We begin our final journey to the Cross this evening. We begin it in a fashion that is often uncomfortable for the people of the 21st Century. We begin it with a practice that makes us truly disciples of the living Christ. We begin it with an act that seems both holy and, at the same time, repulsive because of odor, looks, and the sheer fact of bearing some part of your body to the outside world. Not only is it about revealing your body to the outside world, it’s about doing it at dinner time. Jesus was not shy nor bashful to do this, but according to scripture, “the time had come.” It was a time in the life of Jesus that he had to “drive the point home” that this was the earthly end for Him and this is what I can do for you!
We are almost there! We are almost there! Lent is just about over, and we are just about to the pinnacle of our Christian year. I know I have, several times, over the past week, thought, “wow” I am so ready for this Lent to be over and for Easter to arrive. Why are we like that I ask myself? Why are we so ready for the hard inward journey of looking at ourselves come to an end? You might say, “well preacher, don’t know about you, but my Lenten journey has not been the most pleasant. I have had to do some things I really didn’t want to do, I had to sacrifice some things I really didn’t want to sacrifice, and it made me face who I really am.” Let me suggest to you, yes, it probably did all of those things that I mentioned, but ultimately, it has reminded you, “whose you really are.” By that I mean, a strong Lenten journey reminds us that we are Jesus’ people! We are really “not ourselves” in the sense that we have any control over our identity and our make-up as Christians.
Dating myself a bit, but I remember riding down Kem Road, turning right on Baldwin Avenue, passing Custer’s Last Stand on the right (one of those true 1950’s drive-in restaurant) then turning right into the next parking lot. I remember seeing the two large golden arches reaching from behind the shiny silver chrome building outlined with red and white glossy brick, looming over the roof and down to the ground. Yes, it was my first visit to McDonalds! Mind you, this was 1966 and the new McDonald’s was the “hit” of the small mid-western town.
Third Sunday in Lent: Receiving the Gifts of the Spirit
Sunday, February 28, 2016
St. Timothy’s UMC- Rev. Mark M. Vickers
“Receiving the Gifts of the Spirit”
Romans 12:6-8New International Version (NIV)
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
In my family, I am always the one who returns the gifts! No matter what the gift-giving holiday is, I’m the returner. It was that way when Susan was alive, and it’s that way now with Thompson. Doesn’t even matter if it is the gift that I have given that doesn’t fit, work, or meet the desired need, I’m the one who returns the gift. When you think about gift-giving and receiving you don’t really jump to the “point of return” do you? Now, I know every family has someone who, no matter what gift they receive, it will not be what they wanted, hence, a return is in order. Every family has one. Don’t tell me you don’t, because it’s not nice to lie to the preacher.
Over the next two weeks we are going to take a serious look at this process of receiving gifts, accepting these gifts, and putting these gifts to work for the Glory of God. You see, the gifts we are going to talk about are not gifts that are material in nature, they are not gifts that we ask for on some special list, and best of all, they are gifts that can’t be returned. Now, they can be ignored, but they can’t be returned, because they are from God!
My friends, these are God-given gifts that require we respond to them once we understand them. This morning I want us to take a serious look at the notion that we receive these gifts (that we will explore later) by the grace of God, and then, we are trusted to put them to work.
In formulating this message I thought it best to ask the question,”How do we live as Christians?” How are our lives moved from our secular to holy manner? We are inundated with so many cultural modifications and desires we struggle mightily into living as Holy People.
Paul in his exhortation to the Christians in Rome about the necessity of holy lives and spiritual worship, not only here in the Book of Romans but also in 1st and 2nd Corinthians/I Thessalonians, is based on the mercy and grace given to each of us by God. Now, Paul sees this as coming through our baptism which helps us discern the “will of God.” One must remember that Baptism for the Christians in Rome was a rather new concept and something they were still struggling to understand. (Not that we have it sewn up to understand completely.) But for the new Christians in the Roman cultural, it was a marking spot for them to begin. As it is for us, we must remember that we are a baptized people in need of mercy and forgiveness. For Paul it is through this mercy that the certain spiritual gifts are “given to nourish the community as ‘one body in Christ’.”
That, my friends, is the key issue before us this morning. Often times we just figure that we can go about the work of the faith community without acknowledging what God has given us. We assume we can do this by some type of osmosis–some scientific ploy that helps us get through the motions in some secret fashion.
If we take a deep serious look at this movement we know it’s not true! There is something that drives us to that important work of Christ–that important movement we recognize as the work of the church or the work of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
It’s interesting if we keep focused here on vs. 6-8 in Paul’s admonition; we see we are given gifts that differ according to the grace given us; then he makes a short list of those gifts. But wait a minute–is God’s grace not equal to all? Should we not all have the same gifts? Simple logic would tell us that we can all receive the same grace, but the gifts that we receive are different because grace is a gift itself! Grace is a gift by which one works or uses to further their gifts. It’s just not “automatic.” It’s like the new term some therapists use when working with clients who need to change and work for themselves, they say “they need to have some skin in the game.” They (we) must be invested in what God has given us! Whether we are an exhorter, teacher, counselor, and the list goes on and on. The crux of the matter is that we have some investment in what God has already given us.
Next week, following worship, we will take what is called a “Spiritual Gifts Inventory” and begin to look at what God has given you and how we all can help one another develop and grow in those gifts in order to assist the mission God has given us here at St. Timothy’s.
This is not a “one and done” exercise, rather it is a journey into what God has already given you and how we can nurture those gifts over time, living in the presence of God’s grace. We can’t return these gifts my friends, therefore, we must put them to work in the best way we know how!
AMEN and AMEN
There are times in our lives that our families present us with issues we wish we could run away from; issues we want to ignore and cast out of our memory. Then, there are times that we are confronted in our families with issues that we never want to let go of. Issues and situations that make us who we are, are contained within both of these scenarios.
When I was a younger lad and enjoyed watching the funny things on TV, The Little Rascals was one of my favorite shows to watch. The antics of Alfalfa, Spanky, Darla, Buckwheat, and Petey the dog! Their “almost silent film acting” was as close to slapstick comedy as I was born near. The funny one liners, the black and white filming, and the near racial and social lines that were crossed always brought a level of thought to me that challenged my thinking and my philosophy of life.