Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Filled With The Spirit of God

1st Corinthians 12:1-11 and Exodus 31:1-11 (35:30-35)

 We heard earlier from 1st Corinthians 12, one of the most important New Testament passages on the subject of Spirit gifts or gifts of the Spirit.  And you’ll hopefully notice that I try to avoid the phrase “spiritual gifts,” because these are gifts from the Holy Spirit, not necessarily abilities that appear to our senses to be outwardly spiritual.  

 There was a controversy in the church at Corinth.  A certain vocal minority who possessed certain gifts that looked “outwardly very spiritual,” most especially the gift of speaking in tongues, were looking down on other believers.  They were basically saying, “I’m better than you because I have this gift,” or at least “I’m closer to God than you because I have this gift.”  

 Paul countered this controversy by saying first of all that it is by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that gifts are distributed among the people of God.  And second, all of them are useful.  All of them serve a function in building up the people of God.  And finally, Paul teaches that all of them are necessary for the Body of Christ, the Church, to function at its fullest capacity.  

 It would be nice if that put an end to the controversy, but unfortunately, I think that to this very day there is a temptation to elevate believers who have “very spiritual” gifts while pushing aside those whose gifts are “just practical.”  We tend to admire the missionary, the exceptional preacher, the prophetic voice in the church, the great person of prayer, or the great teacher, but we often think less of those whose gifts to the church are more practical:  Preparing meals or working with their hands or offering hospitality to the stranger.  

 But here in Exodus 31, and in a parallel passage in Exodus 35, we meet two men who are gifted by God’s Spirit for very practical purposes.  One of them is Bezalel.  Now I’ve read that Bezalel is the only person in the whole Old Testament who is specifically said to be “filled with Spirit of God.”  I don’t know if that’s the case, but I’ve read it.  

 He is said to be filled with the Spirit of God in three ways.  First, he has “great wisdom,” which translates the Hebrew word HOCHMAH.  This refers to vision or understanding, the ability to see the result of an action.  Second, he has “intelligence” or discernment, the ability to solve problems.  And third, he has “skill,” practical experience.  

 He is gifted by God’s Spirit for working in different mediums:  Metal, wood, and precious stones.  And together with Oholiab, his assistant, both are given the ability, it says in chapter 35, to teach these skills to other artisans.  

 These are all intensely practical skills.  There’s nothing esoteric or academic about carving wood or casting metal or teaching these skills to others.  And in the sight of many, they’re not

particularly “spiritual” abilities.  But they are given by God and used by God for a sacred purpose:  Building the Tabernacle, the meeting place where people encounter God and worship him.  They are used to create sacred space where people meet God.  

 There are other examples of people in the Old Testament who were “gifted” in very practical ways by God’s Spirit:  Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, and others were gifted by God for very practical purposes, like running households or nations or building buildings.  

 I think this story is an important reminder to us that all art is in-spired.  The literal meaning of inspired is “filled with the Spirit.”  

 Up until the last few centuries, the primary habitat for art, and the primary patron of art, was the Church.  Painting, sculpture, architecture, music and other arts flourished in the Church for most of its history.  We might be a little bit disconnected from that, living in America, and not being able to see the great art of the Church from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  But if you ever have the chance to travel in Europe and see the great cathedrals or art galleries, you will see the art inspired and supported by the Church.  And I think, unfortunately, in the last few centuries, the close connection between the Christian community and the arts just hasn’t been there. 

 I saw a taped lecture a while back by the author Elizabeth Gilbert.  I don’t think she’s a Christian, though she may have some background in the Christian faith.  But she was talking about the idea of inspiration.  The idea is found in many places and across many cultures across the centuries that special skill for great tasks is a gift of God or the gods.  For example, in Greek mythology, it was the Muses, nine goddesses, who gave inspiration to artists. 

 Gilbert talked about how the English word genius derives from the same word that shows up in Arabic as genie, meaning spirit.  And in the old time usage, people didn’t say that so-and-so IS a genius.  They said so-and-so HAS a genius.  They have a spirit.  They are filled with a spirit who is at work in them for some great task.  

 A similar idea is found in the Spanish word Ole, which is often used like our expressions “Bravo!” or “Good show!”  But the Spanish word Ole again goes back to an Arabic word, Allah, meaning God.  So when one shouts, “Ole,” they are literally saying “God!”  As in “God is at work in this!”  

 This shouldn’t surprise to us as Christians.   Scripture tells us that God is a creative God.  He created the world.  Genesis 1:2 tells us that as God began his work of creation, the Spirit of God hovered above the waters.  The Spirit is the creative force of God.  And if we are made in the image of God, and certainly if we are filled with the Spirit of God, as the New Testament declares that every believer is in Christ, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are gifted by God with creativity.  

 And we should celebrate creativity as an outpouring of God’s Spirit among people.  But I don’t see that the Church does that very often anymore.  And certainly that’s not how the world sees “human” creativity.  

 In the last few centuries, we’ve seen a way of thinking called humanism arise in western society.  Humanism celebrates the creativity and the genius of human beings, but not as gifts of God, rather as things that we possess within ourselves.  It’s a very different way of thinking about human ingenuity.  It’s not necessarily atheistic, but often it is.  Very often now, art and creativity are seen as purely human expressions, not gifts of God.  And maybe that’s part of the reason why we don’t see the Church as involved in the arts as it used to be.

 But I think we should celebrate the arts as expressions of God at work among his people.  When we see a beautiful painting or hear a moving song, we can celebrate it as an expression of God’s Spirit at work.

 One more thing:  Notice the reason God gifts these craftsmen.  They are gifted to create sacred space where people encounter God.  

 Our gifts can also be used to create sacred space.  But I don’t want you to think of “space” just in the sense of a physical place.  Yes, a sanctuary can be a sacred space where people encounter God.  But so can any place.  Your kitchen table or your front porch can be sacred space when you use the gifts God has given you.  

 Sacred space doesn’t have to a place at all.  A song or a poem or a painting can all become sacred space when we use our gifts to honor God with them.  When we use the gifts God’s Spirit has given us to honor God, we create sacred space.  Sacred space exists wherever God’s people, empowered by God’s Spirit, use God’s gifts for God’s glory.  

 The Spirit of God gifts the people of God for every good purpose.  So when we think about the talents we have, whether it be teaching a Bible study or building a wall, we can ask ourselves, “How can this gift be used to honor God and build up God’s people so that sacred space might be created and people can meet God?”  

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