Bible text: I Corinthians 12:4, 8-13
Speaker: Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega

Introduction

The preparation of the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra, Australia, demanded a poem which could provide a poetic setting for the theme of the Assembly – “Come Holy Spirit – Renew the whole Creation”. T.K. Thomas, who worked at the Department of Publications of the World Council of Churches, called me up and said “Ofelia, we need a Latin American poem about the Holy Spirit”. Then I remembered a poem by Pedro Casaldáliga, and immediately sent him a telegram to Matto Grosso in Brazil, asking his permission to publish it. The answer did not take long. “Use the poem. It makes me happy to know that it will serve as inspiration for the Assembly. With ecumenical hugs.. Pedro Casaldáliga”.

Of course, Casaldáliga would never make claims concerning his author rights in a case like this. So we used the poem in most of the publications for Canberra.

To the Wind of the Spirit

That blows everywhere,

Free and making others free

Free and bringing Liberation,

Victorious over the Law,

And over Sin and Death.

 

To the Wind of the Spirit

That swept into Jesus

And sent him to the poor

To announce good news for them

And freedom for the captives.

 

To the Wind of the Spirit

That worked on Pentecost

Removing prejudice and interests

And fear away from the Apostles,

Opening wide the doors of the cenacle

So that the community of Jesus’ followers

Could always be open to the world

Free in their word,

Coherent in their witness,

Unbeatable in their hope.

 

To the Wind of the Spirit

That always sweeps away fears from the Church

And sets all powers on fire

Except the power for fraternal service

And purifies the church through poverty and martyrdom.

 

To the Wind of the Spirit

That brings arrogance, hypocrisy and lust to ashes.

And feeds the flames of justice and liberation

And makes the soul of the Kingdom.

So that we are Wind in the Wind, sisters and brothers.

 

There is a wonderful text in the letter of Paul to the Galatians – “The Spirit He gave us”.

This text is really excellent because it is evident that Pauline communities are not built on words, speeches and theoretical teachings. The communities had the experience of the Holy Spirit, and Paul appeals to that experience in order to lay the groundwork for the doctrine, being aware that “he who saw cannot but believe”.

In words of John Bluck1; “…at the Canberra Assembly the Spirit was invoked to break the churches out of their old theological captivities”.

In his opening address the General Secretary Emilio Castro expressed:

“By invoking the Holy Spirit

we affirm communion, justice,

solidarity and accountability as

against the pragmatic notions

of instrumentally, efficiency and profitability”2

And in his sermon Jacqueline Grant reminded us the words of Jesus… “Peace be with you”, but she added, that Jesus did not stop there, this was followed by the directive “receive the Holy Spirit”. The comments of Jacqueline Grant are very significant in the process of our “Decade to Overcome Violence”… Perhaps Jesus was saying to the disciples that the Holy Spirit is required to help us to discern peace. We know peace only when we know the Holy Spirit”3

I- Responding to tensions in the Corinth Community

Let’s now look at our biblical text: I Corinthians 12:4, 8-13.

In I Corinthians Paul, responds with concern to the news he has got from the Church in Corinth. Such news come from two sources and they reflect two different perspectives. In the first place Paul says that some people have communicated with him by the word of mouth ((1:11; 5:1; 11:18) and also by means of a letter (7:1) That official letter was asking for guidance “about the spiritual gifts”.

Paul uses his habitual concentric model to give the answer in three chapters. The problem of the spiritual gifts is developed in two parts (chapters 12 and 14), illuminated by a fundamental reaction (chapter 13), placed between these two parts.

There is also much tension in the new Christian community itself; rural groups, scandalous behaviour, and discrimination of the poorer and vulnerable people.

In this pastoral letter there are two basic axes that go through Pauls’ answers to these situations: the axis of the scatological future that sharpens conscience and inspires perseverance and the axis of the solidarious love that moves and guides Christians to devote themselves to the others. All these ideas are summed up in Jesus Christ ( 1:30).

It is interesting to observe the educational-pastoral strategy used by Paul – “you know” (12.12) to be able to clearly explain the denunciation and the teaching this is going to give them.

The letter establishes the exact criterion to evaluate the manifestations of the Charismatic nature. That is why it solemnly declares – “This is why I make known unto you…”( 12:3). Obviously the criterion of authenticity is the Christological one.

II-The Charismata come from the same source

To deal with the rivalries among the people with different gifts, Paul wants to very clearly establish that all these gifts come from the same source.

Paul repeats this truth three times, “the Spirit is the same”, “the Lord is the same”, “God is the same”.

