Spiritual Gifts and Christian Unity

Sunday, August 11 (OS July 29), 2019: 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Martyr Callinicus of Gangra in Asia Minor (250); Virgin-martyr Seraphima (Serapia) of Antioch (2nd c.); Martyr Theodota and her three sons, in Bithynia (304); Martyr Michael (9th c.).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:31-12:6
Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22

Glory to Jesus Christ!

St Paul’s words in today’s epistle always stop me cold. “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”

Think about that for a moment. The Apostle to the Gentile says he thanks God that his preaching of the Gospel didn’t lead to more people from death to life. He thanks God that by his hands, not more unbelievers were joined to the Body of Christ. He thanks God that those outside the Kingdom did not enter into the KIngdom through his ministry.

None of this is to suggest that Paul didn’t want these things to happen; he did. But looking at the situation on Corinth he realizes that something is terribly wrong there.

It isn’t just that the Church at Corinth has fallen back into the same divisions that afflict the world; they have embraced them. Worse, where worldly dissension is rooted in differences in ethnicity, language, religion, social class, or sex, the Corinthians’ separation from each other is justified by an appeal to apostolic authority.

So badly divided are the Corinthians that the things of God are now the cause of schism.

To be sure, all this is not the fault of the apostolic witness or the sacraments. It is rather the fault of hearts grown cold where once they were on fire for Christ and the Gospel.

And, lest we think ourselves better, the divisions of Corinth are still with us today. It isn’t just that we see Christians divided into Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical Christians. Bad as this worse still are the divisions we see among Orthodox Christians not just worldwide but in America.

And not just in American but even here in Madison, the temptation to sectarian divisions even if not formally proclaimed is here to be seen.

While we must not minimize the importance of “the faith delivered once and for all to the saints,” too often creedal fidelity is a mere pretext, a self-serving justification for Christians to remain divided from each other.

At its base, what we have forgotten is that not only does baptism unite us to Christ but, in Christ, to each other.

And this unity is not an abstraction; our unity is not merely formal or theoretical. In our baptism, we have each of us received spiritual gifts (charismata). These gifts are concrete–God calling “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers”–and the means by which the Christian is lived out corporately and personally..

The gifts God gives, He gives “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NKJV).

All of these gifts, God gives us not simply to proclaim the Gospel and to build the Church but as the concrete means by which we are united to Him and, in Him, to each other.

We are divided into Orthodox and Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical because we have lost sight of the meaning of the gifts we have received in baptism. Having lost the living sense of our gifts–and in most cases, even that there are gifts given–our lives in Christ have become consumed by abstract concerns about doctrine or morality, about liturgy or church growth, personal virtue or social witness.

But the gifts you received in baptism are the ways in which God has joined you to Himself. The gifts you have been given layout for you the path God has called you to walk as His disciple and witness.

Maybe He has called you to be an evangelist. Maybe He has called you to be an icon of hospitality for strangers or of mercy for the wounded. He may have set you aside to interceded in prayer or to oversee the material left of the Church in philanthropy or administration.

Whatever the gifts you have been given, their practice is how God has called you to serve Him in this life as His disciple and witness.

And, to return to the problem of the divisions among Christians, this can only be overcome through a life of generous fidelity to our personal vocations.

Until I am personal faithful, I will not understand that far from being a zero-sum game your vocation doesn’t that harm me but adds to me. To see this we need only call to mind the multiplication of bread and fish in today’s Gospel.

This is what grace does, it creates abundance where once there was poverty.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we suffer division not primarily because of theological differences–though these exist and matter–but because we have lost the living sense of what it means to be united to Christ–and so each other–through the unique gifts God gives to each of us in holy baptism.

We find our unity not primarily in what is external but in the grace of God in our hearts and in the myriad gifts, He has given to each of us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Working Together

July 22 (O.S., July 9) 2018: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Taormina in Sicily (1st c.). Hieromartyr Cyril, bishop of Gortyna (250-252). Martyrs Patermuthius, Coprius, and Alexander (361). St. Theodore, bishop of Edessa (848).

