This week, a group of 12 folks from Faith hopped on ZOOM to listen to one of our own members, James Hedrick, talk about affordable housing in Montgomery County.
Let me give you just a little glimpse of my pastor’s heart and mind here.
It was so cool to listen to someone in our community share with so much knowledge and passion. It made this pastor’s heart sing. And it appealed to my geeky economist/sociologist/justice activist side, too.
Because James had a knowledge and understanding of and passion for the alphabet soup of acronyms and formulas that are affordable housing policy and development.
I give thanks for his knowledge and for his passion for how more people can live in Montgomery County with a roof over their head.
And every now and then, Kay McCarty posts some incredible picture of things that she has created with her hands – and in this moment, I am remembering the beautiful collars draped on women in Kenya and the smiles on the women’s faces.
I can only dream of creating that way with my hands. And those creations bring so much joy!
This summer during our family fun nights, Karen Johnston turned baby carrots into kid friendly Martha Stewart worthy self-contained, COVID friendly crudité with a paper cup and some ranch dressing, safely, creatively and nutritiously feeding a hungry crowd of families on several occasions.
I love to entertain, but those gifts of organization, presentation, efficiency, appeal and patience for navigating food preferences and food groups? Not mine.
And as the new pastor at Faith, in the months before COVID struck as we waded through by-laws and finances, I gave thanks again and again for Belinda Tilley’s calm and even spirit and mind for analysis and justice, which she put to use as we navigated the difficult decision to close the preschool here at Faith.
All of these folks, ALL OF YOU…bring such amazing and unique gifts to this community of Faith.
Thanks be to God.
Today, in our scripture from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds the church community that everyone has gifts, and that those gifts are given so that all may work together within a community to proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Corinth was a “unique” place. It was a center for all sorts of idol worship and excessive living – I know some people just LOVE Las Vegas…but I had a gut reaction to Vegas the one time I visited. It just made me sad to think of how much money and energy went into short-lived pleasure. It was one of the first times I remember feeling badly about the money I was spending to be in a place in comparison to the money people were earning to make my visit possible. I am not all that straightlaced…I like to have fun. But Vegas was just too much for me. And so, I kind of imagine Corinth as a first century Vegas. What happened in Corinth, stayed in Corinth.
Paul’s letter from which we heard today is part of a series of communications between him and the members of the Christian community at Corinth. Our scriptures include two of these letters, and we only have Paul’s side of the exchange, so we must use our imagination to understand what complaints and requests for mediation Paul has received that lurk behind his corrections, counsel, and advice.
Today’s portion of the letter is about spiritual gifts, and it begins with some reminders about speaking. It would seem that there is some tension in the community about the varying value of different gifts – as if there is some suggestion in the community that the gift of speaking in tongues, of Spirit led speech, might be superior to other gifts in the community.
And in response, Paul first reminds the community that Spirit-led speech proclaims Jesus is Lord first and foremost.
He goes on to remind the community that there are many kinds of gifts that all come from one Spirit. There are many ways to serve the one Lord, Jesus Christ. There are many ways for a person to “be” in the world, all activated by one creator God. And all of that diversity of gifts and goodness are intended for the good of all.
This undergirds the wider theme of this entire letter to the church at Corinth – and that theme is unity, living together, working together, relating together across all the differences to be ONE body of Christ in the world.
There is a stark reminder in Paul’s counsel – we are who we are and are capable of what we are capable of by the power of God’s creation and the Spirit. And all of that is intended to be used, put to work, in community. The thriving of a community depends on the gifts that members put to work for the good of all.
Paul’s message calls to mind Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s frequent references to the African concept of ubuntu.
Ubuntu essentially describes the power of our shared humanity, our interconnectedness. Ubuntu can be understood as “I am because we are.” Or I am because YOU are.
And our interconnectedness, our shared humanity RELIES on our bringing our unique gifts to bear on our shared life. There is a reciprocity here – we cannot be our fullest selves without others gifts. And when we bring our fullest selves to the community, we share in thriving that we have no other way.
As I sat in conversation after conversation this week, I saw people’s amazing gifts. I saw dreamers and optimists. I saw people who are mighty prayers. I saw people who are good with numbers. I saw people who love to make art and music. I saw people who have gifts with words. I saw people who can fix broken things.
Each one of us is different, and each of us has received different gifts by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Seriously – think about it. No two of us have identical gifts. And yet when we bring those differences into the community, the church, they create a strong whole – a oneness. Not a sameness. Not conformity. Not uniformity. But unity.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced a question about the various forms the civil rights movement took in the 60s, he noted that unity did not equal uniformity. He recognized that different people would bring different ideas and different approaches to the larger movement. He recognized that there was strength in all of the giftedness coming together for the sake of equal rights.
I give thanks for the variety of gifts that are being manifested by the power of the Holy Spirit in this community of Faith Church.
I am aware that we live in a time when there is a lot of pressure to vote the right way and believe the right thing and say the right words. And I believe that the Kingdom of God draws near when we each let our giftedness shine for the good of the whole. I believe that we proclaim Jesus Christ Lord not just with words but with our lifestyle when we offer our gifts without hesitation, and without hierarchy. I believe that each of us brings valuable threads to the fabric of our church. And together, we will continue to make a difference.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
May we boldly share our gifts because the world needs them so.