Honoring Our Gifts through the Storm
Over the next few weeks, until Easter, we are going to be focusing in worship on the life and mission of the Apostle Paul. A man who was called by God, wrote much of the New Testament and traveled the near world on a journey of following the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic and least focused on parts of Paul’s journeys was his encounter with a great storm. After his third journey of spreading the Gospel he was arrested and sent by ship to Rome. On the way, the ship got into a major storm. A 14 day storm, bigger than anyone had experienced. Stormzilla. Luke writes that some of the crew just had to get out and tried to escape using the ship’s rowboat. But ultimately the sailors secured the ship, faced it into the storm where it is pushed to the northwest and Paul and the others were shipwrecked in Malta, where they were stranded for three months.
We all have been through a bigger storm than we could have imagined this past week. Snowzilla, it was called. And many of us were stranded longer than we could have liked and were really wanting to get out. Lots of cabin fever. But here we are, finally. It’s good to be together. What a gift.
Let us pray. Loving God, help us to be open to your loving leadership as you help us see the gifts we have inside ourselves, all from your hand. Amen.
These next two weeks we’ll look at 1st Corinthians, 1 Corinthians as Donald Trump might say, 12, and the metaphor of the body of Christ.
The city of Corinth was 40 miles south of Athens, and an important commercial and religious city. Located around several water transportation routes, Corinth became an important economic hub. With that came great religious diversity. Also, immortality. Corinth developed a reputation for being a Las Vegas of its time.
Paul had visited Corinth around 50-52a.d., and began preaching God’s good news. Paul had success and in about 18 months had set up a thriving church community among the diverse gentiles of Corinth.
So around 53a.d. he left believing the community in Corinth was in good shape. However, Paul soon received letters from members of the Corinthian community, detailing divisions, idolatry and immorality.
So Paul wrote to the Corinthians, not as a theologian, but as a pastor writing to a divided church, to tell them of their need for God and each other, and to encourage them.
Paul’s best known description of the church is included in our scripture today. It is the body of Christ. The idea of a body is something everyone can relate to. We are physical beings. For Paul, there are many members and many gifts in the church, but just one body.
The framing of the passage in verses 15-17 deals with those times when we don’t believe we belong in the church. Those times happen to all of us, and it’s an issue in every church. When things feel cliquish, or we think things are changing too quickly or we wonder if we have the gifts to help lead. Or we feel the church is supposed to be holy and we don’t feel at our best. The metaphor for snow in the Bible is usually one for purity, but snow doesn’t appear in the Bible all that often. Lord knows Paul, who wrote this letter, needed a lot of help. Churches, like the people who make them up, aren’t perfect. Know that these are issues that congregations from Paul’s time on have dealt with. So Paul writes that we all have a place. We writes that “If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.”
Reminding us that we are to love ourselves. Loving our neighbor like ourselves implies we love ourselves. Every member has gifts and is important for the well-being of the body.
In 1990, Danny Simpson robbed a bank in Ottawa, Canada, taking $6,000 and went to jail for six years for it. When he was arrested he was discovered to be carrying an antique 1918 Colt pistol he had been given worth $100,000 —much more than Simpson had stolen. If he had just known what he carried in his hand, he wouldn’t have robbed the bank.
We all possess more valuable gifts than we might realize. There are gifts we use every day at work, gifts for things we do outside of work, spiritual gifts we may have contributed at other organizations in the past, gifts for things we might have done as children and then put away over time due to parental pressure, or put away in the face of life’s realities, and gifts for things we always wanted to try. The church is a great place to discover, develop, rediscover and use your gifts, either gifts you use during the week or gifts you might not have used for a while.
This morning we will take part in a special ritual as we ordain and install those called to leadership as elders and deacons here. We share in the act of laying on of hands, and pray as the Holy Spirit calls us. Ordination is a special setting aside of some to lead in ministries.
We ask our leaders a series of questions. Of the nine questions, the one that is often considered a favorite of many is “will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?”