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22

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St Paul demands from us a humanly impossible standard.

We are, he says, to “all speak the same thing,” that “there be no divisions among” us, and that we “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

Reading on in the epistle, it is clear that the Church in Corinth fell shorts of this. The Church was so corrupted by dissension that their witness was to a “Christ divided” and a “Paul crucified”!

So deep–and presumably bitter–were the divisions that Paul actually thanks God for not baptizing people.

As he often does, Paul holds himself up as an example of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

While we should always be cautious in reducing conflict to a single cause, in referring to his own ministry St Paul gives us at least one, possible, explanation for the difficulties plaguing the Church in Corinth. Paul is faithful to the task to which God has called him. He isn’t called to baptize but to preach the Gospel. Not only is he called to preach, he is called to preach in a particular way.

St Paul doesn’t preach the “profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” by those who “strayed concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21, NKJV). No Paul preaches nothing “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  The Gospel he preaches is “a stumbling block” to the Jews and “foolishness” the Greeks foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). But, as he reminds us this morning, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

St Paul is not counseling folly for folly’s sake. He isn’t anti-intellectual. He is, however, aware of the limits of human reason especially in response to God’s grace. “If human wisdom is at war with the Cross and fights against the Gospel,” St John Chrysostom says, “it is not right to boast about it. Rather, we should recoil in shame” (“Homilies of the Epistles of St Paul to the Corinthians,” 3.7 in ACCS, NT vol VIII, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 12).

The war between human reason and grace consists of my tendency to prefer my own thoughts and desires to the will of God. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” Chrysostom says, “because it makes those who have it unwilling to learn more” (“Homilies of the Epistles,” 5.2, p. 17). It is my pride, not science or philosophy, that causes me to wage war against God. It isn’t what I know that causes me to turn from God but my misuses of what I have learned.

And having abandoned the God Who created me in His image for a god I create in my own, it follows naturally that I seek to refashion my neighbor in my own image and after my own likeness. It is this tendency to put God and my neighbor in a box that is the causes division in not only the Church but also the family and the nation.

Paul’s counsel to us is not that we abandon reason but pride. He isn’t telling us to be illiterate but humble. It is this reasonable humility that is absent among the Corinthians. They choose sides, one for Apollos, one for Cephas, another for Christ. While they are divided in the names to which they rally, they are united in their disregard for each other. Each one agrees on nothing except that his neighbor is his enemy.

Compare this to Jesus in the Gospel.

There is nothing forced or self-seeking in our Lord’s actions. Moved by his great love for each of us, He heals the sick.

And when it is time for the hungry to eat, Jesus doesn’t glorify Himself. Rather he invites the disciples to share in the miracle He is to perform. As God, He has no need for the disciples’ assistance. But He wants to show a “more excellent way” (see, 1 Corinthians 12:31). He wants to reveal to the disciples–and so to each of us–that we are His co-workers (see, 1 Corinthians 3:9).

This is what the Corinthians don’t know about themselves. That each one of them is a co-worker with Christ and so with each other.

This co-laboring, this working together, is not simply a practical standard. It is the defining quality of the Church because it is the central quality of God. Just as the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity work together, we who are in Christ must work together.

This doesn’t mean trying to fit each other into little boxes. Working together doesn’t mean I tell you what to do or you tell me what today. Rather, we are to help each other pursue the work God has called each of us to accomplish in this life.

When this happens, when each of us pursues our personal vocation and supports each other in doing so, there is abundance. And when we don’t? There is division.

God calls us to be His co-workers. He does this in the gifts He pours out on us in Holy Baptism.

But these gifts, given to us for God’s glory and our own salvation, also bind us to each other. This means that I can’t pursue my vocation without supporting you in yours. And this is true not simply for me but for you and for each of us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Unity in the Church is found in the gifts God has given each of us personally in Holy Baptism. These gifts bind us to Him and to each other in love. So let us exercise our gifts and, in so doing, love God and one each other.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory