January 14, 2019
The Epiphany 2C Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 2:1-11 from the Lectionary Gospel; Isaiah 62:1-5 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 36:5-10 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism: Q&A 55 (Lord’s Day 21)
Author: Scott Hoezee
Apparently we are going to have to revise our definition of “glory.”
Sometimes things happen in life that make us update long-held notions and definitions.
It reminds me of the scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind in which the socially inept genius mathematician John Nash (played by Russell Crowe) haltingly proposes to his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) by saying “Does our relationship warrant long-term commitment?” In response to this rather sterile, backhanded marriage proposal his wife-to-be says “Um, just give me a moment to revise my girlhood notions of romance.” This is not how she had pictured her marriage proposal!
Something like that happens in John 2 about glory. We need some revision to what we thought that concept was all about.
We typically think that “glory” is the bright shining presence of God, the white-hot holiness of the divine that is so stunning, even Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock to keep it from frying him to a crisp. We think that “glory” is the power of God that is so raw and so real, the priests who once entered the Holy of Holies did so at great peril (and if anyone else tried casually to enter that place where the glory of God dwelled, they would surely die).
Indeed, punch in “glory” on Google Images and you will get a bunch of pictures along these lines:
Even on a human level, when we talk about “glory,” we generally mean things that are dramatic, that raise someone up to such a pinnacle of splendor as to elicit the adoration of everyone else. In Hebrew kabod is “glory” and it means something with gravity, something heavy, something weighty in the sense of being momentous. In Greek doxa is “glory” and there’s a reason that this Greek word has passed on to form the first part of our word “doxology” because when we are in a doxological mood—singing our praises at the top of our lungs perhaps—it is likely because we have been exposed to something stunning, something spectacular, something loaded with heavenly portent and power.
Glory is big. Glory is bright. Glory is loud. Glory is a multisensory extravaganza that you will not miss if you are anywhere in glory’s neighborhood when it happens.
But John 2:11 tells us that when Jesus quietly transformed water into wine in an effort to do no more than solve a social mishap that helped a family save face in front of their friends, this was somehow Jesus’ first revelation of no less than his glory. Indeed, this glorious manifestation was sufficient as to cause the disciples to put their faith into Jesus.
Glory in wine? Glory in providing wine to folks who’d already had a few too many?
From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to see what is so glorious here. Let’s take a bird’s-eye view of the situation. Suppose you were looking down on this wedding banquet from some great height. Would you see anything “glorious”? You could watch the goings-on below you at this wedding feast from start to finish and never once would you see any bright shining lights, any flashes of visible power, any hint of divine presence, or anything else that caused people to fall back in wonder.
So where was the “glory” of it all? Well, it was right there, as it turns out, in the quiet man who hesitated intervening initially and who, once he did intervene, did so very subtly. There is no evidence that the wider crowd at this wedding reception ever knew what had happened. Only Mary and the disciples—and the servants who had done Jesus’ bidding—realized what had happened. (Isn’t it curious to ponder how many of Jesus’ miracles happened within earshot of people who never knew anything unusual had happened?!)
Yet it was a glory revelation. It was enough to generate faith in the hearts of the disciples. Somehow they discerned Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who would bring abundance where there had once been only scarcity. Somehow they saw in this quiet miracle in Cana an echo of all those soaring prophecies from Isaiah about how when the kingdom fully comes, all the good things we enjoy would flow freely and in never-ending abundance. When needs are met—even needs as commonplace as the one in Cana that day—somehow joy follows and that joy is related to the glory of God.
Iranaeus once said that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” God desires us to flourish, to enjoy and take delight in his creation even as God did at the dawn of time (and you can spy that divine exuberance in Genesis 1). God’s heart breaks over the spectacle of poverty. God’s heart breaks when people in his abundant creation experience want. Granted, running out of wine for wedding guests who may well have had their fair share to drink already may not seem like the kind of dire want or need that would break God’s heart—and perhaps it wasn’t—but John may be using this as an emblem, a shadow, of the real thing. But the point remains the same: where God’s Messiah is, abundance follows.