We answer affirmatively to this question because we believe that each of us have been given these gifts, and those called to service must use them. We affirm that in baptism all of us are gifted by the spirit.
Each of us in the church have the gifts needed to do the task to which we are called. We are called to honor those gifts by using them. Ruling elders are called to discern and measure the will of God. Deacons seek to serve in the model of Jesus Christ. All members are valued in the body of Christ.
To our new officers I say, this moment is yours to take seriously your gifts and calling, and in doing so to inspire our congregation and community to use their gifts.
You all are called to bring your experience, your knowledge, your passion, your creative ideas but also your love to this body. That makes the church different from other kinds of organizations. The church is the body of Christ. Decisions about property and personnel, outreach and the organ, education and evaluation, visioning and visiting, are not about dollars and cents, but about sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
Unlike other kinds of organizations, the Holy Spirit goes with us here. To help us be faithful.
The body of Christ needs all the gifts we have in order to function and thrive. If we think of our gifts as things we own we’ll use them for ourselves. If we recognize our spiritual gifts and talents as coming from God, through the Spirit, we can use them to serve others in the church.
Gifts that come from God are well returned to God when they strengthen Christ’s body. So friends, use your gifts to glorify the one who gave you the gift and that will increase your involvement in the body of Christ.
The church needs us to take our calling seriously. Pastor Tony Evans writes about a certain person at most churches named “Somebody Else.” Evans suggests that there is “nothing that this person can’t do. Somebody Else is busy from morning to night just substituting for many in the church.” Evans says when many are asked to do this or that it is the easy reply, “Somebody Else can do that job. She or he will do it much better than I can….Somebody Else is still substituting for me.” Evans concludes, “Next time you are asked to do something worthwhile, think of replying, ‘If Somebody Else can give time and support, my goodness so can I.’”[i]
“The church is not a building, but the people.” “Belonging means participating.”[ii] Being the church means being active as people.
This Lent you’ll have a chance to prayerfully consider being part of a lay ministry, for example.
Paul argues that “we” are the body of Christ. That means that as Christ is no longer in the world, if Christ wants a task done in the world, Christ must find someone to do it.[iii]
I love what St. Teresa wrote centuries ago, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which to look out as Christ’s compassion to the world.”
During the snow storm, how many of you watched a movie? A lot of you? Any Star Wars marathons? Any Disney films? Anyone watch Wizard of Oz? According to the Library of Congress Wizard of Oz is the most watched film in U.S. history, in part because it’s been on TV regularly since the 50’s. The catalyst of that film is a big storm. A tornado transports Dorothy from Kansas to the magical world of Oz. There she joins three friends, a lion, a scarecrow and a tin man. All in search of gifts. They want to be given qualities of courage and brains and heart. Kind of like looking for energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
Through their journey, of witches and monkeys and odd creatures and situations, it turns out that what they are waiting for is not a fanciful being to just bestow these qualities on them. Rather what they find is that those gifts are already within them. They just needed the right circumstance to bring them out. One of the reasons Wizard of Oz endures is that we all can relate to its characters at some level. We all have gifts. We all have dreams.
But the truth is that God has already given you the gifts you need to make God’s dream come true.
Like Paul, we all face storms. Vivian Greens famously said, that “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Hopefully the snow will be like the witch and say “I’m melting away.”
Dorothy would say, “There’s no place like home.” But after a few days stuck there, it’s nice to be out. Now in our spiritual home.
Yesterday we went to the Renwick Gallery in DC for the wonderful Wonder exhibit. One of the many quotes around it from St. Augustine reads, “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without marveling.”
Like the players in Oz, in the Bible and in the church who have gone before us, we have the gifts to be a wonderful community in which we fulfill our potential as a congregation. Our new officers will lead us.
So be proud of your gifts. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we share our gifts and our dreams, for the future of Bradley Hills. May it be so. Amen.