“Honoring Every Gift”
Christ is usually the focus of transfiguration Sunday. The amazing change in his appearance demands attention.
However, what about the impact on those who watched the transfiguration? Peter, James and John were changed too. Luke tells us they went from being sleepy to being terrified to being quietly in awe.
“Trans-figure” literally means “the body or figure changes.” The figure or body of Christ changed.
On our annual meeting Sunday, we recognize that there is a transfiguration here. For our body of Christ is changing. Our demographics, denomination, culture and context are changing. Our nation and world are changing. Becoming more pluralistic and diverse. When we as members of our body of Christ work together, respect each other, and apply what we practice here to our everyday lives, we can change the world.
The Apostle Paul had a vision of Christ too. As with Peter and the disciples, Paul’s vision changed him. It inspired him to change the world leaving a legacy of caring. We continue this morning in the lesson we read from last week, and Paul’s vision of a church and world where all are respected and valued for their gifts.
Let us pray. Loving God help us to honor all gifts in our congregation, all given by your amazing hand, for our world needs them. Amen.
The Super Bowl this afternoon is a game with lots and lots of very gifted players, incredible athletes with well-developed gifts. But Peyton Manning and Cam Newton aren’t the only ones with gifts this Sunday. Everyone in this room is gifted and called by God to use the gifts we have been given. Biblically, some of our talents are given at birth. The Psalmist affirms that God who knew us before our birth gives us natural abilities. Some gifts come by the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 that the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts to be used in the church. Some come through the church. Paul writes to Timothy, that gifts are given through the Spirit through the laying of hands of the congregation, as in ordination.
Paul wrote this passage today because the Corinthian church had become a place of disagreement. Members seemed unable to deal with differences. Factions developed as people looked to their own interests. Members of the church were asking who had the highest status. Whose gifts were most critical? Whose role in the church was most important? Too many thought they were more important than they were.
Paul’s purpose in this section of the letter was correct this thinking and heal the church. Paul wanted to remind people that they were one body of Christ; that all gifts are important. Paul was trying to heal the divisions of the community by calling the people to care for each other, for all are members of the body of Christ.
Paul writes that “there should be no dissention in the body….members should have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all the members suffer.”
Paul used the description of the church being like a body, and each part performs the function it is best suited to perform. Paul writes “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you….rather those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.’”
This idea of the church as a body was an ancient idea. However, often people had used it to create hierarchy or argue that the “head” is the most important.[i] The brain makes the decisions after all. But Paul shifts this idea to argue that everyone in the organization is equally important. After all, Christ, not us, is the head of the church. The transfiguration underscores that.
For Paul, there is no hierarchy. There are a variety of ways to serve God and be a Christian.
Jesus valued everyone. He ate with sinners and welcomed all. Paul here reminds us of what Christ called for. Each part of the body of Christ is indispensable, each is necessary, there is no greater or lesser member of the body.[ii] Paul argues that there is no one best gift. There is no one gift that shows greater favor from God. This would later become important between the Reformation and Puritan ages when people were looking for signs of God’s favor. Paul helps us see we are not more likely to discover a hierarchy of God’s favor from our gifts. No gift is the key sign that one is a better Christian.
Last week and next week and the week after we’ll ordain and install officers. In our tradition, the same ordination is conferred on clergy and laity, ordination to service in the church. Today we have our annual congregational meeting. Kori and I’ll be speaking but so will many of you. We all are the ministers, as Martin Luther and John Calvin said.
All of our gifts are to be respected, honored and supported. Even if a particular person’s gifts don’t seem to be used now, one should never underestimate the Spirit’s ability to use a gift at a particular time.[iii]
When we recognize that we each have some gifts and together we can do a lot, we see how the body of Christ can be transfigured. Our body can change. As Paul would remind us, when we come together, we can accomplish far more than we ever could apart.
