Sunday, May 8, 2016

Empowered to speak and serve for a common vision and the common good (1 Peter 4:7-11)... God's Spirited People: The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and the church today (part 5)

 ‘They are a team of Neville nobodies’ that’s how I heard one person describe Leicester City football club, and the amazing news he was commenting on is that this week those Neville nobodies won the English Premier division. At the beginning of the season they were 5000:1 outsiders.  In football terms the club paid peanuts for their players, in fact there are clubs who have paid more than Leicester City paid for their whole team just for one marquee player. How could little ol’ Leicester City beat all these other star studied top line clubs? Well the same commentator who called them Neville nobodies said…”they didn’t have the star players, but each player knew what part they needed to play for the team to fulfill its vision and goal and they played that part. They were not in it for themselves but played for each other, their manager and the club”, their manager was able to unify this group of rejects and misfits that he’d given a second chance, and focus them on the common goal and the common good.  It’s not often you turn on the radio or switch on the TV news and the lead story is such a great sermon illustration about being God’s Spirited people.

Between Easter and Pentecost which is next week we’ve been working our way through the scriptures in the New Testament that deal with what we call the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We’ve seen that God has given gifts to his people in Christ to empower, enable and equip them…Or more correctly that God has given to empower, enable and equip us… to witness to Jesus Christ, to serve, to be built up together into maturity in the fullness of Christ, that God speaks and moves through us in a diversity of ways, and that we are the body of Christ, embodying Christ in the world. Each of these passages have had a list of gifts of the Holy Spirit, each list is different, they are  not designed to be definitive or exhaustive, they are there to tell us about the gifts in the context of important teaching on what it means to be the Church together.

Today we get a fresh perspective on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the other times the gifts are mentioned it is Paul who is speaking, but here we have Peter mentioning them. In the other instances Paul is writing to a specific church dealing with a specific issues, whereas Peter still writing to deal with specific issues is writing a more general letter, to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the provinces in Asia minor. The passage we had read to us this morning comes in the last part of Peter’s letter as a general exhortation and so acts well for us as a general summary and encouragement. Like we saw with the football team it puts the gifts of the Holy Spirit in terms of a common vision for the church and a call to use them for the common good. 

Let’s start with common vision… because Peter starts and finishes with vision; we just might not see it when he starts because he starts “The end of all things is near.” So we are more likely to see a picture in our minds of a scraggly street person, slightly wild eyed, definitely unhinged and out of touch, standing on a street corner, with a sandwich board, proclaiming ‘the end is nigh’, and it puts us off.  Wayne Grudem puts it into perspective when he says that Peter is thinking in terms of redemption history rather than just world history. By that he means with the coming of Christ, his death and his resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God has done all that is needed for his salvation plan to be completed ‘Jesus words on the cross were it is finished’, God’s kingdom is come, theologians use the technical term, it’s been inaugurated, the same word we use for the swearing in of a new president, the reign of Christ has begun… but Christ also said he ‘would come back’, and we live with the tension that God’s kingdom is still to come, in the Lord’s Prayer we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is heaven’. We look for what has started to be finished, or fulfilled, and the technical word is consummated, like we talk of peoples love and unity being completed in marriage. One of the metaphors in the New Testament talking of Christ’s return is that of a bride groom Christ coming for his bride the church. They are betrothed to each other this marriage has been inaugurated, but it awaits the consummation, when the two become one.  But between those two times, the bride readies herself for that time.

That vision does not mean that we are ‘All heavenly minded and of no earthly use”, or that we live in some sort of out of touch fantasy world just waiting for that train to glory to take us out of here. Peter says that it should cause us to be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” Perhaps when Peter says be alert here so we can pray he is remembering back to the garden of Gethsemane when he was invited to stay awake and pray with Jesus, because the hour had come, but he had fallen asleep. It’s easy for us in the on-going life and millennia of time passing to lose focus and faith in Jesus Christ and thy kingdom come. We are to live in a way that shows the world what it looks like to live where Christ reigns, and let that overflow into the world around us, to overcome the destruction of sin, and lostness in people’s lives and to transform the injustice and brokenness in our world.

Peter then calls his readers to live that vision out as the church in terms of the common good. Remember as you look behind me that the symbol of our Presbyterian church is the burning bush, and it’s an image from our stain glass windows I’ve used that image to reinforce that  Peter is speak to us as well as his first readers.

