…what gifts do you bring?
January 5, 2020
Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-10: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
As we look forward and backwards on this first Sunday of the New Year, perhaps it is a good time to see what the Spirit has done in our midst as well as to reflect on where we might go in the months ahead. And also, in light of Epiphany or ‘Little Christmas’ tomorrow, celebrating the arrival of the Magi and the gifts they brought to Jesus, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on what we have together as a church and family, to see whether we are well positioned to assume whatever the Lord asks of us in 2020. To see what each one of us brings to this table the Lord has gathered us around.
For as Jesus so wisely asked in Luke 14 and verse 28, ‘which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?’ The work, our work, the life we are asked to live for our Lord in this time and place, is a critical part of what God is doing, not only in our own community, but as a witness and testimony to the much broader community around us and beyond. Also, and importantly, the work we have before us is urgent solely because it is what the Lord has asked of us. For it is only in living fully into our common call in this place that we can be one with the work of the Spirit in, as Mahatma Gandhi wisely counseled, ‘being the change you wish to see in the world’.
For the work before us truly is for this moment and this place…not, as so many unfortunately believe, for some future otherworldly time or reward. Jesus taught in Matthew Chapter 25, that it was the poor, the hungry, the naked, sick, and imprisoned, the refugees and those oppressed, who are right here in our midst, that need the love and grace of God as offered by the Spirit, through our agency…and right now. For as Jesus told us in that same verse, every time we act with grace, humility, and surrender towards anyone of the least of these among us, towards the most unfortunate in our midst…then in fact, we have offered that same love directly unto him.
So, in looking back and looking forward, I believe we are in a time and place where once again the Spirit is asking each one of us to look within ourselves, to look deep within our inner conscious space in order to take honest stock of our own individual gifts, talents, resources…and perhaps most importantly, our fears or reservations. For unless we are completely honest and open in this regard, we will not be able to respond to the urgings of the Spirit among us, either individually, or as the body of Christ gathered in this place.
That said, we have much to celebrate, much to pray for, and much to continue working on, in terms of how well our particular community light shines out into our community and into the world around us at large. For I sincerely believe that we are in a profoundly new era of the Spirit’s work here on God’s little project we all know of as ‘earth’.
I feel strongly that the Spirit is seeking to call people and churches who are both flexible and open-hearted. Those with a deep love of others and a radical openness to whatever the Spirit calls for in the work before us of engaging increasingly powerful forces of division and oppression that have so fractured so many. And to that end, I feel that the Spirit of our God is calling for us to look carefully at previous ways of practicing the faith, in order to see if they still allow the Spirit to roam freely in the pursuit of justice and righteousness. To see if the way we follow after our Lord Jesus still has the energy and life of new wine…alive and full of enthusiasm and vigor. And if indeed our life together here in this place is open and flexible, if we are willing to consider that the ways in which the Spirit may be calling in this time may be unlike any other in the past…which I believe we surely are, then we must be ever open to the Spirit’s direction and guidance in making sure our own spirit and life together is allowed to grow and to roam freely as well. As our Lord counseled, ‘new wine must be put into new wineskins’ to allow for the vigor and energy of God’s ongoing work to both have room to grow, as well as flexibility in that which holds it all together.
In other words. I believe that our life together is not only special, not only life-giving and redemptive of our community, but also a model of where the Holy Spirit is seeking to lead the larger institutional Church in the turbulent times we are living through. The authentic love we have for one another, the overt and visible efforts on our part to actively minister to the needs of our community, as well as the openness to welcome all into our circle of love regardless of any difference whatsoever, sets us apart from some other churches struggling hard to find relevance or sustainability.
And we are able to do this for many reasons, the first of which is having a Council willing to seek after and accept the Spirit’s guidance. Discerning our place in the plans and purposes of God requires great humility and a prayerful heart and those you have called to serve are so equipped. In addition, our work is not only varied but extensive, requiring that most, if not all of you find a way to offer your own gifts in moving our life and mission forward. And so many of you have generously offered your time, your talents, and your resources over the past year, helping us to live into our mission of being the light of our Lord in this place.
