On the Holy Spirit and the Potluck
Rev. Jay Rowland
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (and Psalm 36:5-10)
Sunday January 20, 2019
This past Tuesday evening a few of us gathered here for supper. The incoming class of elders and deacons along with the current elders and deacons, and some whose term ended with 2018, all gathered here for what has become a wonderful annual event every January. This is a warm gathering in the bleak midwinter, fellowship and bonding among our elders and deacons before the first regular meeting of the new year. After supper, TJ hands out blank pieces of paper and instructs everyone to write down their name and “two truths and a lie” about themselves. Then TJ reads each one and we all try to guess each person’s truths and lie. It’s a fun way to get to know one another. In my own case, it can also be counter-informative—when I remember the lie more than the two truths; and that’s part of the fun.
Perhaps the best part about this gathering, at least for me, is that the menu for supper is soup. It’s a soup potluck (breads and desserts too). In case you didn’t know, I love potlucks. But I’m guessing many of you probably do too. Here’s what I love about potlucks:
I love the variety of food.
I love the quantity of food.
I love it when there’s something I’ve never had before.
I love it when there’s something I have had before, maybe even many times before, but never as good as the way someone here from church made it!
Above all, I love potlucks because I’ve never left a potluck disappointed or hungry.
That’s a beautiful thing!
I don’t know if the church invented the potluck, but I do know it’s one of my favorite church gatherings. Pondering the 1 Corinthians 12 passage in preparation for today, it suddenly dawns on me: what a cool metaphor for the church! I believe that God has a habit of showing up in the common, so-called ordinary elements (and events) of life. And so, as I considered the abundance of food, flavors, recipes, and the personal touch of each one; when I consider the warmth, fellowship and joy that accompanies any church potluck, I see God’s fingerprints all over it. How did I not see this until now? That this unpretentious, ordinary gathering is an invisibly powerful experience of the Body of Christ, the in-breaking Kingdom of God … what that looks like, smells like, tastes like and … feels like. As I thought about what makes any potluck enjoyable, I realized this is also what makes every faith community the blessing that it is.
I read somewhere that the Holy Spirit doesn’t create Christians for isolation, “there are no ‘only children’ in God’s family” or something like that. The Holy Spirit is the relational energy of our fascinating Triune God. The Holy Spirit created the Church at Pentecost, and every local church thereafter. The Lord promises that wherever two or more gather in the Lord’s name, He is there. And wherever the Lord is present, so too is the Holy Spirit. And the natural consequence of the Presence is to inspire, to guide, to teach, to bless and to multiply. God never tires of showing us that together we can do so much more than we can by ourselves. Think about it, how many potlucks for one have you been to?
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Paul was writing to the church he helped plant in Corinth. He’s responding to reports, and requests for his insights, as they struggle to live together as the Body of Christ. In some places, like the chapter and verses immediately preceding this passage), Paul’s irritation and impatience is emphatic. At other places in his letter(s), he’s much more gentle. In either case, Paul highlights the movement and presence of the Holy Spirit in community. This reflects the Creation story as well as the Pentecost story.
The simple fact of the breath within each of us is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is what animates our bodies (life). The ancient Hebrew (נשימה “ruach”) and Greek (πνεῦμα – “pneuma”) word for “spirit” both have multiple meanings, breath and wind. God spoke, God breathed into the primordial void bring creation out of nothing. God spoke, God breathed into the clay/dirt/dust of the earth and created the humanoid. When our breath stops, we cease to be alive.
The same Holy Spirit that animates our bodies sustaining/creating life also animates our community of faith. This enables us to do great things together for God and neighbor, with God and neighbor. The Holy Spirit among us reveals and activates spiritual gifts in each one of us. So whenever we gather together, God is glorified because of the worship, mission and ministry that happens when we do, regardless of whatever problems or difficulties threaten our life together.
Yes about that. Problems and difficulties abound. I have mine, you have yours. Clearly we have problems as a nation, as a denomination, community and congregation. It’s easy to get discouraged, to lose sight of what’s possible, to lose sight of all we are capable of doing together, especially these days. And yet, here we are. We keep coming together, to worship together, to learn together, to eat together, to meet together, and as a result, hope abounds. God has never before and never will abandon God’s people or leave us without hope.
God creates community. That’s God’s nature. And God sustains community. One of my favorite ways God does this is by inviting each one of us to The Lord’s Table. Whenever we respond to that invitation and come to the Lord’s Table, we see again and again, just like at every potluck, that every person brings something essential to the table with them. Every man, every woman, every child. No exceptions. Each one of us brings gifts. Each one of us at times gives. Each one of us at times can bring only our needs. It’s the great circle of faith and life together. If it was any other way, we wouldn’t be here together right now; this building wouldn’t exist. We are here … all of this is here … because of the community God creates here which includes anyone and everyone who ever had anything to do with this place.
Trusting that God is continually at work in us and among us, in turn, helps us lift our downcast eyes and drooping heads in prayers and songs of praise. Psalm 36 is a good example of what that looks like: Praise for God’s character and God’s nature to bless and shelter us, sandwiched between observations about the wicked, and a plea for protection, is a fitting description of our walk in the world and the importance of keeping God at the center of everything–potlucks as well as problems.
I see here before me right now an abundance of spiritual gifts. We are a collective (a commonwealth I like to say) of giftedness which has enhanced and affirmed life in this community since the 1860’s, meeting challenges and problems head-on with creativity, determination and faith. Whenever we come together, regardless of purpose or reason, regardless of how many of us are gathered, together we are the body of Christ, animated by a variety of spiritual gifts, regardless of age, ability, disability, etc.
Together we are a veritable feast of varied abilities, experiences, gifts, skills, talents, etc., Someone here right now has a gift for organization; someone the gift vision; some of you are good at seeing the big picture; some of you are better with the small details. It’s all needed. Paul proclaims to the bickering Christians in Corinth, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” For some it’s nurture … proclamation … prayer … music … cooking … writing … study … painting … poetry … drama … comedy … play … digital understanding. God uses each one of us to inspire, equip, and, well, feed one another. And so we who are hungry for a good Word come together here and we are filled, and this carries us through the week, through whatever comes our way when we leave here.
There is no reason at all that any one of us should leave worship hungry today. Just like any church potluck, there is right now so much good stuff here that we can and we shall take it right on out of the building with us, inviting others to the Lord’s Table and putting our gifts and our needs to good use.
Some of us are not sure what our spiritual gifts might be. Others maybe even doubt whether or not they do. Let me just say for the record, yes, you do have spiritual gifts. Here are some “Questions for Reflection” (below-from Feasting on the Word*)to help you reflect upon and/or identify your spiritual gifts:
Created in the image of God, each of us is uniquely gifted to reveal divine likeness. When our deep joy is united with meaning and purpose, vocation is birthed. The Holy Spirit enlivens each one of us with unique gifts that nurture faith and serve the common good. To identify those gifts we can ask ourselves such questions as,
o When do I feel most alive?
o What do I love to do?
o What things, tasks, or actions fill me with a sense of purpose?
o What am I doing when time seems to stand still?
These questions help us discern the Spirit’s movement in our lives.
* Feasting on the Word-Worship Companion, Year C, Volume 1. Second Sunday after Epiphany (2012:Westminister John Knox) p.53.