Jesus, after all, did not make a case of wine but hundreds of gallons. He did not make a cheap or watery wine but a vintage better than most had ever tasted. This entire story smacks of being “over the top” in so very many senses. There is an extravagance here, almost an element of luxury, that seems to burst the narrow confines of the event at hand. It’s as though someone asked for a bottle of water and Jesus gave him Lake Michigan. It’s as though someone asked for $50 to buy her child a toy and Jesus gave her the entire Amazon.com toy warehouse. At such a small event, Jesus’ actions seem outsized.
Yet the disciples saw the glory. It was the glory of God providing more than is requested, more than can be imagined. It was the glory of God giving access—if even for just a little while—to the abundant fullness with which God endowed this creation in the beginning.
Yes, we may have to revise our definition of “glory” if John 2 is a revelation of it.
But maybe, just maybe, that will mean we’ll see divine glory a lot more often in our lives than we might otherwise think. When the hungry in our cities are fed, when the homeless are housed, when children without decent shoes get nice new sneakers from a local clothing ministry, when the despairing are comforted by a word of hope, when the sad can dry their tears with the gospel comfort of the resurrection to come: when we see these things happening in our churches and in our communities and in our families, then we are seeing the glory of God as God continues to guide us back to that for which he created us and this whole cosmos to begin with.
This text is appointed in the Lectionary Year C for the time of Epiphany. We’re in between the big spectacle of Christmas and the big spectacle of Easter. We’re in that time of the church year when we look at Jesus’ ministry, at all the stuff Jesus said and did that somehow never warranted so much as a shout-out in the great creeds (that pivot from “born of the virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate” as though not much of consequence happened in between). But the “glory” we read of in John 2 reminds us that for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there is a lot of glory to behold between Bethlehem’s birth and Easter’s resurrection.
And as just noted, just maybe that reminds us that there is plenty of glory to see in our everyday worlds, too.
“On the third day . . .” That is how John 2 opens but as people have been asking for centuries, “On the third day of what?” Up until now John has not narrated any stories for us as being on “Day 1” or on “Day 2” and so we’re not thinking along those lines. In fact, the only temporal markers John has had up to this point is a series of lines that talk about “The next day” (cf. John 1:29, John 1:35, John 1:43). But then there must be a pause between the “next day” of 1:43 when Jesus calls Philip (who then fetches Nathanael) and the wedding in Cana because Jesus and the disciples had to journey from the area around Jerusalem, where John had been baptizing, all the way up to Galilee in the north. So we’re not sure if “the third day” of John 2:1 indicates a time span that included that 80-mile walk or if this was the third day since they had arrived in Galilee.
Given all of that confusion, it’s no wonder that quite a few scholars across the years have concluded that “the third day” is code in John for a kind of resurrection scene. The three-day span in the Bible has always been significant with the third day in the sequence comprising a kind of climax. Certainly all of us who now regularly intone the phrase “On the third day he rose again from the dead” in the Apostles’ Creed cannot fail to hear resurrection echoes whenever we hear “the third day,” and so in John 2:1 we are perhaps being tipped off that the significance of what is about to happen goes beyond the mundane details of the story at hand.
Something Messianic is up.
A friend of mine is one of the best chefs in the United States (and has been so acclaimed by people who know what they are talking about). The celebrity chefs on Food Network notwithstanding, most chefs tend to be introverts. My friend, too, is certainly a rather shy and retiring person. He’d rather stay in the background than be center stage with a spotlight shining on him. But like most chefs, the one thing that brings my friend joy is seeing others enjoy his food. More than once when eating in his restaurant, I have seen him standing in the shadows near the kitchen, watching people delight in his culinary creations, and beaming in happiness at seeing the diners’ enjoyment. Most will never shake hands with my friend. Most will never bother to seek him out to say “Thank You” or send a letter of appreciation to the restaurant at some later point. Nor does my friend stroll through the dining room tacitly and subtly soliciting praise. He’s mostly content to look upon people’s delight from afar.
