It’s Exactly the Same, Except Different
Grace United Methodist Church
January 10, 2010
1 Corinthians 12: 1-7
Now concerning spiritual gifts,* brothers and sisters,* I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
I would like to begin by sharing with you today an event in my life that at the time felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me, but which in retrospect has proven to be a significant and defining point of my life. This seems especially true as I think about that particular event from the perspective of the Scripture we heard just moments ago.
It was the Fall of my senior year in college. I had declared my Music Education major almost three years before and hadn’t looked back. I spent at least one hour, but usually more like three or four hours in the practice room every day, exercising my trombone chops and improving and honing my skills. I was in at least three different ensembles every semester. The Spring semester prior, I had been appointed by the Band Director as trombone section leader for the Marching Band in that season. Though I was not the best player of the bunch, my seniority and leadership landed me that position – an honor, really. The trombone section was great that year; we had some awesome parts and had a lot of fun playing them for the football crowd every Saturday. We went from hardly being able to remember our parts and moves to “wowing” the crowd every week. As the football season drew to a close, and we stood on the brink of concert season, I was on “Cloud 9.” It was my senior year, and things were going great. I was practicing hard and getting ready for Wind Ensemble auditions. Wind Ensemble is the best of the best, the competition is stiff. I pushed myself in the practice room more and more, even as I felt a sense of confidence about the upcoming try-outs.
So the day came when I had to go into a room where my Band Director and Trombone Instructor sat behind a screen, and I played scales and an audition piece. I remember vividly that I had the unfortunate schedule that day of Biology lab right before my audition, and in biology lab, we had to dissect a frog. So, the nervous butterflies in my stomach were compounded by a slight sense of nausea. Nevertheless, I left the audition feeling pretty good. But still, I was nervous to see the results.
The next day the Band Director called me into his office. He asked me if I would be willing to play euphonium in the Wind Ensemble instead of trombone. He said that there were not enough euphonium players and that he thought I could fill in well there. He didn’t tell me that I hadn’t played well enough to make the Wind Ensemble on my trombone, but I knew. I begrudgingly accepted my Band Director’s offer, knowing that it was that or no Wind Ensemble at all. Then I left his office seething. I was mad at him for not being straight-forward with me. I was mad at myself for not practicing enough and pushing myself, and for being too proud. I was mad at the situation which put me on that crazy schedule where I had to dissect a frog right before I auditioned. It took me days to settle down, but as Wind Ensemble kicked-off that year, everything was fine. I really enjoyed learning a new instrument and appreciated the opportunity to play with the Wind Ensemble in my senior year.
And here’s what I learned. I learned that it was okay not to be the best trombone player, or even to not make the Wind Ensemble on my primary instrument. I learned that the Wind Ensemble was better that year because the better players were there in the trombone section. And I learned that my greatest gifts had been offered and brought to fruition as I led the trombone section in Marching Band that Fall. We are not all gifted in the same way, and we may not even be gifted in the way we would like to be, but we all have something to offer. For me, a senior at Furman University, my gift was not that I would be the best trombone player, but that I would be a strong leader among my peers. In short, I learned that we all have different gifts.
You see, we all had a common bond in the band at Furman. We wanted to be a part of something great. But not only did we want to be a part of it, we wanted to contribute to making it great. For me, that meant offering my gifts of leadership to the best of my ability when called upon to do so, and then being willing to step aside when different gifts were needed. That give and take made us all better and it also allowed for the building-up of the entire program. We were all there for the same reason; to offer great music to our listeners, but accomplishing that goal to its fullest meant each of us had to bring our individual gifts to bear in different ways. The same is true in our journey as Christians together in the Body of Christ.
We all have different gifts. We all have different talents and likes and dislikes. We can’t all be the best trombone players and we can’t all be leaders. We can’t all be “numbers crunchers,” and we can’t all be writers. But despite these differences, we have a common purpose and a common bond. What we share as members of the Body of Christ is that these gifts, talents, and passions are God-given and Spirit empowered so that we might build the common good; so we might work together with God in bringing God’s Kingdom to full fruition on earth as it is in heaven.
Though we are as different and unique as the snowflakes that fall in winter, what makes us the same, what unites us in our endeavors is the God-given Spirit. If you will allow me for a moment, I would like for us to think about the significance of that statement; about the significance of the Holy Spirit. In general, we United Methodists have a tendency to think “Spirit” is a bad word. We are wary about sharing those moments in our lives when we have felt the movement of the Spirit because we are afraid people will think that we are crazy; that they will make fun of us. We are hesitant to raise our hands in the spirit of worship because we will feel out of place. Yet in all reality, the Spirit is a wonderful thing. The Holy Spirit is what bonds us to Christ and what bonds us to one another. But one of the wonderful and amazing things about the bond of the Holy Spirit is that unity in the Body of Christ does not mean uniformity. The Holy Spirit unifies us, even as it empowers a diversity of gifts among individuals. As Paul says, within the church, there are differing gifts and differing functions, but every one of them is a gift of the same Spirit designed for the good of the whole. The diversity of our gifts becomes a way by which we might work together with God in achieving God’s purposes for this world. What an amazing thought! We have been given these gifts not for personal enrichment, but so that we, together with God, can enrich the faith of others!
So when we feel the movement of the Spirit, we too should move. When will feel the nudging of Christ within us, we should take action. The Spirit works within each of us to orient us to Jesus Christ, and the distinguishing mark of the Spirit is Jesus’ lordship in the believer. And when Jesus is Lord of our lives, then we will be about the work of putting our gifts to service in the Kingdom. And that work will begin with the simple but persistent and somehow humbling affirmation, “Jesus is Lord!”
As I mentioned earlier, one of the great lessons that came out of that seemingly horrible experience of my senior year of college was that we all have different gifts. But I also learned something else very clearly; our gifts are not for our own self-satisfaction. Our gifts are given for the good of the community, just as Paul tells us. As a result, we cannot and should not boast of having any particular gift because the Spirit has appointed to each of us certain gifts as it sees fit. We can all think that we are the best trombonists, but when you put all of us in one room, everyone trying to show-off and solo for others, it would be nothing but a lot of noisy cacophony. This seems to be what was going on with the Corinthian church, to which Paul originally addressed the words we heard this morning. Each of the Corinthians thought he was the best and that everyone should hear him, or that everyone should be exactly like him. The result was a room full of soloists and nothing short of a train wreck. This is why Paul emphasizes the unity of the Spirit and the giving of the gifts for the common good. When we associate our gifts not with status, but with humble service, then we can more readily unite; we can produce beautiful, harmonious music, and we can more fully integrate into the community that grows and serves together as the Body of Christ.
And this ultimately should be our goal. This is why we are here; to grow and serve together as Christ’s Body. God has created us to work in union with God. In the very earliest days, God appointed humanity to have dominion over his created order. Then, when Jesus Christ came to earth and inaugurated God’s Kingdom, he established the Church to continue his work in the world even as he was resurrected and went to sit at the right hand of the Father. God desires that this world might grow in accordance with God’s will; that justice would reign, and that God’s mercy and love would be known by all. And through the Holy Spirit God has gifted and empowered each of us to participate in that great work. None of us is amazing enough that we can do all of that on our own. But when each of us offers our gifts in partnership and in service with the God-given gifts of others, then God’s Kingdom is glorified. It’s one thing to know how God has blessed us and gifted us; it’s an entirely different matter to put those gifts to work. So in the coming weeks as we learn about and discover together our Spiritual Gifts, I pray that you will be in conversation with God and with one another about how we might put our gifts together for the glory of God’s name! Even if we’re not the best trombonist or the best leader, we all have a role to play in this holy ensemble. I’m sure you have heard the saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is Kingdom math. When we humbly submit ourselves before God and join with one another in service in Christ’s name, amazing things will happen! Let’s get to work!