It’s great to be back with you all today! Susanne and I hope you’ve had some time to be thinking and praying about some of the things we talked about last time and to begin dreaming about what the next steps at St. Alban’s might be in the months and years to come. Today we’re going to be focusing a bit on spiritual gifts which are present in each one of you and in this congregation.
One of those gifts is “discernment” which is really about prayerful listening to God and prayerfully listening to one another. And we want to think a little bit about “imagination,” about what it might mean to dream about a future free from what Susanne called last time “the de-fault mode,” specifically about the “one priest, one parish” mode of thinking we’ve become accustomed to. To dream about doing things differently than we’ve always done them before!
And if we were going to choose a passage from the Bible about spiritual gifts and discernment and imagination, we probably couldn’t find one much more appropriate than the 1st Lesson appointed for today from the Prophet Joel. Listen again to these words: “Then afterwards,” (says the LORD), “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29). Those words are familiar to us because they had become so famous that the Book of Acts has Peter citing them in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost.
The early Christians believed that, in Jesus, and because of his life, death, and resurrection, those words from the prophet Joel had come true. God had poured out the Holy Spirit afresh and the evidence of that was that men and women were prophesying (speaking forth with God’s Word again), old men were dreaming dreams of a new future, and the younger ones were seeing visions of what might actually come to be!
Because of what God had done for them in Christ, these earliest Christians were beginning to experience God’s spirit in some new ways. No longer was God seen as far off and largely unapproachable except through the ministrations of the priests and the Temple sacrifices. Now they were beginning to understand that God’s spirit was as close to them as life and breath itself. God’s spirit was within them, in their midst – as individuals and as the church!
And they were able to recognize that spirit because of the gifts and abilities God was bringing forth. Paul lists some of them in I Corinthians and Romans – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous accomplishments, prophecy, discernment (there’s that word again!), tongues, interpretation, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leadership, compassion, pastoral care. Well, I could go on and on…
But these women and men were learning that the church was indeed the Body of Christ and that each of them was a limb or a member of that body. If they each played their part, if each of them was willing to use the gifts they had been given for the common good, then their little communities, their churches, could actually BE the Body of Christ for the world just as Jesus had once been that Body in the world. They could Be The Body of Christ!
They were beginning to learn what St. Teresa said centuries later: “Christ has no body now on earth, but yours; no hands, no feet on earth, but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he (still) walks about doing good.”
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church is just such a body! Your hands have collected and distributed clean clothing to those who need it. Your eyes have looked compassion on those who suffer from alcohol addiction and other kinds of substance abuse and you have opened your doors to give them a space for healing. Your feet have walked out of this beautiful little sanctuary into the world and have taken the love of Christ into the jails and into the lives of women and children trafficked as modern day slaves right here in eastern Iowa. You are the Body of Christ!
One of the first spiritual gifts mentioned by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians is the gift of faith. Faith, in the biblical sense, means “radical trust,” radical trust in God. One of the articles of faith for what we sometimes call the “total ministry” movement is that all the gifts necessary to be the Body of Christ are present in that local community. Everything you need to be the church, to be the Body of Christ in this place, is already present…by God’s grace!
All that is needed are for those gifts to be identified and lifted up, unwrapped and put to use. Oh, it takes a little while to discover, or re-discover, those gifts. It takes a little while for them to be shaped and formed by some training and education. It takes a little while for everyone to learn how to use their gifts for the common good. But know this: it can happen!
Because God has already poured out the Holy Spirit in this place! Some of your sons and daughters are already prophesying! Some of your old men are dreaming dreams! And some of your young people are seeing visions! And on each one of you – whether you feel quite ready for it or not – God is prepared to pour out the spirit all over again.
This morning we are Confirming the gift of the Holy Spirit in Kelsey’s life. And Susanne and I are here to help confirm that same gift in the lives of each and every one of you. Perhaps this prayer in the Confirmation service says it best: Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and brought us to yourself, and that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.