Friday, March 02, 2007

World Day of Prayer

This is my sermon for this afternoon's service.

World Day of Prayer
March 2, 2007
Genesis 18:1-15; Ephesians 4:1-16
Thomas Arth

How would you respond
if someone asked you if you're a gifted person?
Most of us have some sense of modesty
and we'd probably mumble some sort of denial.
"Oh, not me, I'm nothing special."
It might seem rude to go around describing ourselves as gifted
because we usually equate gifted with talented,
and since we usually think of being talented
as being better at something than most other people,
then we'd be bragging.

Abraham and Sarah were blessed by God,
they were given the gift of a new land
and the promise that they would be the parents of a great nation,
and that through them all of the world would be blessed.
The stories told about them in our Bibles
can make them out to be great heroes,
but I think we often use selective memory
Or skip over some points when we read the Bible.
Abraham is sometimes portrayed as a hero of faith,
but when he and Sarah travel through some dangerous territory
Abraham says, "Honey, the king of this land
might get jealous if he sees me
with such a beautiful woman.
If he does, just do what I tell you. Okay?"
When the time comes,
Abraham sends poor Sarah off to serve in the king's harem.
Lucky for her, the king catches on
and sends her back to her husband.

Sarah isn't perfect either.
When the Lord tells her she'll have a baby,
all she can do is laugh.
Besides, she was already convinced
that God wouldn't keep this promise
so she convinced Abraham to have a child with her servant
and then claimed the boy as her own.
The blessings that God promised and delivered to Abraham and Sarah
really were gifts that they didn't earn or deserve.

The reading we heard from Ephesians talks about gifts.
And I think the way St. Paul and the Bible talk about gifts
are not the same thing as being talented.
Abraham and Sarah were given gifts,
but they weren't super talented people
always doing what was right and good.
They seemed to mess up wherever they could.
Oh, we all might have one thing or another that we're kind of good at.
Maybe someone's a good cook or a good singer
but if you were really talented
then you'd be a world famous chef
or an opera star.
Not all of us are talented, but all of us are gifted.
"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."
These examples are not the entire list of God's gifts.
There are only 5 gifts on that list:
apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
But there are many, many ways to be gifted by God.

What are those gifts for?
Paul is clear.
The purpose of the gifts is
"for building up the body of Christ."
They're the raw materials and the tools that God gives
for a certain purpose.
And they're not gifts for our own benefit,
but for the benefit of others.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances,
whether you're multi-talented or un-talented,
you are gifted in some way
"for building up the body of Christ."

Our gifts are the raw material and tools God gives us
for living life and especially for living life in community.
We live in various communities
such as our own churches and denominations,
but we also are in community together today
where we can blur the lines that divide us
and celebrate what we have in common.
Our gifts are meant to build up the whole body of Christ
in the various expressions of the body where we find ourselves.
The gifts we have can be obvious things
like abilities, aptitudes, interests and enthusiasms.
But they can be less obvious as well.
We all come from different backgrounds.
There are different ethnic backgrounds,
there are different faith traditions,
there are different family backgrounds.
The way each one of us was raised is unique
and gives us different gifts for building up the body.
Where you come from, how you were raised,
affluence or poverty, education, addiction,
responsibility, abuse,
so many things affect who we are
and how we are gifted.
Our race, culture, economics, religion,
all of these are part of who we are
and what we have to work with in life.
And they are among our gifts
for building up the body of Christ.

Our personalities are also gifts.
I myself am fairly laid back and easy going.
Others are very high strung.
You may be happy, serious, depressed, concerned, anxious, eager,
funny, emotional, supportive, or confrontational.
These traits aren't necessarily ones we would all want
but they've been given to us for the business of life.
They are gifts God has set before us
and we need to figure out or decide how we're going to use them.
You may still be wondering what your gifts are
and how you can use them to build up the body of Christ.
Well, think about how Jesus would describe you.
Jesus knows you better than anyone else.
How would Jesus describe where you come from?
How would Jesus describe who you are now?
How would Jesus describe your desires?
Think of the way Jesus might describe you
and you'll begin to find out what your gifts are.

Sometimes we lament our meager gifts.
If only I could sing like...
If only I had the compassion of...
If only I were as smart as...
If only I had the confidence of...
If only I could speak like...
If only... If only...
Wishing is a waste of time.
There's a story from Jewish tradition about a man named Simon.
Simon always wanted to be more like Moses.
That was his constant worry.
He kept going to his Rabbi and saying,
"Rabbi I must lead my life
so that I may live more like Moses did."
The Rabbi finally told him, "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 each have to live our own lives.
But we live them in relationship.
We are United Under God's Tent
and we need each other
and the gifts we have all been given.
I don't know why I have the gifts I have
and you have the gifts you have.
They are the gifts that God has given to each of us.
Because I don't have your gifts
and you don't have my gifts
we need one another.
The opportunities we have,
what is going on in our lives,
the relationships we have with one another
and with the community and world around us,
those are also gifts from God.
We are to use them to the Glory of God,
to the building up of the body of Christ.
We are to use them to make the world God loves
a better place.
Let us do that and we will be doing the business of life
and the business of our faith.

No comments: