Gifts for Service

“Gifts for Service”

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:4) – January 16, 2022

            Christmas was not that long ago. Less than a month ago! Remember the gift-giving? And, how much you wanted to see whether a close family member really liked your gift? Sometimes gift-giving can be stressful, especially when we exchange gifts with people who do not have a generous spirit. You know the kind, people who are so focused on themselves that they – or perhaps, we forget what Christmas is all about – receiving God’s greatest gift of all.

In this after-Christmas, post-gift-giving season, is there any wonder that many people are still up to their ears in the after-holiday bustle of gift returns or gift acknowledgements, and some even disappointment from all the gift-giving?

            God did not finish giving gifts when the Baby in Bethlehem was born in a manger two thousand years ago. By no means! God continues to give gifts to each believer, just as Eileen read to us. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

Perhaps, we might paraphrase Paul: “Since you have already received gifts from God, what are you doing with them – lately?” But, perhaps I am getting too far ahead of myself. All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! Perhaps you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Every Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

Oh, no, some say. I can just hear them. “Not me! I don’t have any special gifts from God! How could that be? I can’t do anything super special. I’m just a run-of-the-mill person.” Our commentator Karoline Lewis would strongly object! Lewis says we all need to recognize “that the gifts we receive are the very grace-acts of God. The term that Paul uses for “gift” has the same root as the word for “grace.” [1] These grace-filled gifts are charismaton in Greek, which is where we get the word “charismatic.” And, each believer receives these gifts!

            What a marvelous thought: each of us is a charismatic Christian, in other words! That is exactly what the apostle Paul says, right here.

Here in 1 Corinthians is not the only place where the New Testament gives a list of spiritual gifts. It talks about them in Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 12, too. Plus, modern lists of spiritual gifts draw from all over the Bible. We can see that each believer has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!). Individualized, and personalized!

So, what do we do, now that we know we all have spiritual gifts? Good question!

Just knowing about our spiritual gifts is only a small portion of actually having them and acknowledging them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an excellent way for each of us to serve God, in our own individual way. Do you know someone in the church who is a really helpful person? I can think of several. I think God may have given them the spiritual gift of helps. How about someone who is particularly encouraging to others? That person might indeed have the gift of encouragement.

What about the gift of administration, to organize and figure out what goes where? The gift of healing is seen physically, true, but it’s also used for mental, emotional or spiritual sickness or distress. And, the gift of leadership, of delegating tasks and gathering people together is another important spiritual gift.

            This is where our responsibility comes in. We don’t just sit on our hands and do nothing, now that we know about our personal spiritual gifts. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to us individually and then to use them to the glory of God in our lives at home, at school, at work, and in the community. [2] As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”

            Now, what about service to others? Specifically, I am thinking about the federal holiday that will be celebrated tomorrow. Yes, it is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday anniversary. Moreover, this holiday has been recognized as a Day of Service, nationwide.    

            The whole idea behind this service fits hand in glove with the United Church of Christ’s concept of the Beloved Community. Service is a hallmark for certain churches, especially in the UCC. The Rev. John Mingus describes the many-year journey of renewal his church took, Pilgrim UCC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a recent article on church renewal.

Rev. Mingus finishes his story with this moving summary: “the word is out about this church. Visitors come and stay. New folks go out and invite others. All kinds of folk see us as a safe place. We care for the homeless. We feed the hungry. We work for peace and public education. We have children and programming. We are a church in mission and when we gather it is as a beloved community. We are black and white, gay and straight, young and old, and much more. In our radical hospitality and at prayer people know that they are loved.” [3]

            Serving with spiritual gifts? Or providing a Day of Service? Or is it showing our neighbors we are indeed a Beloved Community? However you explain it, God will be so pleased that God’s people are given something to do that shows all people who God is.

