Second Sunday After Ephiphany, 2016
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
We find ourselves in the church season, the liturgical season called the season after Epiphany, a season where Christ is revealed. The day of Epiphany always falls 12 days after Christmas on January 6, so we rarely celebrate it on Sunday morning simply due to how the calendar falls.
However, Epiphany is the day we read the story of the Magi who come from the East who reveal Jesus to be a King. The wise men give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and honor this infant as royalty. The epiphany of the day of Epiphany is that an infant can be a King, that God comes in the flesh, that God speaks even to people who are outside the covenant for, of course, the wise men from the East did not worship the God of Israel. It is on the day of Epiphany that we celebrate the coming of the Magi, and then, throughout the season after Epiphany, we read stories of Christ revealed in different ways: Christ revealed as God’s beloved Son in baptism—last week’s gospel, Christ revealed as having power over nature when he changes water into wine—which is today’s gospel, Christ revealed as the One on whom the Spirit of the Lord descends—next week’s gospel, Christ revealed as a prophet in his hometown, and finally Christ revealed in glory at the Transfiguration. The season after Epiphany is filled with epiphanies, events in which we see bits and pieces of Christ revealed, bits and pieces of God revealed, not all at once but in dribs and drabs.
What strikes me today as we consider the reading from 1 Corinthians is that, just as Christ reveals God, we too as members of the body of Christ are little epiphanies…though I’m sure the early Christians in Corinth were just as surprised as we might be to have heard this from the Apostle Paul. You see, the early Christians in Corinth were a cantankerous, stubborn bunch of folks. We can tell by reading the entirety of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that they were struggling to consider the needs of the whole Christian community instead of simply their own personal needs. What was happening was that, when these Christians came together to share in Holy Communion, not everyone was able to partake. Instead, some people went hungry while others ate their fill and even overindulged in the wine. It would be as if only those who came up through the first half of the communion line were served while the others glumly plodded back to their seats without a bit of bread and wine or grape juice, sadly left out of Christ’s body and blood. On a basic level, the Christians in Corinth were failing to recognize the value of each person in their community and the necessity of including everyone in that community. More than that, it is obvious from the Apostle Paul’s instructions that these Christians were worshiping idols, arguing about proper hair styles, especially among women, doing things that made other Christians stumble, struggling to discern an ethic around marriage and sexuality, and dividing themselves into camps instead of celebrating their unity in Christ.
In short, the Corinthians were not an exemplary Christian community! They are, instead, people in need of assistance, which is exactly why Paul wrote them this letter, to instruct them. And then, after all this instruction, Paul writes chapter 12, instruction about spiritual gifts. And of course, the Corinthians were struggling to understand spiritual gifts just as they were struggling with everything else. They apparently believed that there was some sort of hierarchy in terms of spiritual gifts, that some gifts were better or more important than others. And of course, that’s not true. All gifts are needed; all gifts are important.
But when we really dig down and see what Paul is saying here, the Corinthians must have been surprised because, despite all their obvious faults and failings, Paul tells them that they are little epiphanies! Paul tells them that the Holy Spirit is revealed in them. Paul tells them that anything good they do is God revealing Godself in them. Paul tells them: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To each! There is no one who is left out by the Spirit! The Spirit is manifest in all people in some way. And it’s not because they are wonderful, beautiful, faithful Christians; indeed, we know the Corinthians were a struggling bunch. But Paul quite rightly informs them that their spiritual gifts depend on them not at all and, thus, depend entirely on God.
What good news this is for us! For we are similar, are we not?, to the Christians in Corinth. Our faults and failings are obvious. We are divided at times, selfish, unaware of the needs of some of the people in our community, argumentative about—let’s be honest—some things that really don’t matter, and in a variety of other ways sinful. But because God’s gifts are given to each of us, because God chooses to reveal God’s own self in us, we are little epiphanies. Whenever and however we serve for the sake of the common good, we reveal God to the world.
When we use our wisdom for the common good, we reveal the wisdom of God.
When we faithfully and diligently serve in the church and the world, we reveal the faithfulness of God.
When we bring healing to someone through medical care or simply through our love and care of them, we reveal the care and love and nurture of God.
When we are able to see the truth in a complex situation—which is what prophecy really is, we reveal the truth of God.
The gifts God has given us, we each have at least one—which one is yours? Wisdom? Knowledge? Discernment? Faith? Prophecy? Healing? Leadership? Prayer? Hospitality? Music? The gifts God has given us, they do not reveal our greatness or our strength. They reveal God, who God is.
We are little epiphanies. We are sites of revelation, the revelation of God. In dribs and drabs, in bits and pieces, we show the world who God is. The gifts God has given us, they reveal little about us but a lot about God.
Now, there are many important things to learn from the Apostle Paul’s words on spiritual gifts, and it is taking all my will power to not break it down more and share insight upon insight. This is a very rich passage, but to share more would overwhelm and possibly bore you. So, I’ll just say: when you leave here today, reread 1 Corinthians 12. But here’s what I want you to know: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To you in particular is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. You are gifted by God, and because you are gifted by God, you are a little epiphany. You reveal to the world, in bits and pieces, who God is. No one but Jesus shows the world who God is in God’s entirety, but each of us have been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. There are some of us—maybe more than just a few of us—in this room who struggle to trust that God is revealed in us. There are some of us who would protest that our faults and failings bar us from showing God to the world. There are some of us who genuinely believe we missed out on receiving a spiritual gift. But Paul writes: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. We are little epiphanies.
2,000 years ago, Jesus revealed the power of God when he changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana. And Jesus went on revealing God in so many ways throughout the rest of his ministry. Now, 2,000 years later, how is God revealed? God is revealed in us, the body of Christ, the church. We are little epiphanies, gifted by God that we might reveal God to the world. Thanks be to God! Amen.