Sermon 16 01 22 Epiphany 2
Christ Church Cathedral
Fr Richard Peers SMMS
“Now concerning spiritual gifts … I do not want you to be uninformed.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you believe in the miracle of the wedding at Cana?
It might not seem like a very important question. Some people suggest that there is a hierarchy of Christian beliefs. On such a list I suppose the miracle at Cana would not register very high. Few people would claim that not believing in this miracle would endanger your immortal soul.
I am not so sure.
In a few minutes time, when I have stopped speaking we will declare that we believe in the most extraordinary series of things.
That there is a God, that he is the origin of everything that exists. That this God chose to be born a human being, that a woman called Mary was his mother. That he died, and wait for this rose again. The, as if that wasn’t outrageous enough ascended to heaven.
And so on.
So, are we prepared to say we believe in all those outrageous things and not in the wedding at Cana?
Or to put it the other way around. If we are sceptical about the wedding at Cana is it really likely that we believe in all the assertions of the Creed?
It would be quite possible for me to preach on the wedding at Cana in an allegorical way. And indeed I have preached in this very church in the recent past on the importance of allegory for understanding Scripture.
But today’s second reading should powerfully inform our reading of the Gospel.
It comes from St Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. It is the beginning of the rightly famous chapter 12 which includes the beautiful reading so often used at weddings: Love is patient, love is kind.
It is worth reading Chapters 12 – 14 of this letter in one go. I would really recommend going home and doing so some time this week.
The whole section of the letter is about the spiritual gifts, the charisma that come with being a Christian.
To summarise. It is about what difference being a Christian will make to our lives. Quite simply it is that the unexpected will happen. That there will be miracles, that we will be given gifts of the Spirit.
There is a pernicious rumour among certain christians that prayer should be difficult. That we will experience dark nights of the soul, that a sign of spiritual maturity is that we will feel abandoned, as if in a spiritual desert.
I have to say that I can’t find anything about that in the New Testament. If I am missing something I would be delighted to be corrected.
I also have to say that the very idea of spiritual maturity seems to me something rather odd. As if we make some sort of progress in the spiritual life.
I’m not speaking entirely from ignorance here. For mm teaching degree thirty something years ago I wrote a dissertation on ideas of spiritual development, as if it was some sort of ladder to be climbed.
I just don’t believe in that any more.
St Paul is very clear, just in today’s reading that it is quite normal for a Christian to experience spiritual gifts, the ones he names in this reading are:
utterance of knowledge
working of miracles
discernment of spirits
interpretation of tongues
That’s quite a list. Nine overt manifestations of the Spirit.
How many are you experiencing in your life at the moment?
Elsewhere in the New Testament those gifts of the Spirit are extended further. I would particularly draw your attention to the gift of tears.
It seems to me that in our society we hold so much on to grief and don’t allow ourselves to cry.
So much of life is loss. The failure to get what we want, for the world to be the way we want it to be. Life is a journey from birth into the ultimate loss, death.
Tears are a gift of the Spirit that liberates us, helps us to let go. To admit that we are not in control. That we will die.
There is only one way to experience the gifts of the Spirit. Ask for them.
If you are not praying other than at church find a time every day to pray. For most people early in the morning is the best time. Just after brushing your teeth. And talk to God.
Ask God to send you the gifts of the Spirit. Believe that he will send you these gifts, just as we claim to believe in Jesus, in his resurrection.
Dearest friends, belief is never the same as certainty. I am certain that my dog Teilo exists. I could go and get him and show him to you. You could touch him and stroke him. He would love it.
Belief is not certainty, it is an act of the will, a choice. Like love. It is no surprise that the beautiful passages in 1 Corinthians about love are part of today’s passage about the gifts of the Spirit. Because love too is a gift.
To be open to these gifts we need to open our hearts and allow them to be softened, to expand.
Rational learning, theological knowledge are hugely important. But they need to be matched by the movement of the heart.
There are no gifts better for this than the gifts of tears and tongues. When we are willing to weep, we are willing to be open, to be vulnerable. When we allow our lips, our words to be led by the Spirit we have let go of control.
The gifts of the Spirit are essential if we are to free ourselves from our bondage to sin. The trouble with sin is that we tend to think of it as something extreme. Well, in the cathedral today there will be people who have committed extreme sins.
But for the most part we commit small sins quite often.
I think that the gifts of the Spirit are particularly liberating of the sin of irritation.
I defy anyone here today to tell me that they are not frequently irritated, several times a day, by our fellow human beings. I am irritated minute by minute by the things people say, the way they act, sometimes even by the way they eat, or even walk.
Here’s the good news: I am not in control of the things they say, the way they act, their eating habits or even the way they walk.
The things that irritate us, the people that irritate us don’t tell us anything about other people, but they teach us a great deal about ourselves. And we can be changed. This week try noticing who or what irritates you and take that to your prayer time. Ask God to send his Spirit of love to you that you may lean to love that person and their irritating habits.
It might not seem like a big miracle compared to resurrection from the dead, or even turning water into wine but it is these everyday miracles that St Paul calls us not just to believe in but to experience. To see for ourselves.
The gifts of the Spirit are God’s promise to every Christian. Prayer not as a barren desert but as a fruitful, blossom filled garden.
Weeping in prayer, praying in tongues are all ways for me to embrace, to practice not being in control. To let God be in control.
The Spirit sets us free.
I believe in miracles. I believe Jesus turned water into wine.
I believe that Jesus changes our lives.
About that I will not keep silent.
Our sinfulness, our irritability, reveal to us our poverty.
All of this is in today’s Collect, have a look at it on page 6 of today’s booklet:
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;