1 Corinthians 12:3-13
3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
“This revelation—holy, just, and true—/ Though oft I read, it seems forever new;/ While light from heaven upon its pages rest,/ I feel its power, and with it I am blessed./ Henceforth, I take thee as my future guide,/ Let naught from thee my youthful heart divide./ And then, if late or early death be mine,/ All will be well, since I, O Lord, am Thine!” These words, this poem, was inscribed on the inside of a Bible by a little girl at the age of eleven in 1818. The name of this girl was Pheobe Palmer. Powerful as they are, they only scratch the surface of the tremendous faith this girl would develop, as she became one of the leaders of what is known as now as the Holiness movement.
Phoebe Palmer was the daughter of two die-hard Methodists, born in 1807. Raised by these thoroughly devout people in the Methodist movement, she herself developed into a very faithful person, although she herself would not feel convinced of it. She never felt a very strong emotional conversion, and thus felt that she was missing out on a crucial part of the Christian life. I’m sure many can relate to that.
She grew up, and married a man by the name of Walter Palmer, and had two children. Both of these children, however, died within months of their birth. Like anyone with children who have died, Phoebe was devastated. She felt that God was punishing her, and felt like that they died because she was a bad person—something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Then again, when you are in the midst of despair, anything and everything feels like it’s your fault.
It took a long time for her to come to grips with her loss, and with her relationship with God as it does with most people. However, when she did come to some peace, it was a joyous peace. She discovered that, in the midst of her despair, she didn’t need “joyous emotion” for belief. Belief in God in and of itself was assurance. In her close study of the bible, she saw that if one lays their burdens, their gifts, their whole being on the altar of God—that altar being Christ himself—indeed, “the altar sanctifies the gift.” She says it most eloquently: “whatever touched the altar became holy, virtually the Lord’s property, sanctified to his service. The sacredness and perpetuity of this ordinance were recognized by “God manifest in the flesh,” centuries afterward. “The altar that sanctifieth the gift.” 
When she found this out, it completely changed her, inside and out. In laying her burdens on the altar, she found that she had been saved, and better still, fully sanctified. She went on to be a powerful figure in American Christianity, forming prayer meetings, camp meetings, missions. Everything she did from then on it was all for the glory of God. Her gifts, specifically the gift of herself, was sanctified, and she spread the message of sanctification to all who would listen. Her gifts were blessed, and she taught that if you give of your gifts, your life, your very being, you would be blessed as well.
Jesus once said, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” We have been given such great gifts in this life, gifts that have hopefully been nurtured and encouraged over time so that we can make the best of them. Because we have been given much, much will be expected of us. Just like Phoebe Palmer, if we offer up our gifts, our lives, to the work of God, they indeed will be blessed. Paul tells us that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That manifestation of the Spirit is what enables us to be disciples, and better still, to glorify God.
It is now the third week in our discipleship campaign. We’ve been talking about the 5 things you promised to give when you joined the church: prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. The reason is to foster a better understanding of discipleship in hopes that it would in turn foster better stewardship. As we approach today’s topic of gifts, we get to really start to dig into what it takes to be a disciple, and part of that is to be a good steward of our gifts.
Christianity is in many ways a very flexible kind of faith. There are as many ways of worshiping God, of doing God’s work in the world and in expressing our faith as there are stars in the sky, or grains of sand on a beach. The best definition for what United Methodism is that it is, most simply, a way of being Christian. While we may have our own internal squabbles and problems, just like any other organization, we still have a great tradition behind us that very much encourages and exhorts its members to be able to use their gifts, whatever it was that God gave us, to do God’s work in the world. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are loved, you are of sacred worth, and you have God-given gifts, a manifestation of the Spirit that can and should be used for the common good and for the Glory of God.
Talking about the gifts God has given us is actually a pretty difficult task, because it is and intensely personal kind of thing to talk about. Each gift God has given to us is remarkably unique. No two people are alike—that in and of itself is a gift! But, as Paul says in our scripture passage, there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To illustrate let me tell you this story of my friend Will.
(check out his blog at SillyRobots!)
He and I have had a very long friendship. I met him Junior year of high school in band—the shenanigans of which I will not tell you about! We really began to become close friends in college though. He and I became thick as thieves. Our nerdiness and our faith was a bond that is hard to break. One of the things that brought us together was music. Will, believe it or not, is a talented guitarist. Incredibly talented. Will somehow managed to talk me into becoming serious about drumming, by basically forcing me to practice over the summer break. Honestly, I got fairly good. However, no matter how much I practice, I promise if you put us together, and it will sound like a virtuoso master playing in the same room as a very uncoordinated toddler.
When he plays guitar, it’s a very spiritual thing for him. When he plays, he offers it as a way to worship God. It is, in a way, the best way he worships God. This is what he has said in the past. When we were playing in the praise band at the Presbyterian Church in San Marcos, he said something that has stuck with me to this day. He had, in one of the songs, taken time to play a fairly extended guitar solo, something that was not exactly common for him in church. He explained after he played the solo that, when he played, he did it because the Spirit had moved him to do so, and that his playing guitar was his way of worshiping God, of honoring God with the gift that God had given him.
Being given musical ability truly is a way of worshipping God. But it is most certainly not the only gift. If that was true, I promise you the church would have folded up and quit long ago. Paul says in this very famous list that there are many gifts that God has bestowed upon God’s people:
8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
There are many gifts, but one God, and I would say that the list Paul gives us is far from the final one. There are so many gifts that he did not mention. Gifts that come from God can be laid upon the altar in many ways. For instance, many of you have the gift of mechanical know-how, something not all people are given. Put to the glory of God, you can offer your help to a neighbor in need, and indeed, you may save someone’s life with it. Some have the gift of administration and order—without which the church, and really the world, would simply wander about without direction and inevitably fall apart.
Some are given the gift of cooking, and with that gift can prepare meals for those who we wish to give fellowship too, both friends and family, but also those in need. Some are given the gift of counseling and guidance, mentoring and companionship, a gift that I think the church could use a renewal in. Some are even given the gift of tears; I cannot tell you how much that gift is necessary at the right time. Some are given the gift of humor, a highly underrated gift and, when used at the right time, can bring joy to even the most mournful of hearts.
Indeed there are many gifts, but another gift that we are all given is the gift of resources. Some might have more than others, but all have some that can be shared. The ministry of God needs resources, our money, our tithes, so that it can be furthered and put to use in the community. It’s no secret that Jesus was critical of those who were not willing to give of their resources, and give something that was meaningful. When we give to God, it’s not because it’s some kind of membership fee, or an admission fee. We give because we should want to honor and worship God with what we value, and for most of us we value money. It’s a truth that need not be harsh. We should be happy to give of our resources. It doesn’t have to be much, it just has to be meaningful.
All that we have is because of God. Everything. Not a thing exists in this universe that God did not have a hand in creating. All exists because God willed it into existence, especially humanity. God has given humanity many things—life, food, water, air, as we are a part of God’s good creation. It is only the right thing to pay honor to that God that gave us all that we have, and we do that by giving of our gifts, our prayers, our presence, our service, our witness—we do it by giving of ourselves, and indeed, placing all of our being on the altar. That altar is what makes us holy. It makes our gift holy. It makes our lives holy. By offering to God that which God has given to us, we become good and right stewards of our gifts.
We have all been given many gifts. Phoebe Palmer had the right idea. When we let go and offer all that we can to God, we in turn are made holy. The Spirit of God manifests in each of us for the common good, and for the Glory of God. Let us glorify God with our gifts. Amen.