The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at:
s032e05 Pentecost Internet only 15/5/2005
"to one is given ... faith" 1 Corinthians 12.9
I find this a very startling passage; that the Spirit might give faith to one person but give something else to someone else. If the most important thing is our faith, then surely the Holy Spirit would give faith to everyone, and then other (useful?) talents to individuals after that? Immediately this ought to alert us to the fact that the expressions of our faith are many and various, rather than one, passed on from Jesus to the disciples and apostles, the fathers and mothers of the Church, down to us, once and for all, unaltered and unalterable.
This faith, that we assume has been given to each and every Christian, and that which we assume defines our very Christianity, is in fact not given to everyone. Others are given, equally useful, equally divine, gifts.
The Holy Spirit gives us different gifts and so if we are only looking for the same gift in everyone, we will be continually disappointed. And it will not only be us who are disappointed. Other people who might rightfully expect us, who have eyes to see, and to be able to perceive their gifts, will be equally disappointed if we fail to see the gifts that God has given them.
And God works through the gifts that he gives us, not the sins of which we have repented, or the expression of faith that is ours.
So if we define our faith as that which makes us Christian, we have to deal with this passage of scripture. If God does not give everyone faith, then we must assume that either God happily consigns some people to hell simply because they haven't been provided with the wherewithal to avoid this, or God accepts people on the basis of faith and a lot of other things as well. I know what I believe, but others may have different thoughts.
So we can't get people to increase the amount of faith they have, any more than we can increase our own faith. What we can do is accept the other gifts that the Holy Spirit has bestowed, on ourselves and on others, and let God do the faith bit.
It may be obvious, but if we don't do this; if we dismiss as irrelevant or insufficient what others do, then we shouldn't be surprised if they don't dismiss as irrelevant or insufficient what we do. If we give them cause to dismiss us as irrelevant, then we cannot point the finger and criticize them if they also decide that the faith that we have and want them to adopt is similarly irrelevant.
I remember talking to one of my clergy colleagues who has children and he expressed the desire that his children met and married Christians as well -- and he said -- just as he thought I'd want for my boys too. And it caused me to think and reflect how frequently parents I have met have lamented that their children are not regular churchgoers. There is often a real feeling of failure if they don't. May I suggest that we take these words to heart and rejoice that God gives their children other gifts, equally as valid, and equally as important. God gives some people faith and other people other gifts. God wants other people to use their gifts within the real world that so desperately needs those gifts exercised. May I suggest that rather than feeling a failure, we rejoice.
I happened to meet three people from the "Tough Love" organization recently at the Premier and Cabinet community consultation. And I thought, what a wonderful and needed organization, and here were people exercising their gifts and talents for the wider community. Traditionally the church would first ask them if they went to church or believed rather than seeing the good they are doing already. How sad.
So no, I don't want my boys to marry Christians. I hope that whatever relationships they have; who ever they relate to will be good to them and that they will be good to those they relate to. The rest, if it is meant to be, will flow from this.
Last week I spoke about God giving us as Christians eyes to see the good in others, rather than God giving others eyes to see the good in us. In the original Pentecost the same dynamic occurs. God gave the earliest Christians the ability to speak the language of the hearers, God didn't give the hearers the ability to understand the language of the Church.
So the gifts that God gives us are for the benefit of the person to whom we are relating. We are given eyes to see the good in them, we are given the ability to speak in their language. Each of these makes THEM feel special. And so it is THEIR talents that we want to encourage and foster; we don't want them simply imitating us, or admiring and perpetuating the edifice we have erected, like the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar which those three young men, Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship.
Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church. We can set up Christianity as a glorious structure which all must worship or die eternally, like that golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. This magnified, not God, but the maker. Our generation is often described as the Post-Christian era -- I just think that the era of Christianity as a colonizing power is over, and a good thing too. Again, it was often not God who was magnified but the hierarchy, the system.
Pentecost says that the Church was born for the magnification of others, not of ourselves. It is when we are true to this, that the gifts of God will be ours; that others will feel special and that God will indeed be glorified. And as I have intimated, this so-called post Christian era is the surest sign for me that this is already happening.
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