Monday, August 13, 2012

9 Pentecost, Year B, 29 July 2012

2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; Saint John 6:1-21

Preached by Rev. Lou Scales

You and I use the term “gifted” in much the same way Webster’s intended, that is, as an adjective, generally describing a person as having a natural ability or aptitude, or more notably describing someone with superior intelligence. With that kind of description, you and I generally think of the child prodigy whose talent and capabilities make them candidates for graduation from high school by the time they are 12 years old, and possessing masters’ degrees by the tender age of 15.

More cynically, we may even think of them compassionately with such observations as, “Oh, the poor dear will not have a normal childhood, no good friends, and will grow up without the normal childhood most of us come to label as good and desirable.” In fact, the most prevalent stereotype that comes to my mind is the somewhat condescending way we discuss “gifted” people as having enormous skills in difficult intellectual areas, but having very little of what we might call “common sense”. While they may be good at rocket science, they don’t possess the common sense, as it were, to “get in out of the rain”. In so many cases, people identified as “gifted” become targets of either our envy or our pity.

If this is, indeed, the case, I wonder what you might be thinking right now of Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus in general, and how we think about Paul’s observations and guidance today in particular.

I don’t know, but I suspect if someone asked you if you are a gifted person, you would probably mumble some kind of modest denial, and quickly try to shift the focus of the conversation. And you probably would do this for the very reasons we just mentioned. It would be considered rude and self-promoting to go around describing ourselves as gifted, because in routine conversation, we use the word “gifted” in much the same way we use the word “talented”. Since we generally understand “talented” to mean being better at something than most other people, it is generally prudent to be cautious about identifying ourselves in such a way.

Fr. Frank Wade reminds us that “being gifted in the Biblical sense, is not the same thing as being talented. Not all of us are talented, but by God’s design, all of us are gifted. As you heard earlier, at the reading of the Second Lesson, Paul tells us, “..each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” Obviously, these examples do not exhaust God’s gift list. There are many, many ways to be gifted by God.

One way to understand these gifts is to see them as the raw material and the tools God gives us for a certain purpose. And that purpose, about which Paul is very clear, is for building the Body of Christ. You see, this is not about how we use our gifts for our own benefit. It’s about how we use our gifts to benefit this community of faith.

Our gifts may well be the obvious ones that come to mind immediately ~ like abilities, aptitudes, interests and enthusiasms. Some are less obvious, like the insights we have gained in growing up where we did, when we did. These are the wonderful insights that may well have been born of hard times. They are the insights we have from enjoying affluence, or enduring poverty; of working for education, or overcoming addiction; of stepping up to take responsibility, or surviving abuse. The GIFTS of our race, culture, economics, religion ~ the gifts of our heritage are all part of what we have to work with in life. And they are gifts.

You may have the gift of being high-strung or laid back; happy, serious, depressed, concerned, anxious, eager, funny, emotional, supportive or confrontive. Some of these gifts are not necessarily ones we would choose, but we have them ~ they are what has been given to us to be about the business of life in this world as God’s people. Who you are, in fact, is God’s gift to you.

Along with those gifts that make up who you are as a unique and wonderfully made Child of God, are the gifts all of us possess in some measure. These are the gifts of time, place and opportunity. It is up to us to use our gifts when we have the opportunity, where we have the chance. I guarantee you, there are many, many priests and pastors who could do a better job this morning bringing this sermon to you.

Only trouble is, they are not here ~ I am. The gift of being in this place, at this time, has been given to me, and not to someone far better qualified. It is, and is, for me, a profound gift of opportunity.

There may well be those who can sing God’s praise in a much richer way than you think you can. But if you are the one with the gifts of time, place and opportunity, it is up to you to use them for the glory of God, and the building of the Body of Christ.

We might think our gifts are meager, and not worth much. We might even wish we had other gifts, or had gifts that were like others we admire. But, my friends, we are who we are, and we have the gifts we have. No amount of wishing for different sets of gifts will change them. There’s a wonderful story from the Talmud about a man named Simon. Simon wanted always to be more like Moses ~ that was his constant worry. He kept going back to the Rabbi and saying, “Rabbi I must lead my life so that I live more like Moses did.” Finally, after many discussions on this, the Rabbi told Simon, “ Simon, God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses. God will ask you why you were not more like Simon.”

We have our own lives to live, and I do not know why you have the gifts you have, and I have the ones I have. I only know we have them for the same reason ~ to build the Body of Christ, which we call the church, to live in service for others, to uphold one another in our journeys of faith. That is the measure of God’s grace we have all been given.

When the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, they did so after having their gifts tested to the maximum extent possible. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had earlier sent them out, two by two, to cast out unclean spirits, anoint the sick and heal them. Upon their return, they had to bury John the Baptist, beheaded as a gift to Herod’s stepdaughter. Then, on their way to a retreat, a crowd of people seeking to hear this Jesus overtook them. One thing led to another, and they managed to take what meager food they had, offer it to God for blessing, and feed five thousand people. Now they were headed for Capernaum, into a headwind against which they could barely make progress, no matter how hard they rowed. Modern day writers would call it sheer irony that the boat ride into the headwinds became the metaphor for the journeys they had just made. They used their gifts of Jesus’ power and their personalities to cast out demons, to heal the sick. But the more they did, the more people kept coming. In today’s language and action, the Apostles did all the things a committed church could and should do – they cast out the demons, they fed the hungry, they cared for those to whom they were sent, they prepared meals for the elderly, and they just couldn’t make any progress on their own, NOT UNTIL JESUS GOT IN THE BOAT WITH THEM.

Does it occur to you that we in the parish do all manner of good things in our communities, but sometimes overlook the basic and fundamental reason for us to do those things? And that reason is the call and the grace of the Risen Lord. The One who so marvelously gives us our gifts must be in our midst as we use those gifts to build the community of faith, to reach out to those who so desperately need to be touched by the grace of God, and the love of Christ.

We must continue giving our selves and our gifts of time and place and opportunity for the service of those around us, and in that process, we must never forget WHOSE we are, and WHO is present with us in all that we do. When we set out to row this ship we call the church out into the headwinds of this chaotic world and all the pain and frustration that is around us, we need to make sure Jesus is in the boat, calming the seas and blessing our gifts to serve the multitudes of people who so desperately need a Savior.

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