“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8
“Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life… knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should no serve sin…” Romans 6: 1-6
If in some imaginary world Jesus had said that the means by which a person is born again, made a child of God and grafted into Church was that the minster is to hold the baby tight in his arms, jump up and down three times and on third jump everyone is to shout the name of Jesus out loud, then that would be exactly the means by which a person is born again and grafted into Christ. Why? The reason that holding the baby and jumping up and down and so on would be the means of grace is because Jesus said so. The words of Jesus plus the outward, visible, material sign make a sacrament. But Jesus did not say anything about jumping up and down, what he did say is this:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” Matthew 28: 19
And that is exactly what his apostles did 50 days after his bodily resurrection from the dead, 10 days after his bodily ascension back to his Father. Therefore water baptism is absolutely inseparable from becoming a Christian and thus it is inseparable from one becoming a member of the Church. And pretty much from the beginning, baptism in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was taken by the chief apostles and the prophets to be the chief means of grace. The liturgy for Holy Baptism that begins on page 273 of the Book of Common Prayer is made up largely of portions of the New Testaments woven together so that we are assured that what we do and say and claim for Christian Baptism is to be found in the New Testament. Here is a minimum of 10 benefits of the Baptism that show up in the liturgy:
1. That the person is baptized with water & the Holy Ghost
2. Received into Christ’s holy church and made a living member
3. That the person would be spiritually regenerated (born again)
4. Made a child of God
5. The Holy Spirit takes lodging in our bodies
6. Forgiveness of sin
7. Buried with Christ in his death
8. The petition that sinful affections would die in the baptized
9. Infused with heavenly virtues
10. Share in the resurrection of Christ
What is my point? The point is that you are completely outfitted through Christian Baptism for the labor and love of being a member of the Body of Christ and you do not need any experience outside of the common life in the Church to live fully and happily. The two chief sacraments of the Church are Christian Baptism and the Holy Communion. There are five more sacraments and in our discussion of the Apostolic Office last week we hit upon the one we identify as the Sacrament of Holy Order. We will talk more about that later, but for now I want you to see how the administration of Christian Baptism is different from all the other sacraments and that difference matters. The difference is that Baptism is administered without any reference to one’s initiative in obtaining the grace given in Christian Baptism. Take these examples: In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the minister will take the man’s right hand and cause him to take the woman’s right hand, but then the man declares: “I take thee to my wedded wife…” The woman will then, without the minister’s provocation take the man’s right hand into her right hand and she will declare: “I take thee to my wedded husband…” The operative word is the word “take.”
In like manner when we celebrate the Holy Communion the celebrant recites Jesus’ words of institution:
“On the night in which he was betrayed he took Bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take eat, this is my Body, which is given for you…”
And again the celebrant quotes our Lord:
“Likewise after supper, he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this…”
Our third example is the ordination of a priest. When the bishop is making a priest he will declare to the man being ordained:
“Take thou Authority to Preach the Word of God, and to minister the Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed there unto.”
Though there are obvious functional differences, the main thing I want you to see is that the person being baptized is not told to take anything. Why? Because it is not till after one is baptized that one may then perform the other offices necessary for a Christian’s well being. Baptism is the fount of all the other Sacraments. It is not till one is baptized that one is equipped to live responsibly as a Christian and to responsibly take hold of the other Sacraments. Though there is a quality of passivity in receiving the grace of any sacrament because we cannot pull ourselves up from our own spiritual bootstraps, when it come to Christian Baptism the one being baptized entirely passive. Oh yes he answers important questions for us, questions based on the Apostles Creed, but when we get to business of the matter, when the celebrant address the congregation in old familiar dialogue we enter into the high voltage end of the liturgy:
“The Lord be with you.
And with thy spirit.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up unto the Lord.
Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
It is meet and right so to do.”
“It is very meet, right and our bounden duty that we should give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God, for that thy dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins did shed out of his most precious side both water and blood; and gave commandment to his disciples, that they should go teach all nations, and go baptize them In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
From there on we address God and pleading the supplications of Holy Mother Church. It is always disconcerting if you are around people who refer to you in the third person as though you cannot think, speak, or act for yourself. But that is what happens in Christian Baptism because that is the truth: one cannot think, speak, or act for one’s self in Holy Baptism. In Christian Baptism God takes hold of that child and joins him to Christ, the Holy Spirit nails us to Calvary, we lose all control over our life, and we are buried with Jesus. And from now on I do not belong to myself, but I belong body and all to the one, true lover of my soul, Jesus the Messiah.
