1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Which part of the body are you? Are you the eyes, seeing everything that goes on, observing, and through that seeing, helping us to be guided forward as a church, as a people, into the future? Are you the ears, hearing the concerns and hearing the gifts, hearing the wisdom but also the concerns? Are you the feet, leading the body of the church into the world to do the work of serving people? Or are you the shoulders, holding up those who have burdens to bear? Are you the guts of the church, keeping it going in terms of numbers and finances? Are you the brains of the church, called to make decisions about the direction of the church? Maybe you are the mouth, called to speak up about injustices, or to speak God’s Good News to one another and to the world. As you reflect on this, I want to remind you that being humble, walking humbly with God, is NOT about denying God’s gifts to you. Instead, it is about recognizing that all talents are gifts from God and that one talent is not more worthy or more honored by God than another. My gifts are not more valuable than yours in the service of God and God’s people, the gifts God has given me do not make me a better or more beloved person. Each of our gifts is a gift God has given us for the purpose of serving God in the world. All jobs are needed, all gifts are needed. Recognizing that is humility. When we deny God’s gifts to us we are being ungrateful to the God who has gifted us with our talents.
But I think one of our biggest challenges is simply figuring out what our gifts are. And I would challenge you to consider that everything about who you are is a gift to the community.
I want to share with you about a person who was one of the members of another church in which I worked. This is a person who was - well, annoying. Some might have said he was abrasive. But whatever you want to call it, he was a difficult person in the church. He always questioned every idea that came forward, never satisfied with simple answers, never just saying "let's do it!" He spoke his mind and when he didn't like something, he spoke out, which was often. When he heard someone say something with which he disagreed, he challenged it right away. He also came with his own ideas, but these ideas challenged the norm, challenged the status quo at every level. "Let's try this kind of music." "Hey, I'm going to start an anti-gang program here at the church. Anyone want to join me?" "I think we should go out every Friday evening with a big sign about our church and stand on the street corner at the mall talking to anyone who passes by about what we do here." He didn't go through the right channels and he was always a pain in everyone's life. Do you know people like that? People who are part of your communities who irritate and cause your life to be difficult?
Eventually "Jason" got called away to a job out of the area and he had to leave the church. It was only after he had left that we realized the huge hole he had left in his leaving. He had brought so many gifts to our congregation. He had challenged us to grow and to expand our thinking. He had challenged us to be clear in our explanations of the visions and ideas that we had. He had called us to think through our positions and to be open to differences. He had challenged us to be open to the movement of the Spirit in a new way, one that didn't go through the long chain of committees, but instead moved into ministry and action without fear and with a great deal of true and deep faith. I don't know if Jason was aware of his gifts. I don't know if he recognized that he was in so many ways the head of our body, thinking, dreaming, leading us forward. I do know that he realized that for many of us he was a pill, he was a challenge. I know he knew that he wasn't the most popular guy and that people hid when they saw him coming. I can only hope that he also came to see that the things we all struggled with the most in him were the deepest gifts he had been given by God. And that his sharing of those gifts brought all of us spiritually, and faithfully deeper and more genuine in our relationships with each other and with God.
C.S. Lewis in the second book of his space Trilogy, Perelandra, wrote, "Don't imagine I've been selected for ...any task...because I'm anyone in particular. One never can see, or not till long afterwards, why any one was selected for any calling. And when one does, it is usually some reason that leaves no room for vanity. Certainly it is never for what the ...person...themself would have regarded as their chief qualifications."
We don't see all of the gifts God has given to each of us ourselves. And we don't see all of the gifts God has given to those around us. Sometimes we fail so completely to see those gifts that we limit their expression, how much good God can bring out of them, how much we allow others to help us grow in our spiritual journeys.
Everything that you are is a gift to the community. That means that even our great differences, not only in terms of gifts but in terms of perspectives, are gifts to the community. Unity of the body, working towards the same goal of furthering Christ’s body in the world does not, for example, mean that we see the world, the church, our faith, any of it, in the same way. The perspective of the feet is going to be different from the perspective of the head. They are in different places and therefore see the world very, very differently.
I want to share with you a poem:
It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant (though all of them were blind),
That each by observation might satisfy his mind.
The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall
Against his broad and burly side, at once began to call:
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a wall!"
The second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Ho! What have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant is very like a spear!"
The third approached the animal, and, happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake,
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a snake!"
The fourth reached out his eager hand and felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," said he,
"'Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree!"
The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, said, "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most. Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!"
The sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!
So oft in group endeavors, the members of the team
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
As if it were an elephant not one of them has seen.
We don’t often see the whole picture. And the perspectives and gifts of others help us to get a greater glimpse of the whole, when we stay open. Others’ visions and insights help us to grow, to see, to be closer to God. It is not completely clear whether Paul was writing the passage from Corinthians to a group of people who were putting each other down, refusing to value equally the gifts, talents, and perspectives of one another, or if he was writing to a group of people who were insecure about their own gifts. But in most of our congregations I think we tend much more towards the latter problem, refusing to acknowledge our own gifts, let alone honor them as valuable.
Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I think about the gospel story for today and why the people got upset with Jesus proclaiming, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Why did people get upset about that? Because they felt it lacked humility? No doubt. But the truth is that this call is for ALL of us. God calls each and every one of us to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is all of our call. Each of you could say today, “this scripture is being fulfilled now” as you do this work in the world, in your lives, in your personal relationships. We are all called to do this. Claiming that call, owning that call, naming that call as FOR YOU is not lacking in humility. It is recognizing that God has called you to a task and that you have chosen to accept that call and to answer it with a “yes”.
We do have different gifts. So we answer that call in different ways. But the call to follow Jesus, the call to live in this way, the call to be the people of God – that is a call for each and every one of us!
I would like to encourage all of us to think beyond what we normally identify as our gifts, to be open to the possibility that God can and does use our differences but also, will use our hidden gifts if we stay open to seeing what they are, towards the furtherance of God’s realm. You are valued in the body of Christ. And your gifts are valued. You are more worthy than you know as you contribute to the body just by being you.
I want to end with another poem, this one by Howard Thurman:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
That is what our gifts are for. I pray that we might all use them well.