That is what our congregational vitality task force has called us to do, streamline our lay ministries and connect all members to the body of Christ. Our session and strategic visioning task force are looking at new ways to include all. One of them is to make available new and clearer information about how we all can participate in the life of the church. And new opportunities are coming in Lent for us to consider doing so.
Once we practice our unified recognition of and support for our diverse gifts here, we are able to take what we practice here into our everyday lives. Into a world that needs such understanding.
Jim Wallis’ recent book On God’s Side suggests that our culture is being hampered and our broader society torn apart by an inability to deal with our differences. We certainly know that from our politics. We look at national and global issues and wonder if there is hope for reconciliation.
It’s something the Protestant church knows a lot about it, having split several times. For Christians dealing with differences in policy, at work or even in relationships at home or at school, how we view and deal with differences may depend on our openness to being trans-figured.
If we are open to being impressed and changed by an encounter with something different from us here in the body of Christ or beyond, we can bring that openness, appreciation and understanding to the world.
On a weekend where there have been anti-Muslim protest in Holland, Germany and other parts of Europe, Bradley Hills holds an adult ed on understanding Islam. And you’ll see many people this morning wearing green and white ribbons this morning in honor of national hijab day this week, showing solidarity in diversity.
President Obama gave two important speeches on the subject this week. In his first visit to a mosque as president, an important symbol in itself, he said, “We are one American family. When any part of our family starts to feel separate… it tears at the very fabric of our nation.” During that visit he met a Muslim man named Rami. Rami told the President a story which Obama repeated at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday in Washington. The day after the shooting in San Bernardino perpetrated in the name of ISIS, Rami took his three young children to a playground in the Marquette Park neighborhood in Chicago. The time came for him to pray at one of the five required daily prayer times for Muslims. But that day, the day after the shootings, he paused. He feared unwelcome attention he might attract to himself and his children by praying. But his seven year-old daughter asked him, “What are you doing, Dad? Isn’t it time to pray?” And he thought of all the times he had told her the story of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Robert Marx, and 700 other people marched to that very same park, dodging rocks, bottles and hateful words, in order to challenge Chicago housing segregation.” And so, Rami refused to teach his children to be afraid. “I want them to understand that sometimes faith will be tested,” he told me, “and that we will be asked to show courage, to make our area, our city, our country, and our world a better reflection of our ideals.” And he put down his rug and he prayed. A Muslim, given courage by a Christian and a Jew. Inspiration from openness to appreciating a diversity of gifts and experiences. Connecting one’s local area to the world.
When we think about how it is that our body politics can be transfigured. When we consider how our nation can be changed. When we reflect on how our body of Christ can be influenced. When we look at how our lives might be transformed, we know that none of us are able to do it all alone. In the glory and light shining through our scripture, our faith story, our prayers, our appreciation of the diversity of the sacred, and our church, we realize that together, like any team, when we respect each other’s gifts, we can do great things. Paul knew that together, but only together, the church in Corinth could do great things too. And so can Bradley Hills. All by the power of the one who changed for us, to change us.
Many of us will watch what I hope is a great football game later today. Many of us will cheer loudly at our televisions as if we could impact the outcome on the field. Or we will imagine we are participants. We might not be able to impact that game, but we can impact the outcome of this congregation on our various fields of ministry, and of our broader areas. For in the church and in our community, we are not spectators, we are participants.
You have gifts. Gifts for art, finance, fellowship, flower arranging, gardening, landscaping, leading, mission work, sitting with someone in need, storytelling, teaching and many more. They all have a place here. Where did your gift come from? It came from God and it belongs here.
Consider that the church has made it this far because God’s love came into the world in Jesus Christ and that God’s love continues to come into the world through the church. That the church is called to bring the gifts of God’s people together. That together God allows us to become more like Christ through an organization – the church. That God wants us to be part of the body of Christ. That the Holy Spirit is in the process of transfiguring the body here at Bradley Hills. Ever reformed, always reforming. Always changing as the spirit lead us. Playing its part in a world that needs transformation too. May it be so. Amen.