Take and Give
December 31, 2017
Good morning church!
My name is Michael LeBlanc and I work in Family ministry here at our church. I am the Director of Student Ministries, which means along with Andrea Levreault I am lucky enough to work with the 6-12th graders here at our church, along with a great team of volunteers and some wonderful parents. In my calling to the church I am able to see a kid’s life go from confirmand in 6th grade, all the way up to a senior in high school. I see first girlfriends and first heartbreaks, college acceptance letters and first professions of faith. It’s pretty cool.
I just want to begin right at the top by saying that if that sounds like an exciting way to serve Jesus, two things- 1. You are right, it is and 2. Join us and get to do some cool stuff for Jesus. Our volunteer team helps change lives and we have openings beginning this fall. We have extensive training and support for all the members of our team. You aren’t too old, you don’t have to be cool, and we will teach you everything you need to know to be an effective leader of 6th through 12th graders.
Well church, we did it! We have made it through one of the busiest times in our culture and we can officially retire our gift assembling tools for one more year. We are actually in the season of Christmas, liturgically, even though very few of us really celebrate that way any longer. We are on our way to Epiphany and so we are continuing to celebrate the advent or the inbreaking of God’s presence here on earth in the person of Jesus.
But also, culturally, today is a strange day for us to be at church. Today is the day that most of us will commit to something coming in the new year…. Or at least until January 14th or so. I’m speaking, of course, about resolutions. This is the day that a lot of us will determine that this is our year- to learn French, lose 10 pounds, read more, and go to church more.
And so, in the spirit of that tension, between our new resolutions and our old weariness from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, let us reflect on gifts – the many varieties that they can come in, and how we give and receive them. Let us hear God’s word from 1 Corinthians 12: 12-18.
Hear the word of the Lord: 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
This is the Word of God for the people of God, thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Almighty God and provider of all good things-
We ask that you draw near to us this hour as we seek to understand our gifts that you have given us, so that we can use those gifts for the purpose of your Kingdom. Help us to recognize these gifts, even if they are hidden… right in front of us. Amen.
When I moved from Boston to Central Florida, I was ten. I gained a lot of things, and I lost some unexpected things as well. I gained my “r’s” so that CAHS became cars. I lost winters and gained perpetual summers. The thing I did not expect, especially when I was ten, was to gain true love- I me my wife when I was eleven and I married her when I was 21. She is a second-generation Floridian and I gained a great set of in-laws.
Growing up in Boston, I had incredible AUNTS… Aunt Claudette, Aunt Brenda just to name a few. And now, I gained some incredible ANTS. Ant LaLa, Ant Melba– you see, we lost the “u,” in that word somewhere around Virginia, on the drive down. One such Ant who has welcomed me into the family is Ant Pat.
Last weekend was Christmas Eve and it reminded me that even though the family has rules about gift giving— we draw names, kids get gifts, pretty standard. Ant Pat doesn’t care about your rules. She does what she wants. She does that because her heart is just a bit too big to not give everyone something for Christmas. Everyone gets a gift from Ant Pat, even nephews in law.
One such Christmas Eve, my wife and I were living in Texas and flew back to be with Ant Pat and the rest of my in-laws. Keeping with the theme, under the tree, along with other gifts was one for me-from Ant Pat. I opened the box to find that it was a shawl… a very small shawl.
The zipper was on the left… this was a women’s shawl. What’s more, it was grey velour. I don’t wear a lot of velour now and I didn’t wear a lot of velour then.
I looked around the den- was my wife opening a man’s jacket across the room? Surely this was a mistake?
Ant Pat saw my confusion and met it with joy, “Oh Michael, do you love it? It has a pocket for when you walk the dog! It will keep you warm in the winter out in Texas!” She meant to give me a shawl. This was not a mistake. This was on purpose.
You see, everyone got a gift- I just wasn’t certain about my gift. I had no idea what to do with my gift.
In our passage, we are hearing that we have all been given roles in the Body of Christ. We are understanding that this morning through the lens of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are those things innately crafted into who we are as human beings that help us to fulfill what God has called us to.
If you have heard about spiritual gifts before, it was probably through serving a church or through a Sunday school class. If this is the first time that you have ever heard about these gifts, know that spiritual gifts are things that we all receive. I hope this morning to point us to ways that we can identify our gifts, love our gifts, and use our gifts.
Our spiritual gifts are the things that come naturally to us. They are things so woven into who we are, that it may be hard to find them. Maybe you are a good listener or a good talker.
Maybe you love having people over to your house or can always tell if someone is having a hard time. Maybe you are drawn to the Word or feel completely at home in prayer. Maybe you love to give and maybe you love to give advice.
These aspects of who you are- these are gifts given to you by your creator. And these gifts aren’t just for you- they are meant to be shared.
Last weekend we put out some pretty big gifts for my daughter, Annabelle, who is 19 months old. There was a cozy coupe, and a basketball hoop. These big pieces of plastic were brightly colored and Amanda, my wife, and I put big bows on them just to avoid any confusion. You see, we wanted to broadcast to our little girl—these are for you! Merry Christmas!
I have a video of her rounding the corner in our living room, seeing her gifts, and being stopped in her tracks. It’s really adorable and a great blessing.
Then why is it, church, that the gifts our Heavenly Parent has afforded us are so hard to identify sometimes? In fact, I wonder if some of you have already lost me in this talk of spiritual gifts? Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not a preacher/missionary/church staff member so this whole business just doesn’t apply to me.”
We have all been given gifts by God. Paul is writing to a church so that they could see the gifts that were given to them. And how does Paul do this? If we look at the broader chapter, which I would encourage you to do, Paul is using this strange analogy of the body in an attempt to show us that these gifts are given as part of a concert. None of these gifts are meant to stand alone.
If you came to my home and I served you individual bowls of flour, butter, vanilla extract, a raw egg, and chocolate chips, you’d be disgusted and probably a bit concerned. However, if I served you homemade cookies, you would be glad. Church I wonder if sometimes we see our gifts as raw eggs and cups of flour when, we must constantly look on towards the chocolate chip cookies of God’s grace.
And so, we can, from time to time, discount our gifts, our abilities, and the role that we play in our church and in our world.
If you look around this space, understand that this physical room we are sitting in and the worship we are all participating in did not happen because a select group of one or two three people decided to make it happen. Our church has been around for decades and because of that legacy, there is an enormous list of ushers, trustees, nursery workers, organists, singers, front office volunteers, tech booth people—I could go on—that are all responsible for the ministry we have accomplished here today, have accomplished in the past, and will accomplish in the future.
Too often, spiritual gifts get conflated with the idea that one must be in front and leading in order to use their gifts. This simply isn’t so- in fact, it is the gifts which support and empower others that the church is able to fully fulfill her mission.
When I look back on my own personal life, I see a symphony of influences, and not one soloist.
My parents who love me. Teachers that taught me how to read my bible. Mentors who taught me how to be a husband. Examples that showed me how to be a Christian. I am a collection of individual influences that have brought me to the place I am in my life.
Do you want to know a way to get chastised while attending a family ministry seminar? It’s pretty easy.
Our conference puts these seminars on from time to time to help volunteer and staff family ministry leaders grow and learn. I love them. I was at one such conference where the workshop presenter asked us to introduce ourselves. One woman said, “I am here, but I am just a Sunday school leader.” You would have thought she said a naughty word- “NOPE!” yelled one woman “JUST!” yelled another.
You see- those of us who are lucky enough to work in the realm of family ministry know that students and children will spend more time with and will have deeper connections with those who are in our “JUST,” roles. Just a Sunday school teacher- just an usher- just a welcome table volunteer- just a nursery worker. The thing is that when we discredit our roles and our gifts, we discredit the work Jesus is doing. That’s something we should never underestimate.
Find any passage in the bible of some heroic effort and you will see flaws riddled throughout the heroism. That is because when God uses people to do great things, God’s greatness is perfected in our weakness.
So, what does this have to do with a woman’s shawl that I got on one Christmas Eve? Well I haven’t actually finished my story yet. You see, I told my friends what I got and there was a lot of laughter, until a friend of mine softly said, “well, are you going to keep it, or….” You see, she wanted this shawl. She was looking for a women’s shawl that was short that wouldn’t get in the way of her pen while she graded papers at home. My friend loved this shawl. This gift wasn’t for me after all, it was for someone else.
Alright church, confirmation is starting soon. Let us test your catechesis. I have a confirmation question for you, go ahead and yell out the answer when you know it; “Where is Jesus?” If you said, “in our hearts,” that’s close but not wholly accurate. If you look at our creed, we see that Christ has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God Almighty. The part of the Trinity who lives in our hearts is the Holy Spirit.
This is so very important to understand- that when we say that we are the body of Christ, that means we are literally the physical embodiment of Christ that remains here on earth. We as the church are the only presence of Jesus most people will ever meet.
Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church and a Christian mystic from Spain said it this way-
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
So, what does that look like? Well it probably looks like identifying your spiritual gifts. There are tests and quizzes online that can help you with this- just google spiritual gifts assessments and you’ll find a multitude of them. The UMC has one that’s pretty good.
However, my wife and I were talking about this and she pointed out that sometimes spiritual gift assessments can be intimidating and can feel like a test. When I was in high school and college, I loved tests, because I was what most people would call a “nerd.” Maybe you are normal and tests freak you out. No worries, there are other ways to identify your gifts.
I heard one preacher say it this way- “identify your spiritual gifts by finding one simple way to grow the faith of one person within your circumference of influence.” Now we all have a circumference of influence- friends, colleagues, family, etc.
So, suppose with me for just a moment what would be the simplest, to you, what would be the simplest way for you to positively impact the faith of the people around you? That is your spiritual gift.
Now the reality is that you could leave it at that. Influence one person inside your circumference and you will have made a lasting impact on eternity. But today is December 31st. Today is not a day for thinking small- we stand at the cusp of 2018 with nothing but potential ahead of us, church. Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to dream big.
I think what is vitality important is for all of us here today to begin to see our gifts not as something we need to excel at, but rather as the fullest expression of who God has made us to be. Our gifts may not look impressive at first, but we must realize they are part of us for a reason.
Now, what I am about to say may sound like an exaggeration, but I believe it wholeheartedly—there is not one ministry in this church who could not benefit from your gifts. Another way of saying that is any ministry of this church would be so blessed by your gifts and your abilities. And I might be partial to family ministry, because it is super fun, but there are so many other things our church does that are just so cool! I’ve already mentioned a few ministries, but there are more. Our parking ministry is the first line of welcome for so many people who come here.
We have a diversity ministry, a dance ministry, a ministry that fights human trafficking- and these are just the ministries I could find, quickly, on our website, while my daughter napped on Friday—there are so many more ways to serve the mission of the gospel as a part of your church.
I know you may not have enough time to volunteer, but here is the thing- it is in the giving of our gifts and abilities that we are able to most fully understand and express Christ’s love in our lives. In order to fully live out our Christian faith, we must give of our abilities. Not to earn God’s favor, but to fully express the grace God has given to us. And so, within our busy schedules, we must find a way to serve so that we can fully reflect God’s glory into the world around us.
It isn’t easy, then, to really understand spiritual gifts in the same context of the gifts we gave and received last week. In reality, we should really see our spiritual gifts as something like a New Year’s resolution. For me, all of my resolutions have always been about expecting the best out of myself. I will pray more, I will exercise more, I will floss more. All of these things are statements towards an ideal of who I am in my mind. Because I don’t pray, floss, or exercise nearly as much as I should.
Why then do I resolve to do these things I do not do in my natural state? There is something to be said against resolutions that are absolutely valid. They can give us false hope and can paint a picture of ourselves that is predicated on appearance or performance. All those things are valid.
But another way of seeing resolutions is a celebration of our potential. I have time to pray more, I have time to floss- I see potential within me.
So instead of seeing our gifts as things we open up and keep for ourselves, what if we saw them as resolutions Jesus made in us? What if we saw our spiritual gifts as little ways Jesus says about us, “the way they host people at their home is going to change the world,” or “I love the way they encourage other people through music, I can’t wait to hear them play more.”
If we begin to see our gifts as a word of confidence in us from our Lord, we can be freed from feeling like we aren’t enough or that we won’t make a difference. Here we are- Christ’s body here on earth. Seeing with compassion, reaching out in healing. We are the feet by which his message of hope is brought into a world who so desperately needs it.
In this coming year, will you look at your gifts with courage and hope- not in yourselves, but in the God who put those gifts there? Will you seek out ways that you can become a part of what this church is doing, so that we could become a fully functioning body of Christ for our community, with all the parts in place?
I pray that as we leave this place today, you would go, knowing that the gifts within you are statements of potential that if they were fully realized would bring the Kingdom of God here to earth.
Will you pray with me? Author of all good things- create within us a holy discontent, so that we may see opportunities for us to use our gifts and abilities for the transformation of the world. Allow us, oh Lord, to see the world as you see it- in need of compassion, love, and in need of the Body of Christ. Amen.
Will the ushers come forward as we continue our worship in the giving of God’s tithes and our gifts and offerings.