Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12-13
On the night of Antonio’s gift ceremony, the community has gathered. The house is decorated and music is playing, but it stops when it is time for the youngest Madrigal to make his way to the door that will reveal his unique magical gift. He stands at the foot of the stairs nervously, then gestures for his older cousin Mirabel to join him. Together they walk, slowly, up the stairs to the door with Antonio’s name on it, where his parents and siblings are waiting. He lets go of Mirabel’s arm and reaches, tentatively, toward the doorknob. At his touch, the doorknob begins to glow, then the whole door. Antonio opens the door into an exotic world of animals with whom he can now talk and interact.
Some years ago, on the night of Mirabel’s own gift ceremony, it all went a little differently. Mirabel, too, walked up those stairs to a door with her name on it. Mirabel, too, reached out for the doorknob. But at her touch, a fog appeared and the whole door faded away. She is the only member of the family Madrigal not to receive a magical gift of her own.
These two scenes, if you haven’t been following along for the past couple weeks, are from Disney’s recent hit movie Encanto. We’ve been looking theologically at different themes from this movie, including trauma, redemption, grace, and vulnerability. But we would be remiss to finish out the series without talking about probably the most obvious of theological themes: gifts.
Except for Mirabel, every one of the Madrigals has a special gift. I’ve listed these before: Pepa can change the weather with her mood, Julieta can heal illness with a meal, Bruno can see the future. Luisa is strong, Isabela makes flowers bloom, Dolores can hear everything, Camilo can impersonate people, Antonio can talk to animals.
In hearing this, we might be reminded of a well-known passage that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. … To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Paul goes on to talk about each uniquely gifted person as a part of the whole Body of Christ, which is the metaphor he likes to use for the church. Each member, he writes, is integral to the whole.
If you are someone who has spent much time in church, you have undoubtedly heard sermons on this passage before. Many of you have probably heard me preach on this passage before. In fact, in sorting through things in my office I came across this poster from 2015. I was surprised that I still had it, but glad that I did! It’s a picture of a human body with some different parts labeled – brain, voice, heart, stomach, hands, feet. I had had you all take a spiritual gifts survey that assigned you one or two of these body parts – ears for listening and discernment, heart for compassion, hands for service, stomach for processing information, etc., and then during that service I had you all come up and write your name by those body parts, so we could see just how we form the Body of Christ together.
I honestly think this is an important sermon to hear once in a while. In fact, I try to preach it in summary every week as we offer our gifts to God – we are the church together. God has given us different gifts for different reasons. To some of us (not me) God has given the gift of having never met a stranger, and to those, perhaps, God has given the work of welcoming new people into our community. To some of us God has given great compassion for our homeless community, and to those, perhaps, God has given the work of supporting our bag meal ministry and other methods of being in relationship with those who live on the streets around us. To some of us God has given more technically oriented brains, and the Body of Christ needs you for working AV and keeping track of money. Being the church really does take all of us, with all our different gifts.
So that all may sound familiar, but my sense is that we are not always as familiar with the context around this passage. In this letter, Paul is writing to arguably the most drama-filled church of the first century. The Corinthians are fighting amongst themselves, they’re suing each other, the rich aren’t including the poor in communion. There’s some more spicy stuff too. Behind most of it is a kind of jockeying for status. This is an aspect of Greco-Roman culture that Jesus addresses a lot in his parables, and we see it in effect at Corinth as well. And, when it comes to spiritual gifts, it’s the same deal: everyone wants to prove that they have the best gifts.
As I’ve mentioned before, this blessing that the Madrigal family has is something they take seriously. Abuela has instilled in her children and grandchildren the belief that their gifts are to be used for the good of their community. Paul would approve of this. And yet we do also see this need for each member of the Madrigal family to prove themselves, to show what they can do and make their family proud. As Mirabel sings toward the end of the movie: so many stars, and everybody wants to shine.
To that, Paul says, If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? None of you is better than the others, he says – the Body of Christ needs all of you.
Maybe we see this dynamic in the church sometimes. I think a lot of times, though, our challenge is almost the opposite. Instead of thinking we have gifts make us better than everyone else, we think maybe we don’t have any gifts at all, or at least we aren’t sure of what they are, and therefore we think, well, someone else can do this job – someone else can be a greeter or work the AV or go out and invite others into church. Someone else, who is better at it than me. Guess what? Sometimes that means no one does.
Sometimes, I think, we are like Mirabel. We think everyone else got a gift and we didn’t.
At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says something I always found kind of strange. He’s just spent all this time talking about how no gift is better than another, and then he says, “But strive for the greater gifts.”
He goes from here into another famous passage. If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. Love, he says, is patient, love is kind…this is again a passage that we very often read out of its context, most often at weddings. It ends with another famous line: And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.
It took me a long time of reading these two passages to realize: these are the greater gifts. Not prophecy, not preaching, not speaking in tongues, but faith, hope, and love. And the beauty of this is, I think, that these are things that we are all called to cultivate in ourselves. Sure, we might know people who seem to have a naturally strong faith, or people who are just naturally compassionate and loving. But they are not qualities that are meant for only special people. Love isn’t a specific part of the Body of Christ, it’s the lifeblood of the whole body.
Mirabel Madrigal did not get a magical gift. And yet, as we talked about last week at Bible study, Mirabel has gifts of her own. We see this at the beginning of the movie, when she walks with Antonio up that staircase, her presence giving him courage. We see it in her determination as she goes to find the secret of what is threatening her family’s magic. And, we see it at the end of the movie, after Casita has collapsed, as Mirabel leads her family in rebuilding – both Casita and a new future. She is able to see each of her family members for who they are, not just the gifts that make them outwardly special. And she is able to help them see themselves that way, too. And when they do, they can all work together to rebuild.
Mother Theresa once said that if you can’t do big things, do small things with great love. That’s the lesson I take from Mirabel. She has no special gift, but the love and hope she offers her family is in the end the gift they need.
There is, absolutely, value in recognizing our God-given gifts. I hope you do. If it’s been a while (or never) and you want to take a spiritual gifts survey or otherwise talk about it, let me know. There is value in putting those gifts to use. I hope you are. The church isn’t the church without you. But maybe the more important takeaway is that even if you aren’t feeling terribly special, even if you don’t feel like you got an important gift worth offering, the church still needs you, maybe most of all.
My favorite scene in Encanto, the one part that always makes me tear up, comes during the last song, where the Madrigals are working together to rebuild Casita by hand. “What’s that sound?” Abuela suddenly asks, and Antonio says, “I think it’s everyone in town.” And indeed, they are coming, all of them, all of these perfectly normal people who have lived in the Madrigals’ shadow all these years. “Lay down your load,” they sing. “We are only down the road. We have no gifts, but we are many, and we’ll do anything for you.”
And so all the ordinary townspeople of Encanto, who bring nothing but faith, hope, love, and some tools, rebuild Casita together. Because these things, as it turns out, are enough. Love, and a willingness to put that love into action through service.
My second favorite scene comes at the very end, when the new Casita is finished, and the family Madrigal gathers to survey their new home. There is just one thing missing: a doorknob. “We made this one for you,” Bruno tells Mirabel. And Mirabel, then, begins her slow walk to the door, as she did once years ago at her own ill-fated gift ceremony. This time, though, she doesn’t go to receive a magical gift. Instead she walks, knowing that who she is and what she has to give is enough, and knowing finally that her family sees it too.
She puts the doorknob in the hole in the door, and it begins to glow.
Love, you see, can be magic enough.