“Simple Gifts” January 24, 2-16, Tecumseh United Church (Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada)
1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 26-31
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, servants or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of our God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Holy One has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, creator of galaxies and of cats, of trees and of peacocks, of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, of the storm and of the sunshine; remind us of your presence with us now, as we seek to understand your grace and your all-encompassing love. Amen.
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is encouraging them to stand on their own two feet a bit. He reminds them that everyone has a gift to give in God's service, even though that gift might not seem like much to others. He uses this familiar metaphor of the body--we need all the parts of the body, even the least significant, and while people can and do live quite well without parts of their body, usually some other part takes over at least part of the job of the missing part.
The metaphorical body that Paul is referring to is, of course, the church--small c church, meaning all Christians. Taken all together we are the body of Christ in the world, and each of us, as a member of Christ's body, has a gift and a task.
We all have gifts and none are better than another, just different. We each have a purpose—every one of us—the seniors, the ill, the toddlers, parents, accountants and line workers and retirees. More important, without each one of us, each with our special gift, the body of Christ—the church—could not function. We need ribs as much as we do hands, elbows as much as hips, shoulders as much as toes. We need teachers and and toddlers, cooks and carpenters, grandmothers and gardeners--they all work together for one purpose. No one has all gifts, and all abilities, but we do have our own unique gifts and talents. This metaphor of the body is not about equality, but about "completeness." All those different gifts and talents are to be not only accepted by the church, but are needed by the church.
Our gifts may seem minor or not very valuable to us, but to others they may mean the world. Take the work of a church treasurer. Now, this is not a job I can do at all; but there are those who love the work, playing with numbers and making the statements balance, analyzing the information to identify trends, etc. A friend of mine and former church treasurer thought of her time working in the church office on the church books as “her time.” For her it was a break and relaxation, full of interest and challenge. She had a gift for numbers. To me, that would have been another chore—my “me” time is walking by the river or reading or gardening; certainly nothing to do with number-crunching! But for her, this was relaxing and interesting.
We are diverse, and God created us in diversity—God loves diversity! We are many and varied—in race, gender, ethnicity, talents, and gifts—we are all needed and all make up the beautiful mosaic that is the body of Christ. Some of us like to work with numbers, some prefer words; some are skilled mechanics and engineers who like to figure out how things work, and others want to know why things work.
Now, Jesus had a special work, a special task—“to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favour.” We may not be able to heal with a touch, or turn water into wine, but with God’s grace and our own God-given gifts, we can share the good news of God’s love, release the captives, relieve oppression, and proclaim that God is present with us, in hope and in grace.
Every one of us has gifts and graces to offer, to share in and build up the body of Christ, the church. What is it that brings you deep joy? What is it that you love to do so much that you can spend hours doing it and not realize how much time has passed? Or what is it that you do that makes people seek you out? It might be any of those listed by Paul--caring for others, through the ministry of caring and counseling--or it can be teaching, sharing your knowledge of a subject with others, helping them come to an understanding of that topic, whether it is woodworking, or cooking, or preaching or tying a shoe. Maybe it is prophecy--a clear-sighted vision of how the world has gone astray from God's intentions. Whatever it is, that is your gift.
And note this well--Paul says that no one has all the gifts; everyone has a gift unique to them. We can't all be teachers--who would be the students? Not everyone is a leader; only a few are called to prophecy. But whatever your gift, Paul says, use it to the best of your ability.
One of the first things I learned as I began moving towards ordination, as I answered the call of God on my life, was that clergy don't, and aren't expected to have, all those gifts. One of the reasons I had resisted my call for so long was because I knew I didn't have all those gifts. But in that process of discernment, I learned that it is not expected that one person would have all those gifts. Some pastors are excellent preachers, others are empathetic and are gifted counselors, some have musical talent, some are able to see "the big picture" and are able administrators. Part of the process is to tease out what your own personal gifts are, and how you can use them as a called, ordained clergy person in the body of Christ. I knew I was not and am not, especially gifted in working with youth. I like kids, have one myself--but by no means do I have the abilities, the skills, to be a youth pastor. I appreciate music, I can read music, I have a passable voice--but I am not gifted with the talent to be a minister of music. And thanks be to God! Because that leaves room for others, who do have those gifts and talents and skills, to do that work of the church to which they are called--and I am not. When we follow our own calling, and only our own calling, we leave space for everyone else to follow theirs. Remember Paul said that the body cannot be only seeing, for then where would hearing be? We can't all be youth pastors, because then who would be the altar guild or the parish visitors?
And these aren't all fancy, in the limelight tasks, either--we are not all prophets or preachers or healers. But our gifts, whatever they are, are unique to us--it is your gift of teaching; even if there are six teachers, every one has a unique style and talent. Talents may be large or small, famous or unseen. But they are ours.
Every one of us is needed in the body of Christ--each of us, with our gifts and talents and skills and graces. Together, we become the visible Church, doing that work of Christ that he was called to do--and that we are called to do. The Spirit of God is upon us; we have been anointed to bring good news to the poor. We have been sent to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim that this is the year of God's favour.
Take your gift, use your talent, share your skills and calling with the whole body of Christ, knowing you are a part of the body, and as needed as any other part. Go and be Christ's comforting, healing, feeding, liberating body to this hurting world. In all God's names, amen.