The First Presbyterian Church of Dexter
Text: I Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The leaves that were once vibrant and rich with the colors of autumn are now void of the red, yellow, and orange hues that signaled the time of transition between fall and winter. Thanksgiving has come and gone, which has led us to the time of year that we know as Christmas… Though I guess that isn’t true per se, because while we may be getting ready for Christmas we are actually in the time that is known as Advent, a period where we wait with anticipation and hope for the coming of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we are getting ready… We are preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of God who took on human flesh.
It should go without saying that there are a lot of other things that are vying for our attention. There are the old hurts and pains from broken or fractured relationships… There are fears that the future that we have hoped and worked for will not pan out the way we wanted it too… And then there are molehills that miraculously become mountains either by our own doing or by the inexplicable forces of nature. And yet we are constantly told that, “God will strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus. God is faithful; by him we were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s around this time of year that I am presented with my own struggles… I don’t know when it happened, but I’ve lost the ability to answer the question, “What would you like for Christmas?” Maybe it’s because I don’t really have many wants or needs… Maybe it’s because I dislike having to present of list of things that I could have easily gotten for myself or not use… Or maybe, and this is the answer I like to think is correct, that I am so happily content with what I have I don’t see any need to add to my earthly treasures… I would much rather be on the giving side of the gifting exchange rather than on the receiving end.
There is a copious amount of research that goes into each and every gift that I buy for family or friends… I want to make sure that what I give them will have some kind of meaning or at the very least will provide them with some kind of joy or happiness… I would go out on a limb to say that the reasons I have for giving gifts would apply to the majority of us… Which brings us back to the Scripture passage this morning from the book of I Corinthians. Being that now is the time where we not only prepare our souls for offering thanks and praise to God, but also offering gifts to other, what does it look like for us to embody an attitude of spiritual gift giving.
Before we look at the act of spiritual gift giving, we should first define what we are saying when we use the term “spiritual gift.” In his letter to the Corinthians we find that Paul writes to them saying, “[J]ust as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to Paul each and everyone of us has been given spiritual gifts from God, and these spiritual gifts are enough to sustain us and to move us to live into the lives of hope, joy, love, and peace that we celebrate during this time of Advent and Christmas. What we have received from God is what drives us to dig deeper and cultivate a rich life of faith and love of God.
The spiritual gifts we have received from God are not only for our own consumption or for our own personal enjoyment. What we find time and time again is that Jesus calls us to continually seek out faith and to be active in our walk with God, Jesus, and one another. As we are reminded by Jesus’ own words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) Our spiritual gifts of compassion, love, grace, discipleship, forgiveness, teaching, and caring are meant to be paired with hearts that are humble and willing to serve and look for God in both the light and in the darkened corners of the world where we dare not go. Taking this into consideration, perhaps spiritual gift giving is not as easy as we thought it would be.
In the passage this morning Paul writes to the Corinthians telling them that they shall not be without any spiritual gifts as they await the coming of Jesus Christ. I think what is important for us to note here is that “not being without” any spiritual gifts is different than having perfected spiritual gifts. Our families, our homes, our communities, will not be made whole until the day that Christ comes again to bring about salvation to the entirety of the created world. This means that we have to wait… This means that we are to use what we have in order to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ… This means that through thick and thin the spirituals gifts we have been given by God are meant to carry us onward, they are meant to take us into a more meaningful relationship with God and neighbor, instead of being left out to be displayed as some kind of trophy or medal.
If spiritual gifts are meant to sustain and nurture us as we journey along a life of faith, what is so difficult about spiritual gift giving compared to the other gifts that we give to one another. Taking a moment to be honest with ourselves we would say that spiritual gift giving involves a certain level of vulnerability. It means that we run the risk of our hearts and souls being hurt by those who might reject the gift we have to offer. It means that when we go about giving our spiritual gifts to others we will be led to go to places that may not be comfortable or within the boundaries of what we know. Spiritual gift giving is actually a dangerous business, but so is anything that is related to the work that Jesus calls us to do.
God is our strength and refuge if we are willing to rely on the promises that have been made to us. As we begin to countdown the days until Christmas, we also begin to countdown the time when God took on human form in the form… Not as a powerful king, but as a helpless infant. The power that Paul wrote about in his letter to the Corinthians did not come with a sword or mighty army, but with the love and grace of a God who calls us to be in fellowship with one another, to be in community with one another. We pray that the Spirit of God illumines our path so that our feet may journey to places God guides us to. We live each and everyday with an Advent, with a Christmas hope that one day we will be able to come together as people from all walks of life in order to gather before the throne of God who shows no partiality or favoritism.
December marks the fourth month of my time here in the North Country. It’s amazing to think how fast time goes by. I was concerned that when I graduated from seminary I wouldn’t have any markers or signs to let me know how much time has passed… But I am quickly learning that you have to be careful, because as soon as you blink you’ll find that time has disappeared right before your very eyes. I like to think that during the course of my time in the North Country I have learned some things both old and new, which I believe is certainly the case. And I have people at First Pres., all of you here at Dexter, Watertown, and Jefferson County to thank for that.
It’s been remarkable to learn something each and everyday. Of course it’s the charm of living somewhere new… But I like to think that the excitement comes from envisioning the innumerable opportunities there are for mission and outreach. Whether it be through programs like the Dollar Dinners or the work at the Urban Mission, communities of faith in the North Country are in a position to do great things… It’s just a matter of whether or not we are willing to give our spiritual gifts to those in the communities of which we are a part. This doesn’t mean we have to give money, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to give anything physical at all, but what it does mean is that we are called to share something with those who are around us. The opportunities to touch the hearts and souls of people here in this community and beyond are present… They are just waiting to be uncovered.
During this season of Advent it is my hope that we have an opportunity to share the spiritual gifts we have with others. Like I said before, that means we have to be vulnerable, to take risks, but like everything else in the Christian faith this isn’t meant to be done alone… Each and everyone of us has been given a talent, a gift, an ability, that can be used to glorify and praise God and to bear witness to God to those whom we meet. The challenge is whether or not we will be faithful, just as God as been faithful to us and calls us into fellowship with Christ Jesus. Amen.