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

The Call of Wisdom (Repost)

(I was away from the pulpit and St. Luke’s Church this morning, so I did not preach a sermon. However, here is a sermon from some years ago. This uses the Old Testament text for today, Trinity Sunday: Proverbs 8:1-4.)

“The Call of Wisdom”

Prov 8 wisdom better than rubies

Proverbs 8:1-5

One of my very favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” In it, three of the main characters are personifications of qualities within each and every person. I’m sure you remember the Tim Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. The Tin Woodman wanted a heart more than anything, because he wanted to be able to love. The Cowardly Lion wanted courage, since he was such a scaredy cat, he was afraid of his own shadow. And the Scarecrow wanted a brain, because he wanted to have good ideas and to think deep thoughts.

Here in this passage we just read today from Proverbs, we have another personification. Wisdom is seen as a woman, and not just any woman. Wisdom is seen as a giving person, as an open-handed person. She is at the crossroads, or important intersections, and at the gates of the town, where the town business takes place, calling like a herald. She is waiting and willing to give out wisdom and understanding to anyone who comes by!

If anyone is simple, or needs instruction, prudence or understanding, Lady Wisdom freely offers the gift of wisdom to anyone who will stop and accept it.

Which of us lacks intelligence sometimes? Which of us stumbles and makes mistakes every now and then, or sometimes even more often than that? Here, Lady Wisdom makes her offer of understanding and intelligence to anyone. “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.”

There’s a complication, though. I’m sure you’ve known people who seem to know simply everything. Know-it-alls, that’s the only name for them. You can’t tell them anything, they won’t listen to anyone, they aren’t in the least teachable, and they go their own way. They wouldn’t even have the slightest interest in Lady Wisdom’s offer of wisdom, mostly because they’re so busy dispensing what “wisdom” they think they have to other people who haven’t even asked for it.

Let’s face it. It’s not only the know-it-alls who could use some wisdom from outside. Many of us today lack wisdom, and don’t even know it. Humanity’s situation is almost like a horse, wearing blinders. From what I understand, a horse is perfectly happy wearing blinders. Blinders don’t hurt a horse, but they very much restrict what a horse can see. That’s awfully limiting!! Not being able to see the whole picture, but forced to see only what’s straight ahead of you!  Not even knowing that I lack wisdom, or prudence, or understanding is a really tough situation. But it’s a real situation, one that many, many people are in today.

Let’s look at what the book of Proverbs says about foolish people, as opposed to wise people. Here’s a representative list from the first several chapters of the book: fools are called lazy, sluggards, lying, dishonest, ignorant, knowing nothing, complacent, and ignoring wisdom.

That description is pretty negative! Even mean and nasty! That’s one thing about the book of Proverbs. It doesn’t pull any punches. When the authors of Proverbs see something the matter, they name it. They call it as they see it, to use a baseball analogy. There’s nothing ambiguous or wavering about the word picture drawn by Proverbs.

What can be done about this situation? Is it hopeless?

The Epistle of James sheds some light on the subject of wisdom. Looking at Chapter 1, verse 5, let’s listen to the words from the Apostle: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” So here, in the book of James, we have God making the offer of wisdom, again!

So, not only do we see a personification of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8, waiting for us, urging us to reach out for wisdom, but here in the book of James, God wants us to ask for wisdom! God is more than willing to give it. The Apostle James says that God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly! That’s good news!

So, even when we’re faced with new, unknown circumstances or a different kind of puzzle, we do have somewhere to turn. We can go to God, pray to God for wisdom and understanding, and God will come through! He will not leave us alone and helpless, struggling in a pool of foolishness.

Can any of us imagine the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” NOT asking for a brain? That’s one great thing about that character! He wasn’t afraid to ask. He wasn’t shy. And neither should we be. We can certainly step right up and ask! And God gives to all, generously and ungrudgingly.

This free, gracious offer of wisdom can serve as a guide through difficult and puzzling cirecumstances. We can see that God is with us, and will be there for us through thick and thin, through the good times and the not-so-good times.

Whenever we’re uncertain, puzzled, in need of wisdom, God has made us the best offer of all–the offer of His wisdom. Praise God we have such a good and generous God, Who so willingly and lovingly gives us generous gifts and guides us along every winding road.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)