I wonder if God is not accustomed to this as well. At Cana, Jesus watched people enjoy an outstanding wine whose origin most people never learned (and maybe would not have believed even had they been told). And if people did not thank him, it was nothing new. As Augustine first observed—and as C.S. Lewis later enjoyed pondering—what Jesus did at Cana (as in many of his miracles) was really no more than a speeded-up version of what he does every year on a thousand hillsides as vines silently turn water from rainfall into wine. Millions of people enjoy that wine every year without for a moment recognizing the divine origin of it all. It’s a reminder that we serve a God whose effusive overflow of providential gifts knows no bounds. It’s a reminder that God is also often content to watch people—sometimes even Christian people who should know better—from afar as they soak up the goodness of his creative work.
Author: Stan Mast
At first I was puzzled by the Lectionary’s choice of this Old Testament reading for this second Sunday of Epiphany, but then I saw the light, literally. In verse 1 Jerusalem is told that “her righteousness [will] shine out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch,” and, adds verse 2, “the nations will see….” Can’t get much more Epiphany-ish than that. And when I saw that this passage ends with all this marriage imagery, I made the connection with the Gospel lesson for today which tells the story of the revelation of Jesus’ glory at the wedding feast in Cana. What we have here is a wonderful encouragement for the bride of Christ in a time when we desperately need some good news.
But I’m getting ahead of myself and ignoring the original setting of this text. Israel had just gone through, if not a messy divorce, then at least a nasty separation. After committing adultery with multiple lovers (foreign gods) for generations, Israel had finally exhausted Yahweh’s famous long-suffering. In deep sorrow and long simmering anger, God had finally sent his beloved bride away into Exile, in hopes that she would realize the error of her ways and return to her Beloved. There Israel sat in Babylon, a Deserted wife, a Desolate woman (verse 4).
In these last chapters of Isaiah (40-66, and especially 60-62), God says to his exiled wife that there is hope for her future. Yahweh promises that Israel’s present situation is not the end of their story, that their desolate condition is not God’s final goal for them. Over and over again, God speaks of a reversal of their fortune, the renewal of their lives, the restoration of their broken relationship with God. In our text for today, the language of marriage is intentionally and eloquently used.
There are two problems with this text that will challenge any preacher. All of this talk about a deserted wife who is desolate without her husband will not play well in today’s church. Concern about women’s rights and the abuse of women crystalized in the #MeToo movement will cause instant resistance to a message that focuses on Israel’s welfare being dependent on the actions of her husband, even if that husband is our almighty and all gracious God. So, if you preach on this text, you’ll need to be sensitive to that dynamic.
The second problem is a textual one. To whom is this promise of renewed marriage made? It is clearly a promise of glory for a new Jerusalem which will shine like the rising sun, like a burning torch, like a sparkling crown, like a flashing royal diadem. And that glory will be a light to the nations. But which Jerusalem is the recipient of this glorious promise?
To the Exiles languishing in Babylon or to the recently returned Exiles struggling in a still devastated homeland, this was a promise that their beloved capital city would be restored by God. For subsequent generations of expectant Jews and for thousands of Christian Zionists, this is still a promise that the physical city of Jerusalem will be restored one day. That city is still the focus of God’s redemptive plan and this is a promise that continues to light the hopes of orthodox Jews and dispensationalist Christians.
If that is the ultimate reference of this passage, then most Christian pastors will have little to say about this text. But there is another possible reading of the text, a reading that interprets “Jerusalem” in the light of the sea change that occurred with the death and resurrection of Jesus. After those crucial events, Jesus sent his Jewish disciples into all the world to make disciples of all nations. And with that, the focus of God’s salvific attention shifted from the physical city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel to the new Jerusalem which is populated by nations from the whole world.
It is not surprising that the Bible ends with a vision of that new Jerusalem, not located in the Middle East, but coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2).” That bride is then identified, not as a city on earth, but as the bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). This picks up on passages like Ephesians 5 where the relationship between Christ and the church is compared to that of a husband and a wife.
If this interpretation is right, then Isaiah 62 is a magnificent promise for the church of Jesus Christ, the new Jerusalem composed of people from every nation, race, tribe and language. Like ancient post-exilic Israel, the church is struggling, feeling desolate, sometimes even deserted by her God. In North America, the church is losing members and influence. The media is full of lurid accounts of our sins and failures. In many of the churches where I guest preach, there seems to be a general malaise, a feeling that our best days are behind us and a fear that we are going to dwindle to nothing if we don’t do something dramatic or drastic. So we tinker with organization, change our worship, adopt new action plans, plant new churches or partner with others—all in an effort to be a light to the nations. But our flame is flickering.
