12 October 2014

Loving Gift

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 27-31; 13

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/ 12th October 2014

Sacrament of Baptism

There is a direct connection between baptism and vocation.  There is a direct connection between one’s baptism and being called.  Vocation, from the Latin vocare, means “to be called out,” it means to be summoned.  The Protestant reformers, especially Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), intentionally linked baptism with vocation because they insisted that everyone baptized has a vocation, everyone baptized is called.  Everyone is called and therefore gifted by God to a particular task, a particular job, a particular ministry in the Church and in the world beyond the Church. 

By vocation they didn’t mean a calling to the office of priest or minister.  Priests are not the only one with a vocation.  Ministers are not the only ones called.  Unfortunately, this misunderstanding continues to linger in the Church because we generally associate a call as a call to parish ministry or to preach.  Two weeks ago I shared part of my call story.  But that was my story and in my case it was a call to preach.  I could have been called to do something else— an accountant or an engineer or something else.  But I wasn’t.   In fact, I’m grateful that I wasn’t called to be an accountant, since I was never very good at math, but I’m grateful for those who are.  And I’m glad that I wasn’t called to be an engineer because you wouldn’t want me designing bridges.  However,  I’m enormously grateful for those who are engineers, who love to design and build bridges, who use their talents with joy. 

I’m grateful for the gifts God has given me. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with you.

It is truly a blessed thing to know that you’ve been gifted by God.  And it’s a blessed thing indeed to be able to use those gifts.  This is not an arrogant or boastful statement.  It’s just true.

God has gifted you.  If you’re baptized, then you are being called by God, right now; summoned to use the very gifts that God has entrusted to you. That’s why it’s a blessed thing to know what those gifts are and why to use them is a blessing.

God has gifted you.  Do you know how and where?  How do we discover or discern these gifts?  Do you know God’s will for your life, God’s will for this particular season in your life?  Do you know your calling?  Do you know where you’re being summoned?  These are enormous questions; questions for a lifetime—but the very asking of them, again and again and again, make for a mature and joyful and adventurous faith.  One of the ways we grow up into mature Christians is through honest wrestling with these questions, particularly in community.  We will never grow up into Christ until we ask these questions.

Paul is very clear with the Corinthians as he was with other congregations: God is in the gifting business, endowing us with diverse gifts and talents and interests, to enhance and build up the welfare of the Church and the welfare of society, the common good. That’s why it’s incumbent upon each of us to know what these gifts are.

Paul calls them “spiritual gifts,” but this designation isn’t really helpful.  They are gifts given by the Holy Spirit, but this doesn’t mean that they are what we might consider “spiritual” or “religious.”  Your gift might be a facility with finances.  On the surface, that doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” but just imagine what can be done in the world when this essential gift is used for the sake of God’s people, when such knowledge is used to glorify God instead of using it just to make lot of money for the sake of having money.  

One of the reasons the Reformers could push so hard for a link between baptism and vocation is because they didn’t divide up the world between spiritual and material, holy and profane, sacred and secular.  These are false dichotomies.  Illusions, really.  It’s not the worldview of the Bible.  The psalmist, for example, is very clear when he writes, “The earth and all it contains belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 24:1).   All—not just a part of it or some of it, not just the so-called “spiritual” part, not just the so-called “religious” part, but all of it belongs to God.  This is why from a Reformed theological perspective there’s no such thing as a religious or non-religious profession.   Indeed, every profession, every career, every job, including ones with the most menial tasks, has the capacity to be a divine calling when it’s being done to the glory of God.  In addition to ministers, God is calling people to be elementary school teachers and scholars and astrophysicists and engineers and nurses and musicians and gardeners and journalists and activists and artists and caretakers and financial analysts and, yes, even politicians to serve the common good.  God is at work in all of these roles—and countless more—working through the Church and through the Church for the sake of the world.

This is true:  God has gifted you for the sake of the world.  Indeed, the world is blessed every time individuals tap into their God-given gifts and really use them, not for selfish ends, but for the sake of the common good.  It all happens through one individual at a time being faithful to one’s life.  

Before his death in 1801, Rabbi Zusya (1718-1801) said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”[1] 

You are not called to be Moses.  You are not called to be Abraham or Sarah.  In many ways—and this will sound heretical to some, but it’s not—you’re not even called to be like Jesus—unless being like Jesus means knowing who you really are and why you were born and what unique work God has given you to do.[2]  Your calling is not theirs.  Your calling is not mine, nor is mine yours.   But, trust me:  if you’re baptized, you’re called.

