Sermon – Epiphany 3

Sermon for Epiphany 3 – 23rd January 2022 by Christopher Miles

The Spirit’ Equipment for service

I Corinthians 12 vv 12 -31A   The Spirit-inspired body of Christ Luke 4 vv 14 – 21  – Jesus is fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 61

Theme:  The Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in Society

Introduction.         We are living in a comma, no not a coma [I hope] but in a comma! Jesus in reading from Isaiah 61 verses 1 and 2, does not complete the sentence, when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” comma.  The rest of the sentence in Isaiah 61 goes on, “The day of the vengeance of our God”.   That is yet to come.   We are, thankfully, living in the year of the Lord’s favour. Are we, like Jesus, being inspired, equipped and emboldened by the Spirit of the Lord?   Our epistle reading from I Corinthians gives us an insight into how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church, in a church which was misusing the gifts of the Spirit.  Let us learn something from these two readings about how the Spirit should be working in the life of the church today and in the life of individual Christians in their involvement in society.

The problem.   The city of Corinth in the 1st century A.D. was a sexually licentious society and this was the environment from which many of the church members were drawn.   Some were on an ego trip, and this influenced their new gift of the Spirit, especially in the matter of the of the gift of tongues.  Earlier in the epistle, the apostle Paul has to rebuke them on matters of immorality and their inconsiderate conduct in their worship, especially their overuse of the gift of tongues.

The solution.  Paul uses the illustration of a body, with its senses, its limbs and its internal organs, all coordinated by the brain, working as an integrated whole, in harmony.   He tells them that there are many more important ways and roles in the life of the church than speaking in tongues.  He lists, firstly, in order, apostles, prophets, teachers and then, not explicitly in order, workers of miracles, gifts of healing, helpers, gifts of administration and deliberately last, speaking in different kinds of tongues.  Perhaps today we would interpret the list as bishops, archdeacons, area deans, ordinary clergy, lay ministers, teachers, administrators, helpers.  The church is the body of Christ, says Paul. When I read the Church Times, I’m thankful that we are part of a harmonious diocese, we are each part of a loving and faithful church here in Hadlow, with good relations with other churches in our Deanery, and locally, in other denominations, especially Tonbridge Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. We were yesterday with about 40 church members present, under the leadership of our Area Dean, Andrew Axon considering the parish profile.   AA had come to our aid.   What sort of church are we?  What sort of leadership are we looking for? What can we celebrate?  What are the challenges?   One these that came out clearly, is the need to reach out more fully to younger adults and to children.  A helpful start to an important process.  It would be out of place for me to comment in any more detail on that.

Society.   Let us consider something of the work of the Spirit in our witness in society.  Jesus was concerned with society as a whole, including the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. In his reading from Isaiah, he refers to release of prisoners, good news for the poor in society, and healing of the sick.  I can understand why John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus really was the Messiah. Why did he not get John out of prison?  A question to be considered at some other time.  What about our witness, maybe in daily work, and family, in social groups and generally in the people we meet?  We need, I suggest:

Sensitivity and Boldness,

Alertness to opportunity,

Yet knowing when to remain silent.

These features can be enhanced through prayer and the work of the Spirit in our lives.    

Paul in writing to the Corinthian Church, includes administrators in his list of gifted people. I believe good administration is rooted in love of our neighbours, trying to see the situation of the other person. When I write a report on the lightning protection of a church, I have to include a fair amount of technical detail. but I ask myself, ‘How will the recipient understand this?’  Can I make it easier to understand, without compromising the requirements? 

I find that at times I need to be bold.  Following the Grenfell tower block fire, I saw a danger that the focus would be so much on the types of metal cladding required, without regard to its integration into the lightning protection.  I accordingly to the Chairman of the Grenfell Tower Advisory Panel, at the Department for Communities and Local Government.   Some months later I had a phone call from a member of the Commission.  In effect he said, “We had not thought about lightning being a source of fire!

As a Church we do well in our involvement in taking on responsibility in local councils – County, Borough and Parish.  I gather though that there are several vacancies in our Parish Council. You may not feel that you could take on the role of a Parish Councillor yourself, but could you prayerfully think about someone to whom you could say, “How about volunteering to fill one of these vacancies?”  Or it might be serving on the committee of a village society.  Sensitivity and boldness are required.

Conclusion.     In conclusion, let us be prayerfully open to the Spirit in our lives, to guide and strengthen us in our witness and service to those in need. to the betterment of society, to the work of the kingdom of God, whilst we continue to live within the comma of God’s grace and before the sentence is completed in “The day of the vengeance of our God”.  Let us pray that God will guide our Church Council, Area Dean and Archdeacon to the person of his choosing to come here as our next incumbent.

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