Sunday, August 21, 2011

“Everyone Matters!” - Romans 12:3-8 - August 21, 2011


I love my daughter, Elizabeth, and she plays a lot of different roles in my life. There are moments the little girl comes out and we laugh at things like we did when she was young. There are moments when she is wise beyond her years and we talk about things that really matter. There are moments she is my co-conspirator in pulling together something new in the kitchen. There are still others when we work together on a project designed to touch our community or our world. There is one very important role she plays for you. She is my hokey illustration filter. One of the tasks of writing a sermon is to try to find an image that can help draw you in – to help you enter an age old Bible text from a new and fresh perspective. Sometimes in the effort to be creative and engaging I can be tempted to wander off into – well, into the hokey or silly. Do you remember the morning I used a door a few months ago – only to discover I could not open it when I was supposed to? Or maybe you remember the band major’s jacket that found its way to stage several years ago? She had real doubt about both of those – and I should have.

I have to tell you that this week’s message invited the prospect of some pretty hokey options. As I thought about how to introduce the idea that everyone in the congregation matters to what we do, I thought about bringing in a pot and a host of veggies, throwing the vegetables in one at a time in a congregational soup or stew that was suppose to show that when we are all mixed together something amazing happens. But, I it did not take long for this pleasant little image to go over the top and hit the Elizabeth filter. I also thought about placing huge puzzle pieces in different parts of the sanctuary and have people bring them up and symbolically talk about what we are all a part of the puzzle and when all the pieces are brought together a beautiful picture emerges. When I moved from talking about the idea to how it would work, Elizabeth game me a look.

So, with no props and no silly images I invite you to look at a family passage where Paul tries to help the church in Rome understand the contribution that each member of the church brings to the life and the ministry of the church. We heard Mike Wanzer read the passage as a whole earlier in our service. Now let’s take a closer look at what it says. Paul begins; For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Paul understood our temptation to value some roles more than others, some gifts more highly than the other, and some people more than other people. He takes this head on. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should because of who you are or what you do; any spiritual gift or talent you bring to the table is given by God. It is not about you. It is about God working in and through you.

He wanted them – and us - to understand it the ministry and mission of the church was found in who they were as they expressed their gifts side by side. He tells them; For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. This is one of my favorite passages because it drives home the reality that everyone matters. That none of us are spare parts. Regardless of our age, experience, or gender, everyone matters. God has gifted all who come to him in faith with gifts that are necessary for the fulfillment of the mission/purpose of the church. To be the people we need to be, we need each other. To be the church we need to be, we need each other. While we all are different and bring something different to the table, we BELONG- all of us – we belong to God and we belong to each other. We need each other. We cannot do it without each other. And that is exactly what God had in mind all along.

Paul offers a remarkable list of the kind of gifts he saw. This list is not comprehensive. Across the New Testament we see similar lists that include parts of this list and add others as well. Some have gotten caught up in trying to figure out how their spiritual gifting fits one of the lists. I believe this is misdirected. The point is that everyone one is gifted differently by God and every gift matters. Here we hear Paul say; 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 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, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I love this list because it captures images of those who teach and preach; those who serve with passion; those who encourage others; those who give, and those who share their heart with and for others. This list is a glimpse across the life of the church, as if Paul is peering in and calling out those he sees in service. I think the list for our church might look a bit different. I think it might include a list like: If your gift is making children feel special on Wednesday nights by serving them at their own line; or if your gift is financial oversight expressed by serving as a teller; or if your gift is one of fellowship demonstrated by being a part of the kitchen team; or if your gift if one of hospitality expressed in service as a volunteer receptionist; or if your gift is of compassion expressed in folding clothes, or assisting people in the food pantry, or listening to people’s stories, or praying for people in need at Good Shepherd; or if your gift is a gift of song for worship; or if your gift is creativity expressed with hammer and nail, or if your gift is the gift of humble service expressed in picking up furniture for the furniture bank; or if your gift is expressed in a wide range of other ways where your sometimes publically, but more often in quiet, impact the lives of others through the mission and ministry of the church, then do it joyfully. Each of these expressions of ministry – each of these reflections of spiritual giftedness makes us who we are as a church and as a church family. When Claire McAtee spent hours decorating the gathering room for the VBS section of Kids of Broadway when she knew that her only reward would be the joy in the eyes of the kids, then she shared her giftedness in a way it touched people’s lives. When Bob and Emily Self serve kids on Wednesday nights or when Gene Haney helps wash the dishes, or when John Turpin hands out bulletins and makes people feel welcome in worship, or when Scott Feree runs sound, or fill in the blank here with a name of someone in our church family giving of themselves, we see the God at work in and through one another. God shapes us and calls us- gifts us and makes us who we are as a unique church family. Every person and every act of faithfulness is essential. Everyone matters! Everyone matters and every gift matters because we can only be the church we are called to be when the gifts of everyone are expressed/lived out/valued/embraced.

There is one word we often miss in Paul’s teaching is “generous.” Paul wants it clear that we serve and give not out of obligation but out of joy and a spirit of celebration. It means that every act of service, every act of ministry, and every moment we live out of the spiritual gifts that God has given us regardless of its scale, becomes an act of worship. When we value each person and each act of the spirit, we become the reflection of God we are intended to be as a church family. God has gifted you. The living expression of your God given giftedness is essential to us being the church we were created to be for this era. Every gift matters! Everyone matters!

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