And finally, but no less importantly, others in our community have joined with us in purpose, partnering with us in seeking to serve. The overly generous support in so many ways from Steve and Lenny Sauro, the steadfast support of the Patterson Rotary Club, the dedication of our ministry leaders in both the Thrift Shop and Food Pantry, the community volunteers who give so willingly of their time, and a public who has come to see our fellowship as a collection of dedicated public servants have truly made our overall ministry to our community into a partnership for good. And for all of this I am so thankful. I truly believe that together we are pleasing to our Lord.
And so, as we stand on the precipice of a new year in a world filled with opportunity and potential peril it is good as well to reflect on where we might go from here. You may remember that I said it is also important to take stock of our concerns or fears. For it is in living into our Lord’s will that we are able to offer each other encouragement as well as loving support from within our own storehouse of abilities, sensitivity, and compassion. No one of us can stand all alone, we all need another at some point, and need to know that Christlike love and care is available.
And as much as we occasionally need to encourage each other in times of doubt or difficulty, we also need to be honest and loving enough with each other to be able to gently offer words of correction when needed, whenever one of us gets slightly off track for some reason or other. For it is in doing so that we both imitate our Lord as he trained those under his discipline, as well as ensure that our mission and message are as closely reflective of our Lord’s love as possible. None of us will ever be perfect, we will always take turns being quite human from time to time, but we are never alone if we all stand as one, in defense of love for one another.
And to do all of this most effectively we also need to continue to hone our skills when it comes to listening to and really hearing one another. So often we act as if we are listening when in truth all we are doing is waiting for another to finish talking so we can continue to press our point. Truly loving one another includes a covenant to really listen to and respect another when they are expressing their ideas or thoughts, even when, or perhaps especially when we may not at first agree.
Listening carefully and lovingly is much broader than just how we are with one another however. A covenant to listen means that we commit to listening carefully to all that is around us…the words and thoughts of another, as well as those thoughts that come from deep within ourselves. For both are capable of giving us guidance from on high. Sometimes the word of God comes through the words or actions of another, other times that inner voice or urging is being whispered directly into our consciousness by the Spirit as it seeks to lead us forward as a loving and redeeming force for good.
When it comes to listening, it is important that we do not undersell how critical this particular skill is in finding a path forward through a social climate and dialog that so often would rather simply speak out and proclaim loudly, than listen and reflect before attempting to contribute constructively. At least in this place, in this gathering around the purposes of God, we need to promise to listen to each other in order to be able to hear that ‘still, small voice deep within’, that is the mark of God’s Spirit. For a gathered group of faithful and prayerful people carefully listening for the voice of our Lord, is the very essence of the community first called together by Jesus. For as we have often said, the true church is ‘who we are’, not simply some building, place, or group of activities we all participate in.
In addition to listening however, it is also critically important that we acknowledge that careful listening is nothing, if it is not followed by courageous and determined action in following the call or instruction we have received from the Spirit. As Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians, no matter what we do, no matter how much we give up or sacrifice, if it is not done in love, it is nothing at all. And further, as we hear in the second chapter of James, ‘Faith without actions is dead’.
Learning to listen must be followed by learning to acton what we have heard, in order for us to do our part in working to usher in the time of true community envisioned by the prophets and known as the ‘Day of our Lord’. If we just listen, and hearing, then choose to ignore or avoid the call of the Spirit, if we choose instead to just go on about our ordinary daily lives without responding to the urgings of the Spirit, then we are not only wasting our time here, but we may also be depriving others of the grace and blessings in which we ourselves reside. If we ignore the Spirit’s call, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be, then we are working at cross purposes with our God, and possibly delaying the bloom of grace in the life of another.
So, as we take a moment at the start of this new year…as we consider the possible wonders, as well as the challenges that may await, let us look within…look within to see what we each have to offer on this incredibly exciting journey the Lord has called us to walk along with Him. Let us respect one another and care for one another such that we give ample room and space for the gift that each one of us is to emerge…let us listen, both to each other and to God’s Spirit of love as it calls us to continue to carry forth the mission of our Lord in service and sacrifice, both to one another, and to our community as a whole.
And also, let us never forget that we are so greatly gifted and privileged to be a part of this community of new wine, growing and maturing in beautiful and perfectly fitting new wineskins.
‘To everything, there is a season’, wrote the author of Ecclesiastes…this is our season.
Blessings be yours, as we begin the new year together…
…oh, and by the way, if you feel as good about our time together here and the work we are about as I do, invite a friend to come and join us some Sunday…you never know what gifts they may bring to our table!