Revealing our identity – 1 Corinthians 12:4-14

Image from the BBC documentary on the ‘Two Thousand Year Old Computer’

I led and preached at our 8am service this week, using as my ‘hook’ or image a BBC4 programme on the Antikythera Mechanism. Not my usual style, but I hope God spoke to someone through it!

My family possibly have a rather obscure taste in television, but we watch a lot of BBC4 programmes. This week we found a treasure, a documentary about something called the Antikythera Mechanism. This lump of calcified stuff was picked up more than 100 years ago by a bunch of divers off the Greek coast.

To see the detail of this ancient mechanism, now recognised as the world’s first computer, universities and industry created one-off specialised computer imagery techniques to scan and create 3D images of the fine multiple layers in this rather unprepossessing lump that lives in a museum case.

The programme detailed the high tech, and trial and error, processes by which they revealed the layers of fine gearwheels within this 2000 year old object. If you can still find it on iPlayer I thoroughly recommend it, as I’m not going into a long explanation this morning.

Because the programme got me thinking: if we as the group of people called St Peter’s Church, were studied in the same level of detail, what would be revealed?

The passage we heard this morning from 1 Corinthians 12 is well known. Those of us familiar with it will have been reminded that there are many ways in which we are gifted by God through the Holy Spirit, to respond to God incarnate in Jesus our Saviour.

Hopefully we also recognise that one spiritual gift is not any better than another, that the list that St Paul’s gives in the passage is possibly not exhaustive (as that would be restricting God and the contexts in which he has operated over two millennia), and that they are not validated if we keep them locked up inside a ‘glass cabinet’ of our fears and inhibitions without using them. For example, wisdom and knowledge have to be spoken or uttered (their message given) for them to be of any use to the Body of Christ.

So we might think that if someone was to do a detailed 3D scan of us as Christ’s body here in Yateley, it should reveal the different giftings that we have, how they relate to each other, and work together to explain something; hopefully the Gospel! This should be completely true – though rather frighteningly it would also reveal the faults in our mechanism where perhaps the cogs have broken off, or the dials aren’t turning!

At one level this is completely true, but it’s not really the whole story.

On the Antikythera Mechanism was found minute, but detailed, Greek lettering. Eventually the high tech equipment deciphered this, a missing piece of the mechanism was located in the museum collection, and the result explained what the mechanism was used for; predicting things like solar eclipses and the timing of the ancient Olympics!

So it wasn’t just the mechanisms and how they fitted together that revealed what the mechanism did, and thus its true use and identity, but the small print and fine detail.

If we relate that idea back to our passage this morning, it’s the detail of what is said and done through the use of our spiritual gifts that reveals our identity. Since we’re not the world’s first computer as revealed on TV this week, what are we?

Back in the first 3 verses of our passage this morning it says:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men (1 Cor 12:4-6)

Our work, service and gifts, all different, but applied in relationship to each other like the cogs of fine clockwork mechanism, should reveal our identities, under the scrutiny of the world’s gaze, as being God’s people.

More to the point, if we imagine that it’s God that’s wielding the high-tech scanner, how closely do we live up to his expectations of who or what we are made to be?!

Which for me is where it gets scary. If I, or we as a fellowship, were put under God’s 3D scanner, how closely would our identity be revealed as being true to the nature of God, he who made us and brought us together!?

If that scanner reveals the fine print of our private attitudes, any sense of begrudging our service, or thoughts and emotions that perhaps only the cat sees when we kick it, or the telly hears when we shout at it, what does that reveal about the depth of our faith, our true identity?

Because our identity under God, is as being part of Jesus’ risen body, not just the collection of people on earth who believe in God. Christ as the Messiah is the one who represents his people, and in that role suffered on the cross and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. But as the Messiah he is also the one in whom we God’s people are summed up; the totality of who we are, is Jesus. Or at least it should be.

Which is why we turn to our crucified Messiah and seek his forgiveness, because we know that individually and corporately we are not revealing our true identity as Christ’s. It is only through God’s grace, his love freely given to us all, that we can be repaired to more fully be revealed as Jesus’ people.


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