That makes this passage a wonderful piece of Good News. It does not tell us to do anything; we search in vain for an imperative. It is an announcement of God’s plans for us; we must simply believe and rejoice. Other Sundays can be devoted to things we must do to reverse our fortunes. For today, just rejoice in what God says he will do for his bride. Let’s listen more carefully.
Verse 1 is either God speaking to his bride, reminding her of God’s promises. Or it is the prophet speaking to the God about the bride, interceding endlessly until God does what God has promised to do. Scholars are evenly divided on that question, but there is no question about what God promises to do for his currently desolate people.
God will make them shine again, as they did when he first chose them and as God intended for them throughout their history. Earlier, God has put it this way. “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).” Israel had failed at that, so God sent them away into the darkness of the nations. Now here God says, I will vindicate you (the deeper meaning of the word “righteousness” in verse 1) by saving you. The nations said that your God couldn’t save you, that your God really amounted to nothing, that you were nothing but a pipsqueak nation that bragged too much and got smacked down for it. But I, your God, will vindicate you (and myself) and save you.
Then, you will shine like the first rays of dawn, like a blazing torch, and the nations will see your vindication and all the kings your glory. Well, that sounds nice, but that didn’t happen to Israel, and it hasn’t happened to the church. Actually, it did happen to the church. For hundreds of years, the nations streamed to the church when the saw the glory of Christ in the church. God’s plan worked and the new Jerusalem now assembled in heaven is composed of people from every nation.
But now, as I said before, the church is struggling in many places and in many ways. We need to hear that the bedraggled, broken, desolate bride of Christ has a glorious future. That’s what the rest of our text promises. Like all brides in traditional marriages, the bride of Christ will get a new name. No longer will they call you “deserted” or “desolate.” You will be called “my delight is in her” and your land “married.” The formerly outcast bride will shine like the Queen of Yahweh. “You will be a crown of splendor in Yahweh’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” And Yahweh will rejoice over us.
We may feel far away from God right now, but God promises to bring us back, to renew our wedding vows, to make us as glorious as he has always intended. We don’t know when that will happen, or how. What we do know is that we must keep preaching this Epiphany Gospel. If there is any imperative implied in this text, it is in that first verse. Keep preaching. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain silent….” If we don’t say it over and over, people will not believe it. And they will not rejoice. God rejoices over us, the way a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. Let us join him on the Second Sunday of Epiphany.
On my desk right now is an indescribably elaborate invitation to a wedding. “Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (obviously not real names) invite you to the wedding of their children at the wedding chapel on June 15.” No expense was spared in these parents’ efforts to make this wedding a glorious event. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, foreshadowed in our text, God announces to his estranged wife that he will spare no expense in his effort to renew their relationship. It is not so much an elaborate invitation to a wedding. It is an eloquent announcement of God’s firm intention to renew our covenantal vows and start over again, and again, until the glory finally shines out into the world.
The tradition of understanding of Jerusalem in heavenly, rather than earthly, terms goes far back in the history of the church. Witness the old hymn written by Bernard of Cluny in the 12th Century.
Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, O I know not what joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.
O sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country that eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest,
Who art, with God the Father and Spirit, ever blest.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Once again our friends who put together the Revised Common Lectionary are trying to give us a kinder, gentler version of Scripture. By carving out the middle half-dozen verses of this psalm and by leaving out verses 1-4 and 11-12, the Lectionary would have us only celebrate the goodness of God without having to be bothered or troubled by the poet’s observations on the wicked. And you could do that, I suppose. But it violates the integrity of this psalm to attempt it even as it may—in a backhanded, inadvertent way—diminish the beauty and the punch of that middle portion from verses 5-10.
