Sermon: Making the Most of God’s Gifts:Sharing
Scripture: Ephesians 3: 7-9; 4:1-7.
Date: August 20, 2017
Those who were here last week remember that I related a story from Annie Dillard concerning her childhood compulsion of placing a penny on the sidewalk or on the stump of a tree and then drawing huge arrows from both ends of the block to the place where the penny was waiting. Then she would write surprise ahead by the arrows, and wait for the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, an unexpected gift from the universe.
But you know a penny isn‘t much of a gift to get excited by, is it? I don’t think that there‘s anything that you can buy anymore with just a penny. So what was it that was the “unexpected gift“. Well, let me suggest that it was Annie Dillard herself. This little child taking so much care and effort to bring a little cheer into a strangers life. Those lucky passers by got so much more than just a penny. The gift was in Annie‘s willingness to give, to share herself in this way. She was the unexpected gift from the universe. There would have been no gift without her willingness to share.
Last week we talked about the good news that our God is a wonderful giver of gifts, and that He has gifts for each one of us. I hope you had the opportunity to complete the Spiritual Gifts inventory that was in the bulletin last week. If you were not here, or have lost your copy, there are extras on the table at the ballon fund display in the lobby. But these would not be true gifts of the Spirit without our willingness to share them. When Paul writes to the Ephesians about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, he makes two things clear I think. The first is, like we said last week, that God has special gifts for each of us and secondly He does not give us gifts so that we will hold on to them. The gifts He gives to us are intended to be shared, to be given away, to help bring new life to our community and world.
With God’s gifts come great responsibilities. Jesus said that to those who are
given much, much will be expected. When God gives us His Spiritual gifts, He
does so with the expectation that each one of us will share the surprise, share
these spiritual gifts with one another, in our church family and in our community and our world. And he expects His church to be a place where the gifts of the Spirit are evident and shared in all that we do.
So how do we do that? First we need to make room for the gifts that God wants to fill us with. If our life is cluttered with things of the world, we won’t have room for the gifts that God wants to give us. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking for some items for our 40th anniversary celebration and after exhausting all the options, we decided to look in some of the sealed up boxes in the garage. I had been meaning to tackle them any way. But it was interesting going through some of the boxes discovering things that had been given to us as gifts. Some of them were still in their original boxes, because we had never had room for them. We accumulate a lot of clutter in life, and so often times when we are given something new, we don‘t have room for it. The clutter in our life keeps us from receiving God’s gifts. We don’t have room for them. The apostle Paul talks about cleaning house when He says we must empty ourselves so that Christ can fill us. Become nothing so that he can become everything. To receive God’s gifts, we need to get rid of the things that clutter our lives. And sometimes it’s hard to let go of those things. I believe that most of us miss so much of what God gives because we won‘t make room in the clutter of our life.
I recently heard a story about Nathaniel Hawthorne. As a young man, he wanted to be a writer, but his job at the customs house did not allow him the time to devote to his writing. But then one day he was fired from his job. And he made his way home, not knowing how he was going to face his wife and unsure about how they were going to live. But when he told his wife the news she responded not with despair, but joy. “Wonderful,” she said. “Now you can finally write that book you‘ve been wanting to write.” “But how will we live,” Hawthorne protested. And she walked to the china cabinet and pulled out a wad of money that she had been saving which would be enough for them to get by. And she said, “You‘re a great writer. I believe in you?” And the book that Hawthorne wrote, The Scarlett Letter, has become one of the classics of American literature. When God offers his gifts, He is saying I believe in you. Clear away the clutter of your life and get on with who you are supposed to be.
Which leads to the second thing that needs to happen in response to the gifts that God gives to us. He expects us to use them. In his first letter in the Bible, Peter talks about the church as a royal priesthood. Here is a portion of what he wrote. Listen to his words;
You’re like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation , a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
It is a wonderful understanding of what the church is to be. Each one of us a living stone, making up a part of the whole. No one more important then the other. Everyone equally gifted in ministry. You see, before Jesus came, our faith rested exclusively in the hands of the Priests. To approach God, you had to go through the priest. The Temple veil that only a priest could penetrate, separated God from the people. But remember what happened when Jesus was on the cross. The veil of the Temple was torn in two, and from that point on everyone was able to approach God. God gives each one of us unique gifts and until each one of us shares the gifts we are given, the church will never be truly what God wants it to be. Complete. Open to all people. For many years before he retired a few years ago, Bob Russell was the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, which he helped build to a membership of nearly 20,000 people. In an article written when he retired Russell said this:
When I was the pastor of a small church, I did everything. I opened the door on Sunday morning, turned on the lights, filled the baptistery, washed the baptismal robes, picked up the hymnals, printed and folded the bulletin, preached Sunday morning and Sunday night, taught a Sunday School class and Wednesday night Bible study, led the youth group , attended class functions , was an ex-officio member of every committee, coached the softball team and drove the church bus! When I would hear about large churches, I would think “that minister must be more talented or have more time and energy than I do. They have three church buses. How does he drive all of those.” (What I learned was that) one of the keys to advancing the gospel is for the church to be made up of individuals who consider it their task to do the work of the ministry, rather than having a congregation of people who expect (the church) to minister to them. . . . When I saw the church as a pyramid, with one person at the top meeting everyone‘s needs and doing all the work, my vision was limited. But now I see the church as a circle where we minister to each other.
