January 14, 2007
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
This week I read about a computer program called NORA. NORA is an acronym for “Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness.” The program was originally developed for Las Vegas casinos. Now it might seem strange to you that I would be reading about computer programs that benefit the gambling industry, but bear with me on this.
Take an example. Suppose that there is a big winner in Las Vegas. Someone wins $20,000 dollars. The casino wants to know even while he is in the process of winning big bucks if he is legit, that is, if he is just a ordinary citizen who showed up one night and was lucky, or perhaps he is not legit, perhaps he cheated in some way. Now if he is a legitimate winner, the last thing the casino wants to do is bring him for questioning and make him unhappy. No, they want him to go home and tell a thousand other people about his big win in Vegas so these others will show up and lose their money. But if he is not a legitimate winner, if he cheated in some way, they want to know, while he is doing it. So, they use NORA. NORA is a sophisticated data-mining software program that can uncover all sorts of interesting relationships. For example, NORA might alert security at Las Vegas’ Mandalay casino if its database scans reveal that the guy who is winning big at blackjack once had the same phone number as the dealer at that table, even if there now seems to be no other link between them. Such information, at the very least, would warrant further investigation. And in the end the big winner and the dealer both might wind up buried in the desert.
But NORA has now moved on from Vegas and has been adopted by some corporations. If you’re an employer, you might be interested in NORA because it can reveal employees who share the same address with people you’ve previously fired or who are related to folks who fake accidents and sue the company.
But what really boosted NORA’s value was the awful events of 9/11. The FBI, CIA, and the National Security Council were all falling over themselves trying to sort through huge mountains of data looking for connections not readily apparent — and to do it in ways that don’t violate the privacy laws of our country. NORA fits that bill. This software can discern non-obvious relationships even when there are up to 30 degrees of separation between them. NORA is “the world’s leading solution for identity and relationship resolution.” NORA can tell the government, the businesses, or the casinos who you are. Not who you say you are, but who you really are. It does this primarily by exploring relationships that exist between people, organizations, or things.
I could have used NORA years ago when I first came to York. I would meet people and wonder who they were, and then I would find that they were related to this person whom I had also met, and that person was related to another person that I knew. I soon concluded that everybody in York was related, and I had better not say anything bad about anybody. Of course, as a Christian, I am not supposed to say anything bad about anybody anyway, so that is no problem.
But NORA can be related to what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the spiritual gifts. Paul was saying that the Corinthians shared non-obvious relationships. Paul was quite aware that not all of the Corinthian Christians had the same gifts or talents, but that was as it should be. People are different, people are unique. But as we read through I Corinthians we realized that some people thought that their gifts made them superior to other people. They thought they had a “superior” endowment from God, and they acted as though they had just made it to the finals of American Idol. Their gifts were so different from others in the church that they couldn’t see the connections, the relationships.
So Paul emphasized not the diversity of their gifts, but the unifying — non-obvious — relationship that existed among them. The heart of Paul’s message is in these sentences: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (vv. 4-7)”
What Paul wanted his readers to understand was that there is a relationship between each of the gifts that church members possess that makes the message of the church what God intends it to be — that the non-obvious connections between those gifts make the whole of the message more than the sum of its individual parts.
And Paul sees God’s Spirit working behind all of this. Each gift was given not according to any kind of human merit or because the one receiving it was better qualified, but because of the love of God. And therefore, as receivers of gifts, we are called to make the love of God obvious in our lives.
The baptism ritual includes a question to the congregation “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?” The congregation always answers in the affirmative, but usually they are not thinking about what they are saying. We are making a solomn vow before God to nurture each other. We are establishing connections to each other in the body of Christ.
The Chinese village of Sanjiang in Guangdong province made a great mistake in not recognizing natural connections. The village decided that snakes were bad, and so they had a great campaign to kill all the snakes, and they pretty much succeeded. Snakes were mostly eradicated in that area. Next year the wheat harvest was decimated by rats. There was an infestation of rats that ate everything, because, duh, snakes eat rats. So then, according to the China Daily, the village spent 860 pounds to purchase 200 cats to get rid of the rats. Well, the cats were successful, and the grateful village gave them a fish banquet for their hard work. Of course, if they had just left the snakes along, they would not have needed to buy the cats at all, but they missed that connection. Christianity is about connections, connections with God, connections with others. When Jesus was asked to summarize the commandments, he said love God and love neighbor. That is it, that is what it is all about. The Apostle Paul says the same thing in ICR13
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
One of the most important terms for Christians is "fellowship". This term covers our life together as Christians. This means first of all that we spend time together, in worship, educational activities, service to others, and just having fun. These activities help us get to know each other, and to develop into a community. The Bible refers to the Christian community using organic metaphors, such as a vine and a body. Paul is especially fond of the body metaphor. Like the parts of the body, we each have different abilities and functions, but it is all one body, the body of Christ, and this body has one purpose, to bring about the Kingdom of God. So we each are called to use our different abilities for a purpose, to benefit the whole body of Christ.
When people think of Christianity they sometimes think of it as a set of prohibitions: Don’t do this, don’t do that. Now it is true that in the past we have sometimes lost sight of the purpose of the rules and worshipped the rules themselves. That is a kind of idolatry. There is nothing wrong with rules of behavior. We must have them. But we should always remember what the rules are for. The rules are to protect us and others so that we can develop better relationships.
Christians do not do some things. They do not do things that cause harm to others. I do not say bad things about you behind your back. Why? Because it hurts you. It might not hurt you physically, but it certainly hurts mentally and spiritually. On the other hand, there are things that Christians are called to do and say so that they can develop a deeper, more joyful kind of fellowship. And the things we are called to do might be simple. Say an uplifting word to someone who has been kicked around by life recently. Or, just smile. I know that you hear this kind of thing all the time, but it is true. Laughter is the best medicine. A smile brightens up everybody’s day. Some psychologists say that laughter is still the best cure we have for mild depression.
You do not help a person suffering from depression by sympathizing with their depression. If you say to a depressed person, “I’m sorry you are depressed,” they will reply, “I’m sorry too and now I feel even more depressed.” The way to cure mild depression is to decide that we are not going to be depressed, and to wrench ourselves out of that rut and deliberately cultivate a new attitude. Now we can do that ourselves, and most people do, but it sure helps if we have a support group. That is what the church is. In church, we are supposed to support each other and cheer each other up, and help each other along the way. Paul is talking about talents here in I Corinthians 12. A talent all Christians should have is to be encouragers. Let us encourage one another.
The sin of the Corinthian church was pride and self-centeredness. Their focus was on their gifts, on their talents, on their abilities. The apostle Paul does not deny that they have gifts talents and abilities. But he shifts the focus off the person with the gift and onto the God who gave the gift. He raises the question why do you have abilities? No so that you can admire yourself in the mirror but so that you can better live your life in relationship to others and to God.
As Paul says in V25, we should all have “the same care for one another.” Amen.
“IBM Entity Analytic Solutions V4.1.0 delivers powerful, anonymous identity recognition and relationship awareness.” IBM United States Software Announcement 206-117, May 23, 2006. www-306.ibm.com.
O’Reilly, Tim. “Non-obvious relationship awareness.” O’Reilly Radar, April 14, 2005. http://radar.oreilly.com.
“What Happens in Vegas ...” Wired, March 2006, 90.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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