Sermon Epiphany 2

January 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm Leave a comment

“Now standing there were six water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding about twenty or thirty gallons.”

Brothers and sisters, that’s a lot of wine.

But Jesus did not come to give us spirits; he came to fill us with the Holy Spirit.

I wonder how many people in here would classify themselves as ‘spiritual people.’ Sometimes it seems presumptuous to call ourselves that. But it has become a popular word in the past decades, as more and more people identify less and less with a specific church, denomination, or religion, and simply cover their bases with the catch-all definition of ‘spiritual.’ The genius of the word is that it can mean everything, and nothing. you don’t have to believe anything speicific about God to be a spiritual person. A general feeling of benevolence toward God, the gods, or angels will do.

It seems that we are better Corinthians these days than even the Corinthians were, back when St. Paul wrote many lines to them about what it was to be spiritual.

He begins what we know as chapter 12 with these lines: ‘Concerning spiritual gifts, my brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.’ The Corinthians would have pricked up their ears. Spirituality was important to them. They were very proud of their status as spiritual people, and they were proud of their spiritual gifts, especially speaking in tongues.

So it must have come as a splash of cold water in the face when St. Paul then reminded them of their past. (No one likes to be reminded of their past!) ‘You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.’

There is spirituality and then the Holy Spirit, St. Paul is saying. He knows that when the Corinthians became Christians, some of them did so for the sake of spiritual progress or improvement. There was a spiritual upside to Christianity that could unlock more spiritual potential.

We know about this too. We know that there are some business seminars where a speaker will encourage the clients to get involved in a local church – it’s good for the reputation, it’s good for the bottom line. We know that there are many people who are optimistic when they become involved in a church, that their lives will improve. Perhaps this was the missing piece that was keeping them from accomplishing their goals. It’s not that St. Paul wants to say that everything is suddenly going to be bad once you become a Christian, but he is making the point that becoming a Christian is not simply an improvement in one’s spiritual life, but a radical break with the past. It’s not from good to great, but from idolatry to faith.

So what is true living in the Spirit? How can we, how can the Corinthians, tell what is spiritual and what is not? St. Paul lays it out in verse 3: ‘No one ever speaking by the Spirit ever says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.’

What does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit empowers us to confess Jesus as Lord. True Spirituality neither unlocks our hidden potential nor accomplishes something for ourselves or others but recognizes the true God revealed in Jesus Christ. Remember the Magi and Herod that we read about two weeks ago. The Magi and Herod both knew the same amount of information about Jesus, but Herod tried to have him killed and the Magi worshiped him. The difference was not simply the star, but the Spirit. So we too are empowered by the Spirit to adore the Christ and confess him as Lord.

Then what is the use of a spiritual gift? Every gift does not need to have a ‘use.’ Yet indeed the Holy Spirit does provide us with gifts; but these gifts are not for our use, but for Christ’s use. Just as the Magi opened their treasure-chests and presented the infant Jesus with what they had been given: gold, frankincense, and myrrh; so we too present the gifts of the Spirit to the Lord Jesus under the guise of his people.

St. Paul says not a word about the accomplishments about special ‘spiritual’ people. He does not call out people who are above the rest. Instead he levels the playing field. All who are empowered by the Spirit have a gift to give, and all have a Lord to whom the gift must be given. Just as the Magi were not given gold, frankincense and myrrh for their own, so we must not think of spiritual gifts as our own possession. The Spirit’s gifts are for Christ and Christ’s people.

This may have been important for the Corinthians, but what does it mean for us?

The Bible is not just a story about people long ago and far away. It is about us – who we are today and the God who encounters us.

It’s not just New Age spiritualists who talk about unlocking your potential. When I was in Borders Books over the holidays, I saw copy after copy of Joel Osteen’s newest book: It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor. No wonder he’s got millions of listeners and the largest church in the United States. If I could convince people that I had the key to their success. I’d have a bigger church too.

I have no reason to think that Joel Osteen is not a Christian. But I do wonder about his emphasis on “your time, your faith, your dreams, your potential.” Somehow I can’t imagine St. Paul saying that.

God cannot be boiled down to a four-step process to your best life. If he can be, then there is no such thing as the forgiveness of sin, but simply one last chance to succeed where before you have failed. If knowing God is about unlocking your potential, then a lot of people in Haiti and elsewhere deserve an explanation from God, not to mention a refund. But if God is revealed to us in Jesus, who was born, who suffered, who died, and who was raised, then it’s not about us at all. Whatever we have, whoever we are, we may give to him, and he will receive and revive us whether we are successful or suffering, alive or dead.

Jesus fills the jars for the rite of purification with water, and the steward tastes the best wine he has ever tasted. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of purification for Israel and for the world. And he is the giver of the Spirit, who empowers us to confess him as Lord and to serve others in his name, and to do so with an overflowing joy: the joy of adoration and praise, the joy of the wedding banquet, the joy that suffering cannot quench. This is the great sign of Cana, that to know Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit is abundant gladness and peace to soothe our bitter woes.

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