You see, here‘s what I think we need to understand about these Spiritual gifts.
God gives them to us in His love and grace, but we must not lose sight of the fact that they are also a part of His perfect plan for humanity. He gives them with the expectation that we are to use them to minister to one another and for His glory. And be assured that God‘s purpose will be accomplished. It’s up to you and I, if we want to be a part of that. If we do, then we must share the gifts that God gives us. You know, the standard rule of thumb, is that in the church about 20% of the people do the work of ministry. I really believe that breaks God’s heart because that means that no matter what size we are, the church is only ministering at 20% of its capacity. It’s like a six cylinder car operating on just one cylinder. That might be okay if we are going downhill, but if we want to climb any mountains, one cylinder isn‘t going to get us very far. The church isn‘t going to get very far if we are only utilizing 20% of the gifts that God gives us. Now I think we are doing a little better then 20% but we are not operating anywhere near full throttle. We will not truly be the church that God wants us to be until everyone knows their gifts and are ready and willing to share them. God gives us gifts and abilities with the expectation that we will share them. But we let the clutter of our lives keep us from using our gifts. Paul’s words to the Ephesians challenge each one of us to take stock of our gifts and ask if we are part of the 20% that freely shares God’s gifts in and through the church, or are we a part of the 80% who hold on to their gifts. We cannot be a Disciple of Jesus and horde the gifts the Spirit gives us. A few years ago for Christmas, Karen gave me a remote controlled airplane. And it came in a kit that you had to put together. So right after the rush of Christmas was over, I sat down and put together that plane and then put it on a shelf in the basement, waiting for good weather so I could take it out and fly it. But I never did. Now it’s in a box somewhere and I have never tried to fly it. At first it was the weather that I used as an excuse, and then it was lack of time. I had lots of excuses. But you know what the truth is: I was afraid to fly it. I was afraid I hadn’t put it together right and it wouldn’t fly. Or that I‘d crash it and break it to pieces. In other words I was afraid I’d fail. Sometimes we’re afraid to share the gifts that God has given us because we’re afraid we’ll fail. The fear of failing keeps us from making the most of God’s gifts.
Or sometimes we get angry with someone at church or with a decision that the church has made (I’ve even heard that sometimes people get mad at the pastor. Imagine that.) And so we leave our gifts all boxed up. Maybe we still come on Sunday morning but we don’t participate in anything else.Sometimes our anger keeps us from making the most of the gifts that God has to give us. Paul makes it clear that God gives gifts to build up the body of Christ, and when we refuse to share those gifts, or when we let the clutter of our lives, of our souls keep us from receiving those gifts, we are doing just the opposite of that. God expects us to share our giftedness.
And He expects the church to be a place where we can use our spiritual gifts. If it’s true that 20% of the people do the work of ministry, it is not just because only 20% want to be involved. Often times the church does not do a good job of allowing people to minister according to their gifts. Most often we choose leaders in the church based upon the church’s need rather than the peoples giftedness. We have positions that must be filled and ministries that must be staffed and so we come together every fall in anticipation of a new year and recruit people to do those jobs with little .thought to gives us and He expects His church to be a place where those gifts can be freely shared.
And then let me just say one more thing. And that is that God will
not give us gifts that we can‘t use. You know sometimes we get to thinking that we’re too old, or too young, or too sick, or too busy, or not talented enough, or not this or that. I don’t know about you but I can always come up with excuses to not share God’s gifts – not make the most of what He’s given me. But friends, God knows us better then we know ourselves, and if He expects us to share the gifts that He gives to us then He will not give us any gifts that we aren‘t able to use. Remember what Paul said: “He gives to each one of us, according to our faith.” By giving us His gifts, He is saying, “I believe in you.”
Remember last week I told the story of Arthur Bresci and his friend Skinner, both of whom were captured by the Japanese during World War II. Skinner became sick in the prison camp and was placed in the ward with the prisoners were near death. The ones without hope of surviving. And then Arthur Bresci, on work detail from another prison camp, spotted his friend and during a brief encounter through barbed wire he passed Skinner his only possession, a ring, and whispered: “use this to wheel and deal.” Bresci didn‘t give that ring to Skinner as a farewell gift. He gave it with the belief that Skinner could use it to bargain with his captors for medicine and food. He intended for it to be a gift of life. And that’s what Skinner did. And he was the only prisoner to survive from the ward of the nearly dead. God does not give us gifts that we can’t use. And here’s the rest of the story. Both Bresci and Skinner survived the war and returned to their little home town in Pennsylvania. And soon after they arrived home, Skinner came to Bresci‘s home with a gift. It was an exact duplicate of the ring that Bresci had given him. And when Skinner handed it to Bresci, he said: Hope you enjoy this because it cost me twenty bucks. But then in all seriousness he said, Arthur, the gift of that ring saved my life. Nothing I can do or say will ever make us even. I owe you my life. God gives to us because He wants us to be life savers because the church is in the life saving business. My prayer and God‘s desire, is that someday, whether in this life or the next, someone will say to me and to you, The gift you shared with me saved my life. Oh Lord, may it be so again and again and again. May we make the most of all the gifts that God gives to us, everyday in every way. Amen