Because the psalmist here is drawing a contrast. There is tragedy to be observed here: the middle part of the poem is what the wicked miss out on due to the insularity of their sinful ways. Those who do not love God, believe in God, or honor God in any way miss out on the deep beauty of the cosmos. They are too busy flattering themselves with the lies they tell to themselves that leave them sinless in their own eyes. They are too busy feathering their own nests by any means possible to worry whether there even is such a thing as right or wrong in the universe. They are not only sinful but unwise, they are fools. And as the old adage has it: fools are often in error but never in doubt.
Even when they lie on their beds—when they could be engaged in prayer or praise of God, when they could be pondering what a wonderful world they get to inhabit—they are scheming for the next day. They never really quite get to rest, and maybe that is part of the point. When you think you are inventing your own life (and rules) as you go along, you can never stop. When you think the whole world needs to be tailor-made to be convenient and of great benefit to yourself, you never dare let up even for a moment.
The wicked know no Sabbath. They cannot rest. And so by the end of the psalm it is no wonder to see that they have fallen into an exhausted and finally futile heap. They cannot rise—and no God is going to help them rise—because at the end of the day, they have expended and exhausted themselves in a vain attempt to make a name for themselves. To make a living for themselves. To make a life for themselves. But as too many in also today’s rat race discover: when you are working 80 hours a week to make a life for yourself you may find out that you don’t have time to live life. In making a life, you end up having no life.
We really do need to look at those opening and closing verses to appreciate all this as well as to understand what the poet is getting at in the middle part. Because when as a believer in Yahweh the psalmist steps back, he sees that the love and beauty and power of God envelope us. God’s love is the sky above. God’s justice is the great deeps of the earth. And in between those heights and those depths it is under the shadow of God’s wings that we take refuge. We REST. We experience Sabbath. The sun does not need our help to come up again tomorrow. We do not need to re-invent the world anew each day. We do not need to make a life for ourselves because God himself IS our life and from his richness we eat and we drink and we feast at a banquet table of shalom, of love, of grace.
“With you is the fountain of life” the psalmist sings, “and in your light we see light.” This reminds me of the great line from C.S. Lewis when he said in effect “I believe in God for the same reason I believe in the sun that shines up in the sky. I believe not just because I can see the sun but because BY the sun I can see everything else.” God is the bright center of the cosmos and of all human existence. And so it makes sense that God is the floodlight, the shining sun, the Light that doesn’t even need a proximate source in order to shine (remember in Genesis 1: God created light BEFORE any sun, moon, or stars): because of all this God illumines everything else.
Our families, our relationships, what we do for a living and the gifts we utilize to do our work well: God lights up all of it so we can both see and understand all these good things in the proper context. The creation, the animals and other creatures with whom we share this world, the beauty we experience in creation: it all makes proper sense only when we understand God as the Creator but also as the foundation of it all.
The shame and the pity of it all is that the wicked miss out on so much. We really ought not to hate those who do not or cannot believe in God: pity and compassion are the better responses. They are missing out on so much. They are working themselves to a frazzle in pursuit of a peace, a life, a contentment they will never find through living that way. Yes, it may be that the Psalms don’t always evince such loving pity or concern, and maybe the sometimes-harsh rhetoric of the ancient Hebrew poets is what makes the RCL shy away from certain portions of these poems. But really, we need to see the whole picture—and now see it all in the light of the Savior of all grace, Jesus himself—in order to frame up both our lives and their lives in the right way.
Of course, the rest of the world works overtime to convince us otherwise. It is buttoned-down moral Christians and the like who miss out on life’s pleasures. The Puritans were once caricatured as being people whose greatest fear is that somewhere in the world someone is having fun. That may have been unfair but what is patently obvious from Hollywood to Wall Street to the fashion and advertising industries is that the “good life,” the “high life,” the gusto and the brass ring will never be achieved by Christians or other people of serious faith and conviction. To get at all those goodies you have to work hard, party hard, get the needed funds, buy the necessary trappings of success.
It’s all a lie, and a lie that exacts a terrible price at that. If people are supposed to be so happy and carefree these days, then what accounts for a heroin and opioid crisis that almost defies description? Why do people need to numb themselves to all pain first with prescription medication and then with illegal drugs that perpetuate the buzz? Although there may be a myriad of reasons behind our current opioid crisis and epidemic, a sense of malaise is surely among the leading causes.