The point is that you are completely outfitted through Christian Baptism as a member of the Body of Christ and you do not need any experience outside of the common life in the Church to live fully and happily in the known will of God.
You already have all you need for happiness in your baptism and the common life of the Body of Christ and, yes, part of our life together is made holy and happy through discovering and growing the gifts that God has imparted to each one of us through Holy Baptism. You all have gifts that were imparted to you naturally through nature and nurture, but you also have gifts that were imparted to you supernaturally through Holy Baptism and sometimes nature, nurture, and supernatural come together for the good of the Body. Some of you may have some idea of your gifts, but frequently other parishioners see gifts before we are ready to see them ourselves.
Remember last week we looked at the first three gifts named prophecy, ministry, and teaching. Remember first place goes to prophecy, which is what we call preaching, and it is similar to the third gift of teaching. Both prophecy and teaching involve the ability to grasp, organize, and communicate the teaching of the Apostles. The second gift is translated as ministry, but a better translation is “service” and it refers to those who have the gift of recognizing needs in others members of the Body, especially temporal needs that require concrete service to others like spending time with the lonely, providing meals to the hungry, and caring for those who budgets may be stretched to breaking. There are those of you who are attentive to such needs in the Body of Christ and that may mean that you have the gift of service. Now there are 4 gifts left in Paul’s list in Romans 12: exhortation, giving, ruling, and mercy.
“Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation…”
Exhortation is the 4th gift Paul mentions but like so many of the translations we have seen there are better words to convey Paul’s meaning. For example, the word that we have translated “exhortation” is taken from the same word that we get the word “Paraclete” that is frequently translated as the “Comforter.” It may involve something like exhortation, but it also means to encourage, to build up, to bring joy and gladness, as well as to bring consolation. It may involve a “sympathetic ear” as well as the “sympathetic tear” that feels from the heart what the other person needs and takes the opportunity to share a brother or sister’s burden. You probably have someone in mind that fits the bill for the gift of sharing consolation and comfort.
The 5th gift that Paul cites is what we have translated simply as “he that giveth” and that is not a bad translation as far as it goes.
“he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity…”
But this gift involves more than simply giving or sharing which is the duty of every Christian; it is the gift of one who is personally gifted private wealth that they cheerfully give in an extraordinary manner for the good of the Body of Christ. It is the gift of philanthropy that issues from personal wealth that is shared for the good of the common life of the parish. The word Paul uses means to share, to give, to offer up material wealth for the good of the Body of Christ. And Paul says that those who have the gift of wealth and sharing should do it “with simplicity” which means that such gifts should be given without duplicity, without any ulterior motive, and it is fair to say that Paul simply means that the gift of giving should be sincere and generous.
“he that ruleth, with diligence…”
The 6th gift Paul mentions is translated for us as “ruling” and it carries with it the idea of presiding in the Church and maintaining decency and order. Sean is already into his postulancy which I am sure will lead to his ordination and we have several other men who are taking an aspirancy year reading, praying, writing papers as well as meeting with me and others as we all seriously and in common examine God’s calling on their lives.
And the 7th gift that Paul cites as all-important for parish life is what we have translated as “mercy.”
“he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
This gift belongs to the parishioner who is “the one who is showing mercy” and he or she is to exercise that gift with cheerfulness. The giving of mercy suggests the sort of person who takes a hands-on care for the sick, the dying, and probably those in prison. And it certainly suggests the sort of parishioners who feels sympathy for the suffering of others whether that is material, physical or emotional suffering. But Paul is quick to say that the manner in which one gives mercy is as important as the act of mercy itself and the mark of Christian mercy is that it is offered cheerfully and selflessly. Again, I am sure that many of you have someone in mind right now who is gifted in mercy. But here is a warning tucked into Paul’s insistence that acts of mercy be tempered with cheerfulness. Some people are forever in need of rescuing because they refuse to grow up and cheerfulness will provide the giver of mercy with distance. Also there are people who are forever in need of being needed and such a person is incapable of genuine cheerfulness. Therefore if you are gifted in mercy be sure to be attentive to why you are drawn to people who are always in the need of mercy and be careful not to let people become dependent on you – the gift of mercy is not rescuing people who do not need rescuing. Also when a parishioner tells you how someone has offended them, be careful not to become so personally involved that you take sides. The parishioner who is gifted in mercy does not accomplish mercy by trying to fix people’s problems and we will talk more about this later. We have looked at the gifts of the Spirit that are to be focused upon the parish. Next week we will look at Christian behavior outside the parish where Christians may experience hostility.