This is a guide for the right definition of “charisma”. “It is a manifestation of divine grace, a gift bestowed irrespective of merit or spiritual maturity, an endowment sometimes called “a gift of the Spirit” granted by the Triune God to individuals to enhance, the life, worship and service of the people of God”4

Therefore, all the gifts come from the same source. None of them can be despised.

In her book “Pastoral Problems in Corinth” Irene Foulkes states that : “Paul expresses a triplet reiteration of diversity and he uses three different terms to talk about the variety of gifts given by God to the community of believers.

  • carisma (12:4)
  • ministeries, services
  • operations, activities.

It is significant that all the Pauline discussions of “charismata” are within the context of the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ (Rom 12:4 – 8); I Cor 12:4 – 11; Eph 4:4 -16).

And the summary in verse 7 adds the expression “manifestation of the Spirit”5

“The “charismata” are understood as graciously bestowed on individuals (indicative of diversity) given according to God’s covering will, but intended to meet the needs of the one Body (indicative of unity)6.

III- The diversity of Gifts

In verses 4.8-11 Paul presents the principle of the diversity of gifts and the universality of distribution.

The Spirit gives to ” one…. to another….and to another….” The central idea is that the Spirit provides all the people of God with the vital energies they need for their development and training.

This diversity of capabilities comes from the same Spirit that distributes them among all the believers (12:11)

In the Corinthian community , there are some people looking for extraordinary charismata for their own satisfaction rather than for community building. Besides, this search for charismata is selfish, without regarding its integration with other charismata and going over love. They have all the characteristics that would be present in the Gnostic groups of the II Century . Charisma is at the service of power and of personal benefit. It is possible to identify the minority of wise, powerful and noblemen of the Christian community in Corinth with these groups of enthusiastic Charismatics and future Gnostics.

Paul’s position towards them is coherent with his taking sides with the poor majority of the community.

In the first place, Paul recognizes the diversity of charismata, but the Spirit is the same and all the charismata get integrated like the members of the same body, nobody can despise the other because they have an apparently superior charisma (chapter 12). Love is , after all, the fundamental charisma . Without it all the other charismata are nothing. (chapter 13)

The most important charismata are the ones that build the community, that is why prophesy is superior to the language gift.

No charisma can be practiced for your own benefit, without order and for oppressing the majority in the community, particularly the poor and most vulnerable people. (chapter 14)

For Paul it is better to say five words where the sense is clear than ten thousand in unintelligible tongues (I Cor 14:19) .

The enthusiastic and impassioned search for extraordinary charismata for one’s own benefit can also take place in our communities at present.

Paul’s priority option comes out of love and for the edification of the needy and poor majority in the community.

Conclusion

I´d like to finish with some words espressed by His Holiness Aram I, Catholic of Cilicia mentioned in his book “For a Church Beyond its Walls”

“Being different is God’s gift, and we must accept God’s gift in humility and gratitude. By defining ourselves in isolation from the “other”, or in opposition to the “other”, we reject the “other”… if we accept the “otherness” of the other, we can built a harmonious community by transforming mutual hostility into mutual tolerance, and mutual rejection, into mutual acceptance”.7

It is what he called the “dignity of the difference”.

The message of this pastoral letter help us to understand that the tension between unity and diversity is mediated by love (I Cor 13), and the purpose for which their charisma are given is the Common Good (I Cor 12:7), care for one another (vers. 25-26) and encouragement and consolation (I Cor 14.3) and edification (v.5)

The statement that was approved in the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra in 1991 affirmed that “in communion diversities are brought together in harmony as gifts of the Holy Spirit contributing to the richness and fullness of the church of God”.

And now, allow me to conclude with this prayer.

“God the Father, creation of justice and mercy

God of Son, bringer of change and hope:

God the Holy Spirit, source of inspiration and help:

We ask you blessings on us, your pilgrim people,

divided by our traditions,

yet united in loving to follow you

Encourage us to face our time

in sorrow for our failings of the past,

in hope of a change of heart,

and in faith for a future

built on your Gospel of love, Amen.”

(Churches together in Farnborough, Surrey. U.K)

1 John Bluck, Canberra Take – Aways, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1991, pages 14, 15.

 

2 The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key texts and Voices, edited by Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. Cope, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1997, page 439.

3 Op.cit, John Bluck, page 16.

4 Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Publication, Geneva, 2002 page 162.

5 Irene Foulkes, Pastoral Problems in Corinth , Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones, San José Costa Rica, 1996, Pp. 345 y 346.

6 Op. Cit, Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, page 163

7 Aram I, Catholics of Cilicia, For a Church Beyond its Walls, Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, 2007, page 282.

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