Scripture: 1 Peter 4:7-11
One of my all-time favorite classic movies is Home Alone. Right under that is Home Alone 2. As I was thinking about spiritual gifts, a scene from Home Alone 2 came to mind.
In this movie (in case it’s been a while), ten-year-old Kevin has accidentally flown to New York for Christmas while the rest of his family flies to Florida, and in the course of his adventures alone in the Big Apple, he befriends a woman who sits in Central Park and feeds the pigeons. She’s constantly covered with pigeons. In the scene I’m thinking of, Kevin asks about her story and how she ended up where she is. She tells him about her broken family and how she became a loner, trying to make sure that her heart would never be broken again.
“I understand that,” Kevin tells her. “I used to have this really nice pair of Rollerblades. I was afraid if I wore them, I’d wreck them. So I kept them in the box. And you know what happened? I outgrew them. I never wore them once outside. Just wore them in my room a couple times.”
“A person’s heart and a person’s feelings are very different than the skates,” the Pigeon Lady tells him.
“Well,” Kevin says, “they’re kind of the same thing.”
And today I contend: a person’s spiritual gifts are also kind of the same thing.
Last week we talked about knowing our gifts, and hopefully you’ve had a chance to take the inventory and see what part of the Body of Christ you are—whether you are the hands, serving; the feet, moving forward in mission; the kidneys, filtering the good and the bad in the process of discernment; the stomach, digesting complex ideas into teachable ones; the eyes, open to God at work in the world; the ears, listening to people’s pain and need; the voice, speaking God’s truth; the heart, offering compassion; the brain, organizing and leading.
These different body parts represent different gifts and give us a way to see how they all fit together into something bigger as we do ministry together. As Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians, we need all of these different parts for the Body of Christ to function as a body.
The week before that, we read from 1 Peter. Peter told us that all of us are set apart as ministers in our baptism. “A royal priesthood,” he calls us.
Today we’re coming back to 1 Peter, fast forwarding a few chapters. Today, Peter is talking about stewardship. “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” we read, “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”
Often, when we talk about stewardship, we are talking about money. And money is an important part of stewardship: if we believe that God has given us the gift of financial resources, it’s our job to be faithful in using those resources well, and that includes giving a portion back to be used in God’s work. Or sometimes we might be talking about creation, as Pope Francis has reminded us recently, and that is also part of stewardship: we have been entrusted with this planet we live on, and so far, at least, we only have one, so it is our job to be faithful in how we preserve it for future generations.
But our spiritual gifts, also, are a matter of stewardship. God has entrusted you, a minister, with certain gifts for ministry. It is your job to be faithful in what you do with them. It’s your job to pay it forward: as 1 Peter puts it, to use that gift to serve one another.
Maybe for some of you that’s easy and it’s obvious how you should put your gifts to work. Or maybe you feel like you’re already doing that pretty well. But it might not always be obvious. If you’re the eyes up here, you might say, OK, I see God at work in the world around me. Now what? So I have some thoughts for you this morning on putting your gifts to work.
One thing to realize is that when we talk about the work of ministry that God has for us to do, spiritual gifts are really only part of the equation. They’re an important part, but they’re only part. Frederick Buechner once wrote that “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” We spent some time discussing that quote in our Admin Board meetings last spring as we talked about our mission as a church. I believe that deep gladness comes from offering whatever it is that we, in particular, have to offer. That might come from our gifts, but it also might come from our experiences. If you’ve been a victim of abuse, for example, you might find a special gladness in helping other victims of abuse. If I am someone who has ever moved to a new place, and been a stranger in a strange land, then maybe I will find a special gladness in welcoming newcomers to our place. So that’s something to think about: what is it that your life experiences have especially brought to light or equipped you for?
What we have to offer also comes from what we’re passionate about. Maybe you’ve been watching news coverage of the refugee crisis these days, and that’s something you really feel strongly about. Maybe you think, we need to be doing something about this! Maybe that’s a passion that God has put on your heart for a reason. Maybe you see something that not everyone sees. It might not have anything to do with what you’re actually good at, and God might be calling you to do something about it anyway. If you can find a way to do something about it that puts your God-given gifts to work, even better.
What we have to offer also comes from our individual personalities. In seminary, I was wrestling with the question of what exactly I wanted to do with my life (I assume most of us have been there.) I knew God was calling me to do something that served the poor and marginalized in our society in some way. What I also knew is that I couldn’t spend my life knocking on doors as a community organizer, because I would die if I had to do that. That would not bring me deep gladness. I would never come to work. I’m not an extrovert, and I happen to think God takes these things into account. But listening to people’s stories and using my words and leadership to create a community where all are welcome and can find what they need does bring me deep gladness.
So, something to think about: how might your gifts, and experiences, and passions, and personality all come together in something that can be your ministry as part of the Body of Christ? Where do your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?