Firstly that it is a call to love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. A Kingdom of God vision, a Christ vision calls us to be a community together: To love one another. Peter is real enough to acknowledge that it’s not easy just like it’s not easy to get a group of football players with their own ego’s, foibles, ambitions and failing together it is hard for us to come together for the common good because we too are all broken and sinful people. So we need to offer the same radical grace, love and forgiveness to one another that we have received in Christ. We belong together we are team. There will be hurts and wrongs and things that really, really hurt and get in the way and threaten to derail us, but we are grow deeper in our love so we can work through those things. Again I wonder if Peter here isn’t remembering a question he asked Jesus recorded in Matthew 18. How many times must I forgive my brother, Seven times? To which Jesus replied ‘no seventy times seven’. Now before you whip out your phones and go look at the calculator app, In pre calculator days it was supposed to be a ridiculous number to remember all those slights and hurts, and keep an account of them, it would consume us. Just like in 1 Corinthians 12 that we looked at last week we should seek the better way… love.    

Alongside that Peter calls for offering hospitality to one another without grumbling. In the ancient near east as is often the case today, you expected to get something for what you gave, hospitality was a way of getting status. Here Peter calls us to open our homes and our lives to one another. One of the great barriers to genuine Christian love is the doors to each other’s houses, if we limited our involvement with each other as church to Sunday worship is that loving one another, it’s as we get into the reality of each other’s lives that genuine love happens. That gifts develop and flourish because we need God’s enabling to share his love with each other. That’s why I believe small groups are important in a church… On a very practical level the best place to start using your gifts and see them develop is in the setting of a small home group or life group. They are a safe place to develop and experiment. The first time I spoke in tongues in front of anyone else, and I sensed I had a word for someone and taught people and lead was in a small group. We actually try and have the level of fellowship and pastoral care that can happen in a small group be expressed in a larger group like this… What it does is often limit the size a group can be to feel that. Churches that grow in size need small groups to be the glue factor.  

Once Peter has got those two things sorted common vision and common good he then turns to talk about how we use our gifts. In very general terms he again says that to live out of this vision of the Kingdom of God is to use what we have been given to glorify God. To use them out of Deeping love and generous hospitality is to use them in a way that does bring praise to God. The list he gives isn’t very large or descriptive, but of all the lists is the most comprehensive. If your gift is to speak do it, if it is to serve then do it. Can I have a commercial break here and say just maybe this team is sponsored by Nike. We have been given these gifts by God so we should use them for God.  The parable of the tenants comes to mind where the servants are given amounts of money, and the faithful servants invest it and use it to make more, the unfaithful servant who does not know what his master is like, hides it.

To Speak covers all the gifts of divine utterance we’ve seen apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, teaching, encouraging, words of wisdom, words of knowledge,  tongues and their interpretation, remember this not exhaustive. Pater says we should do these things as if we are speaking the word of God, these things come from our knowing and being shaped and changed by encountering God’s word by ‘listening ‘to Jesus and putting it into practise.

To serve covers all the other gifts, healings , administration, pastoring, leadership, caring, mercy, again not exhaustive, but again in all we do as well as all we say we seek to glorify God. WE are to do that in the strength that God gives. We may see a lot of these gifts as our natural talents, but as we are new creations in Christ, the Holy Spirit takes those things and recreates them in us. If we rely on our own strength it hard for them to achieve that God wants, but if we use them trusting in God he can use them to the glory of Jesus Christ. I think that is one of the reasons Peter starts his exhortation about common vision and common good by talking about prayer, because it is in that relationship with God that we are equipped and energised to serve.

Peter finishes with common vision in a way that we can understand, with what we call a doxology, a short hymn of praise ‘in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever Amen.’ The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to be used for the glorification of Jesus Christ, sometimes the teams with the most gifted players don’t win because players might think their gifts belong to the individual, that it all about them. Not so in the kingdom of God, in the Church as we’ve worked our way through the different times they are mentioned in scripture we see the focus is on serving, on the common good, they are there so that God maybe praised through our witness to Christ. If we all play our part then it turns us into a winning team. Just like with English Premier league it’s not an easy road, although you’d think Peter’s letter might finish on that triumphant Amen,  he goes on to talk about the churches having to deal with suffering and persecution. 

 This passage starts with a vision of Christ: God achieving his salvation plans and purposes in Christ and his immanent return, and finishes with a vision of Christ: that in all things, encompassing the whole of life, no sacred secular split, no work life, home life, church life compartmentalization, that God would be praised through Jesus Christ. The church starts and finishes with a vision of Christ, now as if in a glass darkly, then face to face, it is our purpose… being witnesses to Christ, it’s what calls us to be about serving… it’s what calls us on to play our part to use our gifts is that vision of Christ… that is the real challenge for us… it is what changes us as group of misfits and  Neville nobodies, given a second chance and new life in Christ, into God’s spirited people.
as a response to this message we finsiehd our service with the hymn 'thine be he glory risen conquering son' a communal call to affirm our common vision of Christ glorified. This isn't us by the way...

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