For today’s homily, we will explore the first reading from 1 Corinthians 12.  I’ll provide some background on the Chapter and the Spiritual Gifts it describes.  Then we’ll zoom in on one gift in particular, the Spiritual Gift of Generosity.  

To provide a reminder of context, we find this reading in the midst of Paul’s letter to a young Church in Corinth, a very worldly city that was a vibrant commercial center.  People went there to make a name for themselves, to seek fame and fortune, to prove themselves.  A resident of Toronto might not feel out of place in a city like Corinth.   

The letter begins with Paul describing the “mystery of God’s wisdom” and then addresses specific issues that the growing and vibrant Church of Corinth is facing.   In chapter 12, where we are today, Paul gets to the topic of Spiritual Gifts and spends what we have defined as chapters 12, 13, 14 describing them and their purpose.  

This isn’t the only part of the New Testament that deals with Spiritual Gifts.  They show up here in 1 Cor. 12-14, but also in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  Their presence in multiple letters suggests they are worth understanding.  There are many gifts referred to in these four sections, and the lists are somewhat overlapping but not entirely.  Examples of the gifts given include ones we see every day like Evangelism, Teaching, Faith.  They include some which we may not see as readily like miracles and prophecy.  But these traits or gifts are all manifestation of God’s Spirit.  They are God’s Spirit made real on this earth.  And they are made real through us.  The passages all refer to them as gifts specifically given for the common good.  Those gifted in knowledge and faith receive a double portions of those traits not to benefit themselves but to build up God’s people.  Someone might ask how an unseen God without a physical body continues to work on earth today.  The answer is through all our hands, all of our feet, all of our voices, essentially all of our spiritual gifts.    

Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that none of these spiritual gifts is more important than any other.  There is a famous passage where Paul says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’”  We may all be inspired listening to a great Evangelist or Teacher.  We might stand in awe of a prophet or a miraculous healer.  But those gifts are no more important than the quiet gifts of faith, service, or administration.  We need someone to keep the church body organized and functioning just as much as we need someone to preach and teach.  Later Paul emphasizes that while these gifts are great, Love is greater than all of them.  We are not to focus on the gifts…. rather the gifts are meant to reflect us back to the Giver.  And finally, in a later chapter Paul says that while we may naturally receive a larger portion of some of these gifts or traits, we should all seek and desire all these gifts or traits.  We don’t get to say:  I’m just not gifted in evangelism; it’s not my thing, so I don’t need to share my faith.      

Given that today is the kickoff of our Financial Campaign, it seems only fitting to make note of the gift of generosity.  In Romans 12 says to those with the “gift of generosity, should give generously.”  Note that Paul isn’t putting pressure on some to give; rather he’s encouraging them to live into a gift that is already inside them.  

If you are like me, as soon as someone starts talking about money in a church context, it gets a bit uncomfortable.  One of my favorite song lyrics is when Bono says on the Rattle and Hum album: “Well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”  Talking about giving may be uncomfortable at times, but God’s generosity is at the core of the biblical narrative.  It’s something that is part and parcel of Christianity.  If you do a key word search on the NIV edition of the Bible, you will find the word “pray” and its conjugations show up about 500 times.  The word “love” and its variations shows up about 700 times.  The word “give” and its conjugations shows up 1,700 times.  And if you add in all of the other words associated with giving like “offer”, “generous” etc, they show up roughly 5,000 times.  I would sum up the gospel as God’s love for us leading him to bestow a generous and lavish gift that ultimately manifests in his own sacrifice.  And the Bible tells us that we are made in God’s image.  Meaning that his traits are sewn into our DNA.  At our heart, when we are at our best, we are generous creatures.  Even the topic of this passage, these traits, they are referred to as spiritual …….gifts.  They are given to us, not earned.       

There are many, many examples of giving in the Bible and surveying them, three themes emerge:

  1.  Bono was right!
  2.  We give of our time, skills, and resources in response to God’s generosity.
  3.  Our generosity comes in many forms, but is always relative and sacrificial  

1)   Let’s get back to Bono.  The Bible tells us in many places that God is indeed not short of cash. In Psalm 50, God talks of Temple sacrifices form the People of Israel and tells us that “I have no need of a bull from your stall, or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”  Keep in mind that these gifts were in response to God’s law.  He asked for them in the first place!  One has to ask why. Perhaps my favorite example is in Matthew 17 when Peter and Jesus have to pay the Temple Tax.  Jesus tells Peter to cast his fishing line and when he does, he catches a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay the tax.   If you ever see me with a fishing rod down by the lake in mid-April around tax season, you can guess what I’m hoping for.  It’s not surprising that the Creator of All Things has not run out of things.  So, if God doesn’t need our bulls or goats or money, if he has all the resources in the world, and can magic up coin whenever he needs it, why do we who have less than God need be generous?  Instead of a financial campaign, should we all be getting out fishing nets and heading to the beach?  That leads to the second point:   

2)   We give in response to God’s generosity.   The Bible tells us that we are blessed so that we may bless others.  When we realize how much we have been given, we can’t help but want to pass some of it on.  A few examples come to mind:    In Genesis 12, God tells Abram, “I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” and the father of many nations.  This indeed was the case and Abram becomes a great man, known to us as Abraham..  Later in chapter 14, after Abraham receives a blessing from a Priest, he gives a 10th of all he has.  This is the first tithe, and it is self-initiated.  Abraham wasn’t asked for the money.  It was done in response to a blessing.  We see the same language in today’s passage about Spiritual Gifts.  God bestows these gifts so that we can build up the Church body.  Just as Abraham was blessed, to be a blessing to others.      

There are many places in the Bible, like the stories of Joseph, Esther and Nehemiah, where God puts someone into a position of power so that they can help God’s people.  Those people were blessed with those possessions or status so that they could provide a unique and specific service for God’s people.   Passing on to others from our blessings benefits God’s body.  But it also benefits us.  It reminds us of the right order of our relationship with God.  We worship God, not his blessings.  And by passing on the blessing, we let go of them, and are freed from worshiping them. By giving a portion of what we receive, we are reminded that we are ultimately dependent upon God to give us this day our daily bread.             

3)   Finally, we are called to give of our resources in many ways (time, skills, and financial).  In Kings, we read about Solomon building the Temple, when people from all over brought their gifts and talents to help out.  We see examples where

  •      Leaders and commanders gave willingly
  •      Those with precious stones gave them to the temple
  •      Skilled artisans came to ply their crafts
  •      Musicians brought their instruments to play

Today, thousands of years later, our church is doing the same.  We are all bringing our gifts to help build God’s house.   

We also see that in the Bible these gifts are just as diverse as the people giving them and their circumstances.  Our generosity comes from our own unique place and the point is not the size or form of the gift but the spirit in which it is given.  This is illustrated by the Parable of the Widow’s mite, Jesus praises the widow’s tiny gift to the temple as being greater than the large sums given by the wealthy around her.  He is both condemning what was at the time an unjust temple structure and also highlighting the importance of the motive for her gift and the faith that made it possible.    We have been richly blessed at St Aidan’s.  In one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, we have the privilege to conduct God’s ministry in a beautiful historic building, in a prime location, a few blocks from the beach.

  •       We’ve been blessed by God through past generations who gave of their time and financial resources to build and maintain it
  •       We can respond to that blessing by using our physical building to conduct God’s ministry for the broader community.
  •       We can also respond by paying it forward and blessing future generations through our continued investment of time and resources in this physical building.   

So, consider today, where you have been blessed? What are your Spiritual gifts? And how might you be able to pass them on?