Our prayer should be that all people—even the wicked and the lost otherwise pitied if not derided by some of the verses of Psalm 36—can come instead to be sated at the table of the Most High God. His is a banquet of love and grace and in his light, we finally really do see the Light of the World.
In this sermon starter I suggested that seen from the right angle, Psalm 36 is about Sabbath, about resting under the wings of God and celebrating God’s bounty over against the mad rush to work, work, work without ceasing. So maybe a few observations from Marva Dawn and her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly will fit here. Dawn also weaves in some insights here from Jacques Ellul.
First notice that Dawn says Sabbath is finally about four things: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, and Celebrating.
On the latter, she says: “Our society has forgotten how to celebrate. It has associated celebration with dissipation. It has turned the festival of the birth of Christ into a gluttonous spending spree and the festival of the resurrection into a spring egg-roll and candy-hunt. These occasions now nurture in children not a sense of the holy God, but a selfish desire to possess. Such acquisitiveness can never lead to true celebration. for the latter is inherently turned outward. We cannot celebrate ourselves, we can only celebrate others.” p. 196
And then notice this, which could come straight out of the heart of Psalm 36: “One of the ways that Sabbath contributes to wholeness is that it frees us to enjoy all the dimensions of our being. As we enjoy art or music and appreciate beauty, as we experience the healing and rediscovery of our emotions, as we celebrate our true masculinity and femininity, these things bring greater balance to our lives. Moreover, in the integration that thorough ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting produce, we know our real identity and that leads to the genuine humility and confidence of truth.” p. 138
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Author: Doug Bratt
God’s adopted sons and daughters generally like being related to Christ. Through him, after all, we receive not only the gift of salvation, but also eternal life. On top of that, we don’t have to deal with our brother Christ face to face. So he doesn’t get on our nerves by doing things like hanging around too long or offending us.
God’s adopted children, however, profess that the Holy Spirit graciously gives us not only a relationship with Jesus Christ, but also with other Christians. The Spirit links us not only to Christ our brother, but also our Christian brothers and sisters, the people God has adopted along with us.
You and I can’t always, however, claim that we like being related to our Christian brothers and sisters as much as we like being related to our adoptive brother Christ. They, after all, are with us everywhere and almost always. While those Christian siblings are often a source of blessing and encouragement, they also sometimes annoy or disappoint even the saintliest followers of Jesus.
So while God’s beloved children generally like the privileges that come with being a Christian, we don’t always enjoy its obligations. You and I appreciate the gift of being a Christian. Yet we don’t always enjoy its responsibilities.
The Spirit doesn’t make solitary Christians. There are no “only children” in God’s family. The Spirit makes us one with Christ’s body, the Church and its individual members. As a result, the Spirit makes God’s adopted children, in one sense, responsible to and for each other.
The Holy Spirit gives us Christ and all his blessings, in other words, not just for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the people around us. So we serve the Lord by, among other things, serving each other.
We try to make sure that we care for our physical bodies. Because I have cancer, I take medicine to control it. When our teenaged son broke his wrist, doctors put a cast on it to protect it. If we’re overweight, we do what we can to shed pounds.
In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul reminds his readers that God created Jesus’ siblings and followers to extend such care for our physical bodies to Christ’s body, the Church. He challenges us to care as much for other parts of Christ’s body as we do our own bodies.
Yet we’re sinful people whose own welfare naturally obsesses us. So God’s adopted children tend to view showing concern for members of Christ’s body as a burden. What God’s people will gladly do in the new creation we now sometimes view as a command.
So God’s people shouldn’t be especially surprised that God challenges Christians to care for each other. After all, Christ’s body doesn’t just include the people whom we naturally like. It also extends to Christians who sometimes frustrate, anger or hurt us. In fact, God repeatedly challenges God’s children to love and treat all Christians as God treats them.
Of course, Jesus’ followers quickly recognize that we should love people by doing each other no harm. Yet we naturally forget how easily we also fail to do each other good. Perhaps that’s because God’s children generally don’t always consider what we sometimes call “sins of neglect” to be as serious as, for instance, murder or stealing.
However, the Scriptures insist that the sin of what we once called “omission” is fully as serious as what we called sins of “commission.” God takes very seriously our failure to use what our text calls “manifestations of the Spirit … for the common good” (7).
When, for example, Jesus tells his memorable parable of the sheep and the goats he condemns sins of omission. After all, some of those its King scolds ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (Matthew 25:37).
“The King will reply,” Jesus answers. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (40 – italics added). In doing so he insists that what Jesus’ followers fail to do for the most vulnerable members of our society we fail to do for Jesus himself. When we, for example, neglect sad or lonely other Christians, we essentially neglect Christ himself.
It seems as if those the King condemns simply forgot to do things they considered minor. Their shock at their condemnations suggests they simply forget that some Christians go to bed hungry or in prison. But Jesus implies that that’s no excuse.
The gifts Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 12 refer to the abilities that God has given us for God’s glory and each other’s benefit. So, for instance, he refers to talents for wisdom, healing and even speaking in tongues. The apostle even implies that, for example, the most desperately poor person who is bound to her home can pray for God’s people and work. While that may not seem like much to the rest of the world, we might argue it’s the greatest gift that we can give each other.
Of course, it’s easiest for God’s adopted children to recognize when our adopted Christian siblings aren’t using their gifts and talents for the “common good.” Paul, however, invites Jesus’ followers to always ask ourselves not only what gifts God has given us, but also how we can use them.
We use those talents the Spirit has given us not only for each other’s spiritual welfare, but also for their physical well-being. Jesus, after all, didn’t just feed the hungry crowds the bread of life that is salvation. He also fed them bread that they could eat and from which they could receive nourishment.
Of course, some Christians tend to concentrate on promoting others’ physical health. By doing so, however, we basically treat each other like animals that only need food and drink. Other Christians primarily think about others’ spiritual well-being. Yet by doing so they ignore the fact that God created us as whole persons whose bodies God will raise to somehow reunite with our souls when Jesus returns.
Those who proclaim 1 Corinthians 12 will want to look for ways those who hear us can put it into practice. We’ll explore specific causes our hearers may want to consider supporting in the interest of good “family” relations. Preachers and teachers will encourage each other to look for ways to support those ministries with prayer, finances and time. God, after all, wants those who hear us to experience the deep joy that comes from gladly using our talents and gifts “for the common good.”
It’s important to remind each other and ourselves that God’s children share our spiritual gifts with each other when we show loving concern for each other’s spiritual well-being. We don’t just talk to people about our concerns for their spiritual health. Christians also lovingly and prayerfully speak to those we know who seem to be spiritually wandering or endangering themselves.
God has, after all, given Jesus’ followers the rich spiritual treasures of not only of salvation and eternal life, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives us those wonderful gifts in part so that can, in turn, share them with each other, encouraging and praying for each other.
Yet I’m always struck that sharing the talents God gives us requires the kind of attentiveness we don’t always cultivate in our busy culture. The people who are hurting in our church communities, for instance, don’t, after all, usually publish their misery. They may, in fact, sneak out of church right after services or simply avoid them.
So those who are eager to share their gifts for the common good find ways to connect with people who largely remove themselves from a church setting. We find ways to swallow our annoyances with needy Christians to minister to them in Jesus’ name.
However, there are also spiritual gifts that Jesus’ followers can offer for the salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. We pray for family members and friends who haven’t yet faithfully received God’s grace.
You and I also pray for missionaries who proclaim the gospel on our behalf. What’s more, we find ways to share our faith with those we know who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. The ultimate good people can experience is, after all, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as their Brother, Lord and Savior.
In an article published by the Markula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University entitled, “The Common Good,” (https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/the-common-good) authors note, “Commenting on the many economic and social problems that American society confronts, Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson once wrote: ‘We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.’
“The common good has been an important ethical concept in a society that has encouraged many to ‘look out for Number 1.’ Everywhere, it seems, social commentators are claiming that our most fundamental social problems grow out of a widespread pursuit of individual interests.”
While the authors’ understanding of “the common good” may slightly differ from Paul’s, their points apply to his teachings in 1 Corinthians 12 as well.