God is indeed behind these marvelous expressions of Beloved Community, in exercising our spiritual gifts. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-121-11-2

[2] http://www.sundayschoollessons.com/gift.htm

[3] http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/unitedchurchofchrist/legacy_url/11073/10JourneyTowardBelovedCommunity.pdf?1418436796

Jesus Was Baptized, Too

“Jesus Was Baptized, Too”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (3:21) – January 9, 2022

            Imagine standing in a line for a COVID test. The lines right now are very long, depending on where you can get tested! A pastor associate in a nearby town was recently exposed, and she needed to stand in a similar line, waiting her turn. I suspect the people around her had all kinds of emotions while standing there. Some felt fear, some felt expectation, some were disgruntled that they needed to be there. Some were anxious, and I bet some were hoping, and some hesitant. All kinds of emotions!

            Now, imagine a similar line, next to the Jordan River, about two thousand years ago. People waited in line to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was preaching some really challenging truths! Calling the people listening to him a brood of vipers, and calling everyone to repentance from their sins. Those were just two of the many difficult things he preached!

            Before Jesus began His public ministry, He stood in that line, too. Jesus asked His cousin John to baptize Him, too.

            I wonder how many of us can remember our baptisms? In this particular church’s tradition, I know the pastors almost always baptize babies and small children. That is a particular theological view of baptism, and one where we affirm that God extends heavenly blessing and grace to all, regardless of when they come before God in baptism.

            Two thousand years ago, John the Baptist wanted adults to confess their own sinfulness, to realize that each one had sinned and fallen short before God. As a result of that confession, John would then baptize each one. This is a slightly different view of baptism, and one that was (and is) just as valid. And, we come back to Jesus, waiting in that line. Jesus wanted John to baptize Him, too – even though Jesus never sinned.

            Imagine what it would have been like to be an eye-witness! I know I have preached about Ignatian prayer from time to time over the past years. Using Ignatian prayer, we imagine ourselves right into the picture. What does it feel like to be right there, in line on the banks of the Jordan? It’s a dusty, dry day. There’s some greenery, some growth along the river, but not much further away. Muted colors of browns and grays further inland. The sun is bright, and the sky a bright blue. Can you hear the wind? Feel the sandy ground under your feet?

            What is it like, to see that man called Jesus in line to be baptized? Did you hear any whispers about Him, being someone special? Then, some commotion down by the water. It’s that prophet who is doing the baptizing, the one named John! He and Jesus are having an extended conversation. John is protesting something – he shakes his head. But Jesus seems like He’s talking John into something. There they go, into the water. And, John baptizes Jesus.

            In centuries to come, many differing views arise about John’s simple, straight-forward act of baptism. “We don’t know if Jesus was immersed or sprinkled. We don’t know which liturgy John prefers, or if the vows that Jesus made were the same as the ones we make or not. We don’t know if John was properly credentialed or if Jesus followed the rules. We don’t know who signed the certificate. We need to know these things, don’t we?”[1]  

            Let’s continue to come forward in time, into the present day. I know it is so meaningful for relatives and loved ones to gather around a baby, a child, a young person getting baptized. What do you remember about the day you were baptized? Or, if you cannot remember your baptism, what do you remember about the day your children were baptized? Grandchildren? Godchildren? Perhaps a younger brother or sister? This is one of the sacraments of the church, one of those times when a common element, water, is used for a holy and marvelous purpose.

            Just a short time ago we celebrated the birth of the Baby born in Bethlehem. We remember in the fullness of time, Jesus was nurtured in the water of Mary’s uterus. We remember Jesus was baptized by John in the water of the Jordan. We remember that Jesus became living water to a woman at a Samaritan well. We remember Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And, we remember Jesus sent His friends forth to baptize all peoples, all nations, by water and the Holy Spirit.

            As we enter into our imagining one last time, we see John and Jesus in the water, and the heavens open up. I have never seen anything like this before! There is a bird – it’s a dove, flying down from the opening in the sky! And then – it’s a voice! It is coming from that same opening in the sky, in the heavens. That must be God’s voice, isn’t it? “You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.”

            What a marvelous thing for God to say about Jesus. Remember, this is before Jesus has taught anybody, healed anyone, or died on the cross. At the beginning of a new year, this especially reminds all of us “that God loved Jesus and loves us not because of anything we do but just because God loves us. Period.” [2]
            What a marvelous thing to remember when we remember our baptism. Remember, we were baptized, too. And, God calls each of us beloved. With each one of us God is pleased.

            Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/epiphany-baptism-of-the-lord-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/epiphany-baptism-of-the-lord-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/11/year-c-baptism-of-lord-january-13-2013.html

Moved Into the Neighborhood

“Moved Into the Neighborhood”

John 1:14-18 (1:14) – January 2, 2022

            Sometimes, before a book really gets started, or before the action starts in a play or a movie, the author needs to say some important things. Things that we as readers (or watchers) need to see and absorb, in order to truly understand the rest of the book – or play, or movie. This is often called the prologue, and it can hold some pretty important stuff!

            Our Scripture reading today, the first Sunday of the New Year, comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 14-18. This reading is from John’s prologue to his long narrative about our Lord Jesus and His life and ministry. Before the action gets going, John writes some really important stuff about the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity in this beginning, including verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

            Before the action begins in our lives, in our next chapter, we can sit down and think. Is there any kind of important stuff you would like to mention? Any special instructions or information for your potential readers? Let’s think about these opening verses from the Gospel of John. What do they say to us? “How do they function? [These words of the prologue] provide perspective a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.” [1]

            These words remind me that you and I can take the opportunity to write prologues for our own stories, for the next chapter of our own lives.

We recognize this prologue of John’s from every Christmas, for years. Every year, we sing “O, Come, All Ye Faithful,” and every year we sing these tremendous words “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Those words are lifted right from this very chapter, right here! But, what does it mean, for the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, God from before the foundation of the universe, to become flesh, a fragile human Baby born in Bethlehem? 

This is the central, foundational promise of this Gospel – God became human, capable of being experienced and known by other humans. A simple yet profound message and promise.

Face it. We as weak, limited human beings have limited capacity to understand things. Things like God and God’s revelation. God understands our limitations, our fragility, and our hesitations. God the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the universe, emptied Himself of all that was God and came down from heaven. Jesus became a tiny, helpless human Baby born in Bethlehem, and then grew and experienced humanity from the inside out, to better be able to communicate to us limited humans down on earth.

How awesome, how unbelievable, how indescribably kind was that? Let’s go back to John’s Prologue. The last verse we read today says a whole lot: “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made [the Father] known.”

As our commentator Karoline Lewis points out, verse 18 seeks to describe what the Word made flesh came here to do. John uses the Greek verb exago, “combining the prefix ex, which means “out” with the verb ago which means “to bring or to lead.” In other words, the principal purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to lead God out, so that an experience of God is possible. It makes no sense for the Word to become flesh if God is not able to be experienced, and on every level of what it means to be human.” [2]

So, here we are, as limited, fragile human beings, faced with a loving, caring God-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. How have you experienced Emmanuel, God-with-you, in your life? Has Jesus been especially real to you at any point? Have you been going through difficulties and problems in your life, or in the lives of your families, and our Lord Jesus came alongside you and was very present in your life and experience? That is the very thing He came down from heaven to do and to be. To come alongside of us as we muddle our way through our messy lives.

As Lewis suggests, “I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue — a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God…. What themes will orient your life this year? Maybe we could call this a reorientation of New Year’s resolutions.

“This might be an especially helpful exercise at the beginning of a new year — what resolutions you want to make but also what God resolutions you need to make. In other words, resolutions not just for the sake of your life, but for the sake of God in your life, and for the sake of helping your congregation orient their lives to God’s Christmas, God’s present, and God’s future.” [3] What a marvelous idea! Make new year’s resolutions centered around God – God in the flesh, God’s present, and God’s future.

God is not someone far away, or someone who doesn’t care about us or our families, or our problems. God in very present with us. We as fragile, fallible humans CAN experience our Lord Jesus Christ, who did the ultimate. God the Father gave us all the most marvelous Christmas gift: the gift of God’s own Eternal Son, born as a Baby in Bethlehem.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated verse 14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Moved down the street, maybe even right next door. What a gift for all of us to experience. The Eternal God, right here, right now – Jesus moved into our neighborhood, and, God willing, into our very hearts and lives. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

[2]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas-2/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-5

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year