The Rector’s sermon for July 9, 2017  




Week 7 of 16 – Discernment, Mercy, Encourager – including slides #38—44   



Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


(SLIDE #38)   Today is Week 7 in our search for what gifts the Holy Spirit has for each one of us.  I hope you take the time to read the handouts and think about how you live your life.  You may be surprised to discover that some of what you already do, may actually be attributed to a gift of the Spirit.  So here’s the list up to now.  (SLIDE #39)


Gifts of the Spirit


                                        Administration                     Healing                              Missionary

                              Apostleship                            Helps                                  Pastor

                                Celibacy                          Hospitality                     Poverty (voluntary)

                               Craftsman                       Intercessor                           Prophecy

                                  Interpreting tongues             Public speaking                    Discernment

                                             Deliverance                   Interpreting dreams                      Service

                             Encourager                       Knowledge                    Speaking in tongues

                                         Evangelist                         Leadership                              Teaching

                                  Faith                             Martyrdom                               Wisdom

                             Generosity                             Mercy                                  Worship



Perhaps a list like this seems intimidating; it did to me the first time I saw it.  But it made me want to look into some of those gifts and see if there actually were any I could claim as my own, and I hope you feel the same.


Today in the reading from Genesis we continue on with the wonderful story of how God keeps his promises to Abraham—first with a son, then finding just the right woman for that son to continue the heritage that God intended for his people.  The first sentence reads, “The man said to Rebekah and her household…”  Your first thought should have been, what man?  Here’s the back story.  Sarah has died at the age of 127.  Abraham knows that his time is short, and he has concerns for his son Isaac, that he will marry the right woman, and that woman must be from their people and not from the Canaanites among whom they apparently are living.  So Abraham charges one of his senior servants to go their homeland and return with a wife for Isaac.  The servant wants to know why he doesn’t just send Isaac, and suppose the woman the servant chooses won’t want to return with him.  And I’m sure that’s only two of many questions the servant had!  But Abraham says, “Don’t worry.  An angel of the Lord will go before you and he will choose a wife for my son.”  And so we pick up the reading today, with, “The man…Abraham’s senior servant…says to Rebekah…and you see how the match-making ended.  An angel indeed gave the servant a series of things to do in order to find this special woman, and the angel had already reached out to Rebekah.  She trusted what was happening and she follows the servant back to Canaan to meet Isaac.  This entire story is a series of questions, of choices, of ‘what ifs’…which presents to us the gift of Discernment.  (SLIDE #40)



(of spirits)


diakrisis pneumaton

The ability to detect whether the actions and intentions of others are good or evil.

The ability to distinguish true teachings from false.


“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

1 John 4:1

Diakrisis from which comes the English word “crisis,” and pneumaton, a derivative of the word “pneuma” which means “spirit.”  Discernment is a “crisis of the spirit.”   The gift of discernment gives one the ability to determine whether the actions and intentions of others are good or evil, the ability to distinguish between true teachings and false teachings.   The apostle John writes just that in his first letter:  “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Discernment also deals with one’s ability to trust one’s intuition and feelings about another person.  There are times when you get a feeling about someone that makes you uncomfortable.  It could be something you ate, or it could be discernment.  You may be sensing that something is wrong within a person, something that might even be evil.   But discernment isn’t just sensing the negative; discernment can also help one sense the presence of good, of angels.  And the way to ensure our understanding of such a gift is found in that well-known passage in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, beginning with verse 10: “Put on the armor of God…the breastplate of righteousness…the helmet of salvation…”  Paul says that the only way to stand against all evil is to put on the armor of God.  He says that our struggle “isn’t against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  Discernment is that gift we exercise in making all kinds of decisions, large and small. It may not always be about detecting “evil” but it will always be about recognizing “good.”

Our second lesson today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans and I think it’s about the most confusing writing he ever wrote!  He says in ten verses what he could have said in one:  I know the rules, but I’m human; yet I have a God who has mercy on me, a sinner!  That’s the next gift we’ll look at:  The Gift of Mercy. (SLIDE #41)



The special ability that God gives a person to feel genuine empathy and compassion for individuals who suffer distressing physical, mental or emotional problems, and to translate that compassion into cheerfully done deeds that reflect Christ’s love and alleviate the suffering


The ability that God gives a person to feel genuine empathy and compassion and to translate that compassion into cheerfully done deeds to alleviate suffering.  It’s not just about feeling someone else’s pain; it’s about doing something in joy to alleviate that pain.   Sounds good, but what does that look like in a person with the gift of mercy?  (SLIDE #41).   


Four dominant characteristics

·       You are drawn to people in distress

·       You have a supernatural ability to love and care for others, even total strangers

·       You are drawn to ministries or acts of service that seek to restore the hurting

·       You have a hatred of that which causes injustice and suffering upon others


If you have the gift of mercy, you are drawn to people in distress.   Have you ever known anyone who seems to be a magnet for people with problems?  I know we have a few people with that gift right here among us.  And it’s not an easy gift to have.   But if God feels you can touch someone else and make his or her life better, he will give you what you need to exercise that gift.   Persons with the gift of mercy have a special love and care for needy individuals, even if they are strangers.   If you have the gift of mercy, you seek out ways of service to help those who are hurting.   And chances are, you also have a hatred of that which causes injustice and suffering upon others.  We have the greatest of example of the gift of mercy in Jesus Himself.  No one showed greater mercy than he did. Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery?  Jesus had the right according to the law to agree with those who wanted to stone her to death.  But instead he said, “You who have no sin, cast the first stone.”  Not one stone was cast, and her accusers disbanded.  And Jesus?  He says, “There is no one left to condemn you.  And neither do I.  Go your way, and sin no more.” (John 8:11b).  The law was clear, but Jesus chose to grant mercy.  Those with the gift of mercy will choose to do the same.


Another gift along those same lines is being an Encourager.  (SLIDE #43)




The gift of encourager is that special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to “encourage!”

One who can offer words of comfort, consolation encouragement and counsel in a way that they feel helped and have hope.


My apologies to the grammar teachers in the congregation who taught us NOT to use the word we’re trying to define in the definition, but for this one… it’s impossible.  One who has the gift of encourager, encourages!   This is a person who knows what to say in those times when a person needs help, hope, comfort, consolation.   A person with this gift inspires, motivates and affirms in such a way as to offer hope and encouragement.


An encourager brings consolation and hope to another, just as Jesus did.  An encourager is a “little Christ”, if you will.  An encourager is a “little Holy Spirit,” assuring others that they are not alone, and that they are important in God’s plan.  While the world dares you to “be all that you can be,” those with the gift of encouragement inspire Christians to be all that God wants them to be.  And I can’t think of more beautiful words of encouragement than we heard this morning from Jesus himself:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  


(SLIDE #44)  Discernment…Mercy…Encourager. 


Discernment?  Mercy?  Encourager?

Lord, what do you have for me?

Where can you use me?

And how can I better serve you


Three more gifts to add to the many possibilities.  Doing a series like this in an older congregation is a challenge, because we could fall into the trap of thinking that we have done “our thing”…we have already served our purpose.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  The Holy Spirit is present here among us in ways that will make you marvel.  Search out His gifts.  Ask for discernment to know what he has in store for you.  And be quick to receive those things that will help you grow in the Spirit and invest those gifts in others around you.

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