One of the saddest things to see is a person who never discovered his or his gifts and used them.  This is why, as the Quakers love to say, we really need to listen to our lives.  It’s obligatory.  Your life matters.  Therefore, let your life speak.  In other words, discover the gifts that God has already planted within your spirit, within your heart, within your psyche.  Discern who you are, created in God’s image, the distinctive person that you are, with your unique history and life experience, and in the midst of that life—gifted by God—listen to what your life is trying to say to you.  Parker J. Palmer is so wise when he says, “Before you tell you life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”[3]  Not what you want it to say.  Not what you think it ought to say.  Not what your ego insists that it must say.  Listen to that part of you that’s deeper than your ego, the still small voice down in the depths of your soul, in your “heart of hearts,” as the psalmist liked to say. That’s the part of you called in your baptism. 

What Paul is getting at here in Corinthians and in so many other places in his writings is this notion that the Spirit of God is speaking to us through our lives, not apart from our lives, but through our lives.  It’s in this context that Paul talks about “gifts,” charisms, gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to each of us so that we’ll do something creative and beneficial with them.  For, God is trying to incarnate something new in you and me.  God is trying to bring something into being through our flesh, through our lives, something that never existed before.  And God is doing all of this in love, which is, as Paul so eloquently put, the greater gift (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the calling.

So how do we know what God is calling you to do?  How do we listen to our lives?  Perhaps we should, first, stop asking the question: What ought I to do with my life?   And then refrain from asking:  What is God calling me to do?  What if, instead, we alter the question ever so slightly and ask:  What is the Spirit trying to live through me?  What is God trying to bring to life through me?  What is trying to come into being through my life, what is trying to come into existence through me, what it trying to be born through me?  What is God bringing to life through me?   The answer to these questions will be found when we truly listen to our lives, when we let our lives speak, when we heed the voice – the vocatus—of our lives.

And my hunch is that if we go down deep enough to the source of everything and listen to what emerges there, the answer to each of these questions will have something to do with love.  What is Love trying live through you?  Love is trying to live through you.  Love is trying to bring something into being through you.  Love is trying to birth something new through you.

And because it’s all about love we can risk asking these questions of our lives and trust the listening process because there’s nothing to fear, we are God’s children.  God’s Spirit is already present within us; we’ve already been gifted in love.  God is trying to enter the world through our gifts.  And that’s why it’s really important to listen to our lives and discern our gifts because the Church needs them, and, perhaps more importantly, the world needs them.

This morning during adult education class we explored our God-given gifts.  It’s a process often done best in community, when people can identify what they see God doing through our lives.  Sometimes we can’t see what is being lived through us.  It’s possible to possess gifts of which we’re not even cognizant.  We each have blind-spots.   We need a community around us.  And this morning, after worship in fellowship hall, at the Ministry Fair, you’ll see a glimpse of what the Spirit is trying to bring to life through us.  There will be opportunities for you learn about just about every ministry area.  Perhaps there are committees or groups or boards that you’re feeling called to join.  What gifts are you feeling called to share and use?  Maybe there are gifts you’re feeling called to test.  Perhaps you’ve always wanted to work with youth or teach church school.  Perhaps you’re feeling summoned to join the choir, but your not sure because you’ve never been part of a choir and can’t really read music.  What’s tugging on your heart?  Where are you feeling pulled, stretched, drawn?  What’s moving through you?       

The Spirit moving through you at this moment—and every moment of your life— is the same Spirt who claimed you and called you in the waters of your baptism.  The Spirit of God who gifted you in love is loving you through and through, to the depths of your being, loving you for the sake of the world.  It’s Love calling your name.  Love’s never stopped calling your name.











[1] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening tothe Voice of Vocation (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 1999), 3.
[2] C. G. Jung makes a similar claim, particularly when he talks about the imitatio Christi ( imitation of Christ) within the Christian tradition.  He writes, “The demand made by the imitatio Christi—that we should follow the ideal and seek to become like it—ought logically to have the result of developing and exalting the inner man.  In actual fact, however, the ideal has been turned by superficial and formalistically-minded believers into an external object of worship, and it is precisely this veneration for the object [that is, Jesus] that prevents it from reaching down into the depths of the psyche and givng the latter a wholeness in keeping with the ideal.  Accordingly the divine mediator stands outside as an image, while man remains fragmentary and untouched in the deepest part of hism.  Christ can indeed be imitated even to the point of stigmatization without the imitator coming anywhere near the ideal or its meaning.”  From Psychology and Alchemy, cited in Anthony Storr, ed, The Essential Jung (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1983), 257.
[3] As told by Martin Buber (1878-1965) in Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters, cited in Palmer, 11.