There could be a lot of answers to that question, maybe different ones at different times, and they might not always take place within the walls of the church. There are lots of ways to use your gifts in service to God and others as you go out to be God’s people in the world. If you are the prophetic voice of the Body of Christ, maybe you could use that to advocate for the poor and vulnerable at a local or national level. Lots of places these days are passing laws that effectively make it illegal to be homeless by outlawing panhandling or sleeping in public or that sort of thing—maybe you would use your gift to take on something like that. Or maybe you could urge our government to accept more refugees from this current crisis. If you are the compassionate heart, maybe you help out when you meet someone on the street or at work or elsewhere in life who is in need in some way. If you are the serving hands, maybe you volunteer for a nonprofit doing all those little necessary things behind the scenes that make things run smoothly. These are all examples of good stewardship of our gifts, and none of them are particularly churchy!
However—maybe I am biased—but the church needs your gifts, too. We need prophetic voices telling us what more we should be doing in ministry; and we need compassionate hearts who hear all the concerns we speak and makes us feel cared for, and we need hands working behind the scenes to make things run smoothly. We need teachers and leaders and open eyes and wise souls.
Imagine a church where each of its members gave faithfully and passionately of themselves using exactly the gifts God gave them. Imagine what a powerful witness that church would be. Imagine how alive it would feel. Imagine how much other people would want to be a part of it.
Just last month I was asking you all to volunteer for all the things that make church happen here on a weekly basis, and lots of you did: as greeters, and ushers, and tellers, and readers, and some other things. Now, as we’re looking toward our plans for 2016, we don’t just need volunteers (although we need volunteers!) We also need people who are going to take ownership and be leaders of the mission and ministry of this church, and who are going to use their God-given gifts to do that.
Fifteen or so years ago, Pat B. said, I think we should be going to ASP, and he made it happen. And every year he uses his gifts of organization and recruiting to make it happen, and it’s become one of the big ministries of this church. Leslie G. tutors people in English as a Second Language here at church. It’s not an official program; but it’s something that she has to give, and when someone brings a need to her attention, she does it. Your gifts might make you perfect to chair the Finance committee or serve on Staff-Parish Relations, but it might also be that your call is to take on something new here. Maybe you see something that makes you think, we should be doing this, and I want to make it happen! Talk to me about that. I will help you. Instead of being the person who just recruits people to be on committees, I want to be the person who helps enable your ministry to happen.
As we look at this drawing of the Body of Christ we have up here, we might notice that we’re not necessarily evenly distributed. It’s OK if we don’t all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not the Body of Christ alone, after all. It might be that we as a congregation have a particular gift to offer to the world, depending on what we’re especially strong in. What parts do you see that are strong here? What might that makes us good at as a congregation? Again, something to think about.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are a couple caveats here. First of all, knowing and using our gifts doesn’t give us a free pass on everything else. I can’t just say, well, giving isn’t my gift, therefore I don’t have to give away any of my money. No. That’s a basic aspect of Christian discipleship. And I can’t just say, well, I’m not a heart, compassion isn’t really my gift, and use that as an excuse to be rude and judgmental. Love is still pretty much the whole point. Second of all, God does sometimes call us out of our comfort zones. God does not just always call us to do things we’re already super good at and comfortable with. Maybe we have to learn a new skill. Maybe God needs us to grow in a particular area, especially to kind of round out the Body of Christ here.
But still—I do believe that the best stewardship is when we capitalize on the gifts and passions and experiences and personalities God has given us—because those aren’t an accident. They are given to us precisely so we can give them away, in service to God and neighbor. They are given to us for the work of ministry.
In a book I read this summer I came across a story about a woman named Sue who became connected with a new member of her church—his name was Joe—who happened to be dying of AIDS. She started visiting Joe and organizing other to care for him, and she became the main point of contact between him and the church as he became less and less able to come to anything. This became Sue’s ministry for several reasons: her gift for relating to people and organizing them (perhaps she was a heart and a brain) and her own medical history which made her especially sensitive to Jim’s needs.
She wrote that she was called to his house one day as his time came. And since Joe was dying Sue frantically tried to call her pastor so he could be there. Meanwhile Joe’s friends gathered around, but she could not get a hold of the pastor. He never showed up.
She did get a hold of him later, and she was angry. But her pastor said, “Sue, I called Joe’s house when I received your message. The person who answered assured me that the minister was already with Joe. That was you, Sue.”
What difference might your gifts make to this world, and in particular, to this church? How could you help this church come even more alive as the Body of Christ?
Think of those Rollerblades, sitting in a box, never getting used, until in the end, they were useless.
“A person’s gifts are very different from the skates,” we might say.
Well, they’re kind of the same thing.
The DESIGN model (Desire/Experience/Spiritual Gifts/Individual Style/Growth/Natural Abilities) from New Hope Church in Oahu informed these reflections greatly. Read more at http://www.enewhope.org/nextsteps/ministry.
 From The Equipping Church by Sue Mallory