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I have a confession to make, I am a terrible pool player. I am so bad that the last time I played, the person I was playing with stopped the game and said, “You are the worst pool player I have ever played with.” (I had told him I was horrible but he didn’t believe me.) I’m using this story as a very thin tangent to talk about gifts and the Spirit … bear with me.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, we read, “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

As many of you know, Paul was writing to a congregation in Corinth after receiving some correspondence from them and hearing their concerns. Throughout this letter Paul emphatically makes it clear that no one is spiritually better than others – no one has better faith, no one has better gifts, no one should eat better than another at the Eucharist table. Paul is adamant in this. (He is talking about this because of some struggles in the Corinth church. You are welcome to read the entire letter of 1 Corinthians to get more context.)

Paul emphasizes that because we all receive faith through the Holy Spirit, no one is spiritually superior. Paul further emphasizes that because we all receive a variety of gifts given by the Holy Spirit, no one has a worthier gift than another. And, to emphasize this point, Paul writes that the Spirit does not give only one kind of gift to all. Because the church and the world need diverse gifts, the Spirit gives different gifts to different people. In other words, Paul is simply saying this: same Spirit – lots of gifts.

You hear this? In a society where we emphasize certain gifts and skills and abilities above others (and often feel like we have fallen short), we hear in 1 Corinthians that the Holy Spirit gives a variety of gifts to a variety of people. Specifically, YOU have been given a variety of gifts, and this is good.

Further, these Holy Spirit gifts – they are not meant to benefit the individual person but are to benefit the entire community and world. Paul emphasizes that these gifts are not to be used in selfish ways or in self-seeking ways. Paul clearly states that if a gift cannot be shared, and shared for the good of others, it is not from the Spirit. Ultimately, the purpose of these different gifts of the Spirit is to share in God’s love and grace and mercy with all through Jesus Christ our Savior.

As Americans, we have often been told (and maybe believe) that as individuals we are responsible for ourselves. We are not to rely on others – we are to be strong and self-sufficient. We are taught that to have freedom is to be autonomous. But let’s be clear. This is far from what we read in 1 Corinthians.  Paul says each person receives gifts for the common good. Paul says that each person receives the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. It is in community where the gifts from the Holy Spirit shine. It is in community where the Holy Spirit is made manifest.

You see, it is God’s intention that we are to be with one another – for one another – as the community of faith, as the body of Christ, as the Church on earth. The Holy Spirit has given a variety of gifts to a variety of congregations and individuals. And together we are called to bring these gifts together to help bear one another’s burdens, to love and pray together, to bring justice and new life, to be made manifest in the Holy Spirit for the common good.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter that I am a terrible pool player. But it does matter how I both share the gifts that God has given me and how I reach out to others in mutual support when I am in need.

I would love to hear stories from you about your gifts being made manifest in the Holy Spirit – individually and in your congregation. How are each person’s gifts being shared in your own particular congregation? How is your congregation sharing with another congregation? What gifts were missing from your particular place of worship that you have found outside of your space? What gifts have you been able to share with others?

May we live into what we often say in worship, “The gifts of God, for the people of God.” Amen.

+ Bishop Shelley Bryan Wee