|1 Corinthians 12:1-1
By Bruce G. Epperly
The Season of Epiphany inspires us to look for the light in ourselves and in the world around us. In God’s light, we see light, the Psalmist proclaims, and if God’s light is omnipresent, then all places vibrate with divine energy. Divine energy moves through all things presenting them possibilities and the inspiration and eros to embody them. Still, we are free to shape God’s energetic possibilities and even turn away from them by ignoring them or misusing them. When we open to the light, we see divine light in ourselves and others.
The reading from I Corinthians 12 provides us a lens through which to read today’s passages. God’s Spirit generously moves through all things and in the human world is the source of our personal gifts and vocations. This is not to say that non-human animals are without gifts and vocations; in fact, anyone who has had a companion animal recognizes how transformative their presence can be, and how they may love us in ways that address our current condition. God speaks through them to us, and lures them toward wholeness along with us.
There are many gifts within the body of Christ—as church and as world— and everyone is lured toward certain possibilities from which our constellation of personal gifts emerges. Gifts, as Paul describes them, are not individualistic, solitary, or unchanging; rather they evolve relationally and contextually over time. While we may have many gifts, emerging from the Spirit’s energy and inspiration, we may also have unique and personal gifts within our communities. Paul’s list of gifts in I Corinthians 12 is evocative rather than exhaustive. As verses 12-31 further suggest, not all gifts are “churchy.” Some involve domestic tasks, humor, athletics, self-care, telling stories, and making music. Our passions differ and our talents differ in their emergence from the Spirit’s inspiration and our response to the Spirit. The point is that we are gifted and so is everyone else. Everyone, accordingly, makes a difference in the body of Christ.
The church is called to be a laboratory for exploring giftedness, our own and others. We do not need to think small either about ourselves or others, but take time to notice, affirm, and nurture the gifts within the community of faith and our relationships. “It takes a village” to bring forth our gifts, and our gifts are intended to contribute to the well-being of our communities of faith and broader civil communities. There is no room for greed or individualistic self-interest within the community of faith. As the southern African phrase Ubuntu asserts, “I am because we are.” We might add, we are because of each person’s influence on the body’s well-being.
The story of Jesus’ miracle at the Wedding Feast in Cana also points to the nature of vocation. Just beginning his ministry, Jesus is no doubt coming to terms with his power and vocation. While initially he balks at providing extra wine at the wedding celebration, Jesus discovers that right then and there, in this place and time, his vocation is to add to the zest of a marriage celebration. Sometimes celebration is more important than sermonizing; partying may be more essential than proclamation in experiencing God’s abundant life. (For example, as I work on my lectionary commentary, I am taking breaks to prepare a dinner at our home for friends and checking to see if I have the appropriate libations! The word will be made flesh tonight in laughter and friendship and although one of our guests is a pastor, there will be no Bible study this evening!) However, we explain the transformation of water into wine[i], one thing is certain about this miracle story: Jesus’ gifts meet the needs of the moment. Like Jesus, we can—to quote T.S. Eliot—love God in the world of the flesh.
Our vocations, like Jesus’ vocations, are intended to relate flexibly to the dynamic processes of life. We live out our gifts concretely and relationally, not abstractly and impersonally. To embody today’s theme, the adventurous preacher might invite persons to quietly reflect on their own gifts and then ponder where their gifts nurture the larger community. Moreover, people might be invited to reflect on—and possibly even shout out—the gifts of others. As a pastor, I have experienced many congregations living with a sense of futility and depression due to an inability to see and affirm the gifts of the community as a whole and the gifts of members within the congregation. An imaginative faith invites us to look deeply at one another, discovering the deepest gifts within each other and then vowing to support one another in living our gifts for the larger community.
[i] I address the nature of “miracle” in the Patheos Adventurous Lectionary commentary for this week – See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).