The readings were Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11.
“The Holy Spirit is given to all who are able to proclaim Jesus as God and Saviour, and then manifests in many different ways – but always for the building up of the community of the Church and the proclamation of the Reign of God.”
In writing to the church in Corinth, Paul wasn’t just trying to make a series of wonderful theologically accurate statements, although he certainly did as was his tendency right throughout his letters. As we heard in our second reading today, he’s talking about the gifts of the Spirit and how they are manifest in a community. Wonderfully accurate theologically.
But that’s not why he was writing to Corinth.
The church in Corinth had been cast adrift by division between a group of people who were, well let’s just say they were a little bit proud about themselves because they thought they had been given the gift of the Spirit which had manifested it in all these wonderful ways and so they were better than everybody else. They were the ones who had the true Spirit. And everybody else needed to come along with them, or they weren’t really followers of Jesus.
Paul in writing to Corinth says no that’s not the way it works. The Spirit is manifested to everyone in a multitude of ways, but it’s the same Spirit, a Spirit that comes not from how it manifests itself in particular ways but from our ability to say that Jesus is God.
That’s the true and primary manifestation of the Spirit. We can only do that, then and now, because the Spirit has moved in us and moved us to faith. We proclaim Jesus as God and Savior because we have received the Spirit that allows us to do that. Paul was saying it then. And it’s right that we should be saying that now.
Once the Spirit has been received, however, however it is manifested, is for the good of the community. He is saying it might be this way or that, it might manifest this way or that, but whatever it is, however it is, it’s manifested for the sake of the community and for the world.
Believers do not build up the community of the church.
The subtext of Paul’s writing is that it’s God moving through the Spirit active in people’s lives that builds up the community of the church. We don’t do it. We couldn’t possibly do it. Only when we receive the Spirit and allow it to be active in our lives can the community of the church and indeed the salvation of the world be built up. That’s at the very heart of what Paul is saying when he writes to Corinth.
And it’s good that we should hear that at this time of the year as we prepare to embark on another calendar year. I know it’s 20 days in but my God I thought yesterday was only the beginning of Advent. But here we are, and we are reminded very clearly that each of us has been gifted with the Spirit because we come here each and every week and we proclaim by our presence and our involvement in our worship that Jesus is God.
We’ve all been gifted with the Spirit because we say that. And then we are called to use the gifts of the Spirit, however they manifest themselves in each individual, for the sake of the community of the church and for indeed the whole of the world.
The only time we can get it wrong is when we do three things. When we say A) I am better than you because I have the gift of the Spirit manifested in this way. B) We say to another person that’s clearly not of the Spirit because it’s not the way I expect the Spirit to be manifested. And C) we just ignore the gift to the Spirit that’s been given to us.
When we do that we get in the way, we get in the way of God working in us through the gift of the Spirit, a gift that’s been given to us, as I say, for the welfare of the entire community. When we don’t respond to the gift to the Spirit, we diminish the community, and we diminish the work of salvation that is ours because the Spirit has been given to us.
So at the beginning of another calendar year as we hear this warning from Paul to the church in Corinth, it’s a warning that is good to be heard here and now in this day and age so that we don’t fall into the same trap that the church in Corinth fell into. And we can be about the building up of the community and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God into the world that is ours because the Spirit has been given to us and because we come here and we proclaim first and foremost that Jesus is God.