in you, and you (yes you!) can be used by God, empowered by the Spirit, to change this world.
If each and every one of us, can be empowered by the Holy Spirit, if each and every one of us is given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, then why are only 30% of United Methodist highly involved in the ministry of the church that has the chance to make a real difference? I think the answer, is the same reason that people like me do not think we can sing. So many disciples stay on the sideline because they do not think they can do it. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit and using spiritual gifts will always require us to take a risk. It will require us to make a leap that we are not sure we can make or attempt to do something that feels bigger than we can manage. When faced with the potential of such a step of faith it is far more common for people of faith to believe they just can’t do it. They think this is a job that is for someone more talented, more gifted, or more righteous.
Researchers have determined the #1 reason that people who claim they cannot sing cannot sing, is because they do not sing. The single best way to get better at singing is to sing. It took a science experiment to conclude that people who sing more regularly are better at singing than those who do not. It sounds like common sense, but there is profound truth to this: We cannot get worse at the things we do with great regularity. In the same way, if we seek to take a step in faith to serve God in some way we will get better at it. If we daily seek to practice whatever spiritual gift we think we have, then we will get better at utilizing that gift to serve God and fulfill the mission of the church. In the book of Romans, Paul also wrote about these Spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit. There he wrote, “If your gift is prophesying then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving then serve, if it is teaching then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement, if it is giving then give generously if it is to lead, do it diligently, if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Paul’s words were best summed up by Nike: Just do it! Each and every one of us here, right now, has been given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit; a Spiritual gift that has the potential to changes lives and transform the world. Chances are, deep down, you already know what this is for you. You know the way that the Spirit has been tugging on your hearts. You know the people that the Spirit has a lit a fire in your soul to reach out towards. You know the nudges to do something incredible that you have been ignoring. Each and everyone one of us probably have an idea of how God can use us. We do not know where being faithful to that leading will take us, we do not know how successful we will be, and usually the uncomfortableness of not knowing those things is what holds us back. What keeps non-singers like me from singing is we know that the noise is not going to be perfect so we stay silent. How tragic it is when the same type of fears and hesitations get applied in our faith. Instead of trusting God, stepping out and being faithful to the works of the Spirit we stay silent, we stay still, and we continue to do nothing.
I am not that great at singing, but Psalm 150 still declares “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord” and Psalm 100 states “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” So even when a bad-singer like me sings a song of praise to God, then God is glorified. The bible never states that praise needs to be on key and pitch perfect. It just said to praise the Lord with a joyful noise. In the same way, if anyone takes a step in faith and seeks to serve God by loving and being sacrificial on the behalf of others then God is glorified. It may not be executed perfectly and the impact may be smaller than we imagined, but God is still glorified. The assumption of this morning’s scripture is that each and every one of us has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and through the empowerment of the Spirit we can serve and glorify God.
At the end of this morning’s scripture Paul points out “just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all of it’s many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” All of us have the ability within to make a difference, to make disciples, to transform this world, and to glorify God. The way that the Spirit manifest itself in your is different than it is in me or anyone else. We all have our own role in the body of Christ, so may you be willing to fulfill your role. Even if you feel like you cannot do it, even if you feel like you not good enough, even if you are afraid of failure, or uncomfortable by your imperfection, may you do it anyway and trust the Holy Spirit to be present. May we all trust and follow the leading of the Spirit so we sing when the spirt says sing, we love when the Spirit says love, we serve when the spirit says serve, and we obey the spirit of the Lord.