Just a few short weeks ago we celebrated Christmas. By now most the decorations are put away or at least sitting in boxes in the living room waiting to go to the basement or attic. How many of you got gifts for Christmas? How many of you left those gifts wrapped and stuck them unopened in the closet? Not many of us would even think of leaving those pretty packages unopened. No, we tend to tear into them to see what Aunt Mary or that friend from work got us. Sometimes, we find something special; other times we wonder what the giver was thinking in giving us THAT! You know the kind of things I mean – kind of like the pink bunny pajamas in the movie, “A Christmas Story”. Usually, people give some thought to the gifts we give – we take time to consider the person and to give something that “fits the person.”
Our epistle lesson talks about gifts that we are given by the Holy Spirit. Paul starts this chapter telling us that he does not want us to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. People in the Corinthian church were aware of the gifts, but the gifts were becoming a source of classism. People with the gift of tongues, for instance, thought themselves somehow better, more blessed or more important than someone with some of those “other” gifts. Paul was writing to set the record straight – All of the gifts are important, none more so than any other.
All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit come from one source – the Holy Spirit. Fortunately or unfortunately, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are exactly that, gifts. We do not have a whole lot of say in what we get or what those around us might get. The Holy Spirit does not give us a gift card that allows us to select our favorite gift. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed upon us.
When I think of the distribution of gifts, I picture the sorting hat from Harry Potter – the Holy Spirit carefully considers each individual and distributes to each person a unique blending of gifts that will be suit that person and also best serve the common good. It is this blend that is important. And it is this blend of gifts that we need to recognize and celebrate!
Imagine if everyone here today was a brilliant preacher, but no one had the gift of generosity. We’d have a lot of wonderful sermons, but because we did not have the money to pay the utilities and taxes, we would have nowhere to meet and to listen. Every person, and indeed every congregation, is given the unique blend of gifts that, when discovered, developed, and displayed, will empower that person or congregation to best function as a part of the reign of God on earth. But, still, unfortunately, we tend to fall into the old patterns, and the old assumptions, that the Corinthians did all those years ago.
Also, unfortunately, it is these assumptions that get in our way and may prevent us from doing the truly miraculous! You know, everything we see around us didn’t just appear. It happened because someone had an idea and trusted the idea. Someone went out on a limb and decided that the idea, no matter how small, was worth pursuing. All of this came about because someone didn’t believe when he or she was told that their gift was not good enough or big enough or whatever.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tomorrow. It would be easy to just look at Martin Luther King and think he was some super human person. It would be easy to think he was something beyond what we could ever be. It would be easy to think that he had special gifts and that God loved him more. But if we are truthful with ourselves, we know that he was not so different from you or me. He was a person just like us.
What would be the state of the African American community if Martin Luther King had ignored his gifts or had thought that he should have had a different mix of gifts? What would have happened if someone had told him that his gifts were not good enough? We don’t know, but just think what if King had just stayed at his church in Montgomery, Alabama. The lives of millions of people and indeed the way of the world would have been worse off if he had believed his gifts were not good enough or refused to use the gifts he had been given. Thankfully, he rose to the call on his life and used his gifts for the good of humanity and through him the world was changed forever.
We may never change the world, but we can change a life. We may never change the destiny of a people, but we can change the life of our community. We may never have a day set aside to honor our life, but that doesn’t mean we are let off the hook. We have each been given gifts and it is in using these gifts, and honoring these gifts in others, that we bring the light of Christ into the world.
I have been preaching about reaching out and going out into the community to spread the word, but unfortunately I think that many feel that we just don’t have what we need to be the love and light of Christ in Middleofnowhere. We may feel that we just are not big enough or active enough or whatever…to be the Church here and now. Or we personally may feel that we just do not know enough, or speak well enough, or whatever…to reach out. Or we may not be comfortable speaking to others. Or we may not be sure what we, ourselves, are actually feeling about the whole God and Jesus thing. Or worse yet, we may have been told that what we had to offer was just not good enough. But to believe that we are just not good enough to spread God’s love is to deny what the Holy Spirit has given to each of us and to us as a congregation.
Sometimes I believe we do NOT want to be gifted. Let’s face it, King’s gifts made his life a bit more “interesting” than most of us would like. But again, this would be like taking a well thought out, conscientiously selected present and placing it in a box, never to be seen again. I know I would be upset to learn that a gift I gave to someone was put away, unopened. I am sure God is not happy when we just place our spiritual gifts on the shelf.
Sometimes, using our gifts can be scary. We do not know how people will react. But it is at times like this that we need to trust in Holy Spirit, the giver of the gift. We need to trust that the Spirit carefully selected the gifts for us and that the Spirit will be with us in the use of our gifts. We can trust that our gifts are not there to hurt us, but to help us!
Through the use of our Spiritual gifts not only is our life is made richer, but that the reign of God is brought to the world. How sad it would have been if Martin Luther King, Jr. had ignored his gifts and never shared his dream with the world. How sad if we down-play or ignore the gifts we have been given and not share those gifts with our friends, our family, our community, and those whom God brings into our life.
We have been given gifts. We are asked to share those gifts with others. We are asked to help others find their own gifts. In this process, not only are others blessed, but we are blessed too! How cool is that?