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Open Your Gifts
January 19, 1992


Did you open all your gifts? Or is there one back in the corner or on the shelf waiting for you to discover, to unwrap and use it? I'm not referring to a Christmas gift or a birthday gift, but a spiritual gift. According to the scripture lesson this morning, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts. It is not the same gift for all of us. There are varieties of gifts and your gifts may differ from the rest of us. Some of the gifts are not opened. In fact, if we had a hint, if some of us had a hint of what's inside the package, we would quickly put the cover back on! We wouldn't want it to get out. There are also some spiritual gifts we have been taught not to open.

Now I'm not talking about fruits of the Spirit this morning. The fruits of the Spirit are different from the gifts of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul listed the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are qualities of living. Galatians 5.22: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. When you are touched by the Holy Spirit, blessed by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit become increasingly evident in your life. All of us as we are filled with the Holy Spirit can increase in love and joy and peace.  Those are the fruits but not spiritual gifts.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit are different from the fruits of the Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are uniquely and specially bestowed. And because the gifts are unique to each receiver, everyone's gifts are needed. So if you do not open your gift and share it with the rest of us, the body of Christ suffers. Paul wrote in First Corinthians 12.7, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” So to enrich the church, to complete the fullness of our common experience the Holy Spirit gives us each of us gifts. So have you opened yours?

My thesis this morning is that there are gifts yet unopened and the body of Christ is incomplete. Not only are some gifts not opened, but we have been taught not to open them. We have been ignoring the wealth of God's gifts and denying ourselves and our congregation the complete spectrum of God's wonders. We in the mainline denominations, especially United Methodist, are quick to recognize and acknowledge gifts like the gift of chairing meetings, or bookkeeping, or music, singing, teaching, and especially cooking. Eating is a very important part of our church life. Christian fellowship includes eating and because so many women now work outside the home, it is increasingly difficult to find people who have the gift of cooking, the time and are able to cook for Fireside Fellowship, Methodist Men, senior citizens’ luncheons, and so forth. We know how important the gift of cooking is when we suddenly realize there is a shortage of cooks and what would happen if we can’t eat? We'd have a major disaster!

However, we are missing other gifts. We are missing other gifts of the Spirit and we don't even know we are missing them. I suspect that when the scripture lesson was read this morning, you heard some unfamiliar words and you either discounted them or dismissed them or relegated them to another time in church history. Listen again to the list of some of the spiritual gifts that God through the Holy Spirit gives us. 1 Corinthians 12 verses 9 and 10. Have you opened any of these? The gift of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Have you opened any of those gifts lately? If you did, did you try to close the box quickly? Or hide them under a bushel so no one would ever know? After all, you might be a closet healer or a closet miracle worker or a closet speaker in tongues. Mainline denominations have relegated these unique spiritual gifts to the charismatic Pentecostal denominations where they have all the fun. The dramatic showstoppers, like healing, prophesy and tongues are looked at with suspicion, ridicule and disbelief by most of us mainline traditional Christians, and to our common loss I might add. These spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for a common good according to Paul. When we deny them, or discount them, we are limiting the richness of our common experience.

For centuries, the dominant worldview contrasted body and mind, contrasted matter and energy or spirit. The church's domain was relegated to spirit. Philosophers separated the natural from the supernatural. God was defined as the being who started it all, but who is no longer really involved in the natural. That was the dominant worldview for centuries. Then came the philosophers and scientists who taught that only matter is real, and there is no reality such as spirit. Materialism decreed that only the material, only that which is known by sensory perception is real. Illness was understood as something having purely physical causes. Miracles were either explained away or called hallucinations. Perhaps the darkest period of all was some 300 years ago when people who had spiritual gifts, sometimes called psychic powers, were burned as witches. Even today, scientists have a difficult time understanding people with psychic powers. They call it magic or hoaxes. Similarly, the church’s arena becomes smaller, narrower and narrower, where spiritual gifts and spiritual experiences are looked at with suspicion and disbelief.

Today, the worldview is rapidly changing, thanks especially to Einstein. We know there is no separation between spirit or energy and matter. In fact, matter is composed of energy. Everything in the world is composed of moments of experience, not dead inert stuff, but living, dynamic experience. Everything is composed of experiences more than sensory, more than what can be touched or smelled or tasted or seen or heard. Those who accepted the materialistic scientific worldview either had a very narrow place for the spiritual, or else they laid aside their scientific worldview when they came to church. They held two contrasting world views in the same head. But now the scientific worldview is changing and spirit or energy is becoming intellectually credible.

A few of us took a class last week, a theology class from Dr. David Griffin of Claremont Seminary. He defines reality in his book God and Religion in the Post Modern World. Creativity is the ultimate reality of which all things are instances. Creativity is what is real, not matter. One of his conclusions which I found exciting is that psychosomatic studies and psychical research can be added to our common experience to support the notion that the human soul, far from being an impotent spectator is the most powerful of the earthly actors in the cosmic drama. Spirit is unleashed. Thanks to this theology and the emergent worldview, the spiritual and the natural are rejoined. In fact, you can't have one without the other and that opens exciting possibilities. Today, across the globe, there is increased interest in the spiritual but sadly, many find our churches bankrupt and turn to gurus of Eastern religion or fanatical Christianity. We mainline Christians have thrown out the baby with the bath.

So let's get our theology up to date which ironically means relearning biblical theology where God is known not only as the creator, but the creative energy/spirit at work in the world. The time has come to consider all the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit as intellectually respectable, theologically consistent and experientially possible. Perhaps some of you are reacting to this sermon because to you it doesn't make any sense. But perhaps some of you are reacting to this sermon with weariness, saying, “Oh, no, I just can't do or be anything more. I don't want to open any more gifts. I've got all I can handle right now. Don't tell me I've got more gifts to open, develop and use.”  But I suspect there are some of you who do not feel fulfilled, who sense there are gifts you have not opened, and if you did, would discover a whole new world. Perhaps some of you have sensed you have psychic powers. Perhaps you seem to sense something is going to happen. Or you are particularly tuned in to other people. Perhaps some of you have the gift of healing where your touch and your empathy seemed to make others feel better.

In one of my former churches, a woman shared with me an experience she had several years before. With tears in her eyes, she shared how she had spoken in tongues during a prayer meeting. When she shared this experience with her Methodist pastor, he laughed at her! Instead of helping her understand, assimilate and appreciate the experience, he humiliated her. Don't let anyone disparage your gift! Those who speak in tongues report a deepened prayer life that is indescribable. 

Take a long look at yourself. Are there some hints of gifts you have not opened? Is there more to you than you have heretofore admitted, partly because your church taught you to ignore them for centuries. I challenge you this morning to open all your gifts. Take time and training to nurture them, to develop them and to use them. Use them to the glory of God and for our common good. Our church and indeed all mainline churches need the enrichment and experience of spiritual power. Perhaps we need to expand our church program. In addition to committees, classes and fellowship groups, perhaps we should organize support groups to help each of us find and develop our spiritual gifts; to help people find them, develop them and minister on our behalf. I'd appreciate your feedback on this controversial invitation.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris