Be a Regifter
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Sunday, January 20, 2013 – Epiphany 2C
I know that over the last month I've kept talking about Christmas presents, so I promise I'll stop talking about gifts… next Sunday. Don't answer out loud, but think about it… what was the best gift you received this year? Okay, now don't answer out loud (especially if the giver is sitting next you), but what was the worst gift you received this year? I don't know if my dad's going to listen to this sermon or not, but I'll let you know anyway that the worst gift I received for Christmas was from him. It was a T-shirt that read "My fish" with a picture of a big fish beneath it. But under that it say "My kid's fish," with a picture of a gigantic fish at least twice the size of the first. Funny gift, dad.
Well, I kind of hope that he's not listening to this sermon and that he doesn't read it later because, well… I have every intention of regifting that shirt… to my dad next year.
Most of you know I'm kind of a nerd, but did you know I listen to a weekly podcast on the finer points of grammar? (It's true.) Well, not long ago the author explained how the words "regift" and "regifter" came into English usage. It's actually a very modern word. In a 1995 episode of Seinfeld called "The Label Maker," the character Elaine called another character a "regifter." And the word stuck. And I'm sure that in the last 18 years you've used the word once or twice yourself.
But what do you think about the act of regifting? Of taking a gift that you've received and giving to someone else? (Not usually the same person who gave it to you, like I plan on doing to my dad.) Do you think it a bit tacky? Do you think it's okay… as long as you don't get caught?
Well today, in a sense, God tells us that he wants us to regift. Not necessarily with that sweater you don't particularly like or the black shirts you keep getting but with the gifts that God has given to you. No, he doesn't want you to give away all that you have, but he does want you to take the gifts that he's given and give them back to him, in a sense. He wants you to take those gifts use them—all of them—to serve him by serving others. Listen now to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and hear how God encourages us to be regifters, giving back to God what he's given to us…
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
My dad not only gave me dumb T-shirt for Christmas. He also gave me a lot of advice growing up. And one thing I remember him saying on a regular basis is, "A little bit of knowledge is a very dangerous thing." Apparently, the apostle Paul thought so too. He didn't want the Corinthians to think they knew all about spiritual gifts (which they certainly had in abundance!) but remain uninformed or worse, misinformed about the truth. "Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant…" So he started to teach. And we get the privilege of listening in.
What about spiritual gifts? What about your spiritual gifts? "Well, I don't really have that many spiritual gifts. After all, I hate speaking in public, so I know I'm no preacher. I can't carry a tune, so I know music's not my think. And I'm certain I don't want to be on a committee. In fact, I don't even know if I have any spiritual gifts." But that's nonsense! Worse, that's false humility that denies the very real gifts that God himself has blessed you with! Everyone in this room has tremendous gifts from God, skills and abilities that God himself has given for you to use to his glory.
How do I know? Because you know who Jesus is. Do you recognize that Jesus is true God who became man? Go ahead, it's okay to answer in sermon. You can say, "Yes." ["Yes."] Do you recognize that Jesus died to pay for your sins and rose again for your justification?" ["Yes."] Do you recognize that Jesus is your Lord and you are called to live for him? ["Yes."] Good. You have the Holy Spirit living in you. "No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."
And where the Holy Spirit lives, the Holy Spirit brings gifts. Maybe your gifts aren't in preaching or singing or committee work. And that's okay. But you do have gifts that God wants you to use. But maybe you just don't like the gifts you've been given. Maybe you're a little like the kid who unwraps the Christmas present hoping for that Red Ryder BB gun… but instead gets a snow shovel along with a request to go use it on the driveway.
"But God, I wanted popularity. That's the gift I was hoping for. Or maybe great wealth? Great wealth would be great, God. And I promise I'd give some of it back to you. Or maybe my spiritual gift could be great wisdom, or the power of persuasion, or… well, anything but what you did give me. I don't want to use what I have."
Or maybe you do recognize the gifts God's given you, but satan and your sinful nature prompt you to use to serve idols. Paul says, "When you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols." And of course "led" implies a leader. And you know it's certainly not God who leads you to use your gifts selfishly. It's satan that leas us to use our gifts to serve our own feelings (regardless of what God wants), or our own popularity ("Hey, everyone, look at me!", or to line our own pockets with wads of cash. And really all of these make me my own god, my own idol, and say to God, "What I want matters most. And that's what I'll use my gifts for, not for what you want, God." And we either neglect or misuse the gifts God's given.
How would you feel if you picked out the perfect gift for someone you loved and knew it was just right, but when they opened it they said, "Gee, thanks," and set it aside? How would you feel if now, almost a month after Christmas, they still hadn't used it once or hadn't even taken it out of the package?
A comedian once said, "Why does anyone give clothes as a gift anymore? You might as well say, 'Here, I got you an errand for Christmas. Oh, and as long as you're going to the mall to exchange or return that, could you pick up my dry cleaning?" But that's too often how we treat God's gifts to us. We treat them as if they were worthless or even a burden.
And for the neglect or abuse of God's gifts, we deserve to take our gifts taken away. This week I saw a very sad picture on Facebook. There was a little boy about 8 or 9 years old with a brand new Playstation 3 (still in the box!) at his feet. But he held up a sign that read, "I was completely ungrateful for the Captain America action figure that grandma gave me, so now I will be returning my Playstation 3 and will be using the money to buy gifts for kids who show gratitude."
Is that bad parenting to publicly shame your kid on Facebook? I don't know. Probably. But the truth is that that's what we deserve. "I was completely ungrateful for the many gifts that my God has given to me, so now he will be taking back all of those gifts for my ingratitude: Jesus, forgiveness, heaven…"
That's exactly what we deserve. But that's nothing like what we get. Instead we get forgiveness for our ingratitude, forgiveness for our apathy towards our God-given gifts, forgiveness for using those same gifts only for selfish purposes. We get the best gift that God could give when the Holy Spirit revealed to you and me who Jesus is, our Savior from sin. "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."
And it truly is a gift; something given, not earned or deserved, something given, not because the recipient is so worthy of a prize, but simply because the giver loves the recipient. There are lots of ways we can be led astray: "Somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols." But there's only one way to be led to Jesus: "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."
And regardless of any other spiritual gifts, every one of us has received this gift of the Holy Spirit: We all have faith in Jesus as our Savior. And through that faith, we are forgiven for the way we've used and abused all of our other spiritual gifts. We are perfect in God's sight. We are at peace with him. And we are heaven-bound.
And for that great gift we are eager to use all of the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us to show our gratitude to him! In thanks we use our lesser gifts—our "wisdom… knowledge… faith… healing… miraculous powers[?]…prophecy [speaking for God]… distinguishing between spirits… speaking [or]… interpret[ing]… tongues"—to serve God by serving others. "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
And what a variety he's given to you! Some of you are artists, others great public speakers, some are singers, others planners, some are workers, others encouragers. And the list could go on and on. This list Paul gives is by no means the only list nor a complete list of all the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit can bestow (cf. also Ephesians 4:11 and 2 Corinthians 8:7).
But whatever gifts the Spirit has given to you, he hasn't given so that you might become more self-serving, but so that you might use those gifts for the common good.
So what gifts do you have? What skills do you have? What hobbies do you have? Those aren't always the same thing, but they are often related. Do you love to read? Do you love to talk to other people? Do you love to bake? Do you love to sing? How could you use those gifts—those skills and abilities, those hobbies and interests—to serve others, to build up the church, to share the gospel?
That's your assignment: Consider your gifts—the gifts the Holy Spirit himself hand-picked for you—and look for ways that you can use those gifts to God's glory. Commit to doing those things. And let me or someone else know what you'll do so they can help encourage you and keep you accountable, that you might use those gifts "for the common good."
In other words, take those things God the Holy Spirit has given to you and regift them. Give them back to him as you use those gifts to show your thanks, to serve your God, to serve others with his love. In his name, dear friends, amen.