Beyond the Crystal Ball
Grace United Methodist Church
January 17, 2010
1 Corinthians 12: 4-13
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.
8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
I prayed for Haiti last night. In fact, I’ve prayed for Haiti several nights this week, and lots of time during the days too. As I sat doing work on Wednesday evening, my mom sent me a text message. It said, “I’m watching CNN…Unbelievable. So sad.” And so I turned on CNN and I watched and listened as the reporters tried in vain to convey to their viewers a picture of the devastation and chaos that hovers over that country right now. Then, at one point during the newscast, they started showing pictures of all the rescue teams that are preparing and making their way to Haiti. On the ground now in Haiti are teams from China, Taiwan, from Miami and Los Angeles. There are teams there from Brazil and England. From all over the world, countries are sending search and rescue teams, health teams, heavy moving equipment; any and all resources that might be useful in the midst of the devastation that little island country is currently experiencing. As of Thursday morning, just a mere 36 hours or so after the earthquake, the Red Cross had collected nearly $3 million for Haiti through people sending text messages that said simply, “Haiti.”
As I prayed for Haiti, and the people there, as I asked God’s comfort with the injured and grieving; I also found God planting within me a seed of hope and even joy. God opened my eyes and my mind, and I realized; THIS is the body of Christ at work! THIS is sharing of the Spirit; neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free! THIS is the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good! Where else would we find Chinese and Americans joining together in common work; we are all but enemies these days. Under what other circumstances would a team from Taiwan and a team from England be found working together with a shared purpose? Indeed, even when it may not be fully realized, it is the Spirit of God that unites us with vision and purpose to serve the causes of God’s kingdom; in this case that cause is helping the people of Haiti.
Last night I prayed for Haiti, and for the first time in my memory, I saw the Body of Christ REALLY at work, across national borders and cultural differences. Last night, I prayed for Haiti and I realized how God’s Kingdom is served when we bring our spiritual gifts together for the common good. Last night I prayed for us; I prayed that we might build on the example that has been set for us this week; that we might lay aside our self-centered desires and open our eyes to the needs of others in our midst. Last night I prayed that we might all put our spiritual gifts to work for the common good. I prayed that we might all be prophets.
Prophets. Now, I’m sure that at the mention of that word, I have some of you squirming in your seats with visions of tarot cards, palm readers, or a cloudy crystal ball. We might even think of the likes of David Koresh. But there is more to prophecy than foretelling the future. When I was a child, sometime in late elementary school, several of my friends began talking about Ouija boards. I was fascinated by this idea that perhaps the future could be foretold by a pointer that magically moves over a board. Finally, one of my good friends was given a Ouija board, and she brought it over to my house one night for us to experiment with. I don’t think I have to tell you that the Ouija pointer didn’t move by itself. We didn’t know anymore about the future when we were done playing than when we had begun, and you sure can bet that we tried!
With strange things like Ouija boards, crystal balls, and “possessed” messengers claiming to have a declaration from God about the future, it is no wonder that we approach the idea of prophets and prophecy with a bit of skepticism. But it is precisely because of these modern misconstruals of prophecy that I want us to spend some time with this spiritual gift today, and how it connects with the other gifts of the Spirit. Certainly, we can take time to consider the unique attributes of each and every gift that Paul mentions here in his letter to the Corinthians, and we will be doing that in our upcoming Wednesday evening Bible studies. But what I would really like to do now is think about several of the spiritual gifts in light of just one of those gifts – prophecy.
As some of you may be aware, “prophecy” is the only spiritual gift that is mentioned in all four of the New Testament passages that deal with the spiritual gifts. I believe that fact in and of itself is revealing of the importance of Christian prophecy in the world. Wikipedia defines a prophet as “a person who has been contacted by, or has encountered, the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other humans.” Certainly, these might be traits of a prophet, but I think this too narrowly defines prophet. And it is because of such narrow definitions that we so very easily roll our eyes and think “weird” when news reports bring us stories like those of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. It’s enough to make you wonder if we would recognize a true prophet in our midst if God were to put before us in this day another Moses, or Abraham, or Isaiah. Yet, if we look at these prophets, and others of the Bible, I think we would discover that prophecy is more than just foretelling the future, or encountering the supernatural and then bringing a message to the world. In my observation, the gift of prophecy is about bringing God’s message into the world, pointing people to God’s preferred future, and then urging them in that direction. Think about the message of God’s love that is being carried into Haiti in these days, as people all over put aside their own lives to help this nation. The work of these people is, in some sense, prophetic. Christian scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it this way, “the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke [an alternative] to the dominant culture around us.”
“The prophet is a [person] who lives so close to God that he knows God’s mind and heart and will, and so can make them known to [humanity].” Despite the fact that we tend to think that prophecy is a bad thing, our world needs prophets because prophecy is about more than foretelling the future; at its very heart, prophecy involves speaking the Word of God into the lives of people. We need people who are so attuned to God; we need people who can point us to God’s preferred future. Really, we should all be prophets in this sense. We should all be people who want nothing more than to share God’s mind and heart with the whole world.
Paul talks about the spiritual gifts in three of his letters to the early churches. Each time Paul broaches the subject, varying spiritual gifts are named. In the particular passage we heard earlier from the letter to the Corinthians, the gifts Paul uplifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Let’s look at some of these for a moment and consider how each might contribute to a prophetic ministry in our daily lives. The wisdom which Paul here lifts up is the highest kind of wisdom. It is the wisdom which comes from communion with God; the kind of wisdom that is borne from an intimate relationship where you can sense the other’s will or desire before a word is ever spoken. With such a gift, persons can speak the will of God into the circumstances of our lives, and they can share the knowledge of God in the face of trials or temptations. Similarly, the knowledge of God which Paul brings up here is the knowledge which knows what to do in any situation. A prophet who is speaking God’s Word and will into the world, or even into a specific situation, will know what to do in that situation. He will be aware of God’s desire for creation and how God would have us to act in this world. This is the gift of knowledge. And you can begin to see how through these gifts we can be prophets who carry the Word of God into the world and point people to God’s preferred future.
Then there is faith. The faith which Paul lifts up to the Corinthians is more than a mere intellectual conviction. This is the faith which disregards self and climbs into the rubble of a collapsed Haitian hotel in search of survivors; this is the faith which really produces results. And through such faith, the Word of God is revealed in the world in a prophetic way. The same is true of the gift of healing. As a pastor, I have had occasions to speak to doctors whose knowledge of medicine has nursed hundreds of people back to health. From many of those doctors, I have also heard this: “I have treated patients who should have died; I threw every kind of medical treatment possible out there, and it did not improve the patient’s situation. But sometimes those patients had people praying for them, and they got better.” Friends, God is the great healer. But to some, the Spirit has given this same gift. And when that gift is used, the power of God is revealed in the world in miraculous ways.
God, too, is the great miracle worker. In a world full of cynics and skeptics, people claim everyday that there is no such thing as miracles. But I think we all know that miracles happen all the time, and Paul tells us that certain people have this spiritual gift. In my observation, those with the gift of working miracles are servants of God, and miracles themselves point to God. Miracles bring a hope that stands contrary to the despair that so often pervades our lives. Miracles are a taste of God’s future kingdom on earth. Miracles make God powerfully known to humanity, and as such the working of miracles is a prophetic ministry, speaking the Word of God into the world.
I don’t know about you, but I want to see miracles in this world. I want to hear stories of Haitians pulled from the rubble days after the ‘quake. I want to see families reunited in unexpected and wonderful circumstances. I want to know that God is at work even now, and to have that hope that someday God will reign over all. The prophets are the people who keep this reality before us. They are the ones who remind us everyday that God is in our midst working God’s wonderful purposes in this world; whether it is through miracles, or healings, or a childlike faith. Prophecy is God’s living and life-giving Word, and we should all put our spiritual gifts to work in order that that wonderful Word of God might be made real in this world! This is our uniting purpose, the Body of Christ at work just as it has been in Haiti this week. We have a message to proclaim about the God whose life-giving Word can take root in our hearts, transform our lives, and bring us all closer to God’s preferred future! We should all be prophets!