(You may view video of this sermon on our church’s youtube channel)
I invite you to think of a time, if you can, when someone saw a gift in you that you hadn’t seen in yourself. And perhaps encouraged you to share that gift?
Or have you ever had someone recognize a gift in you that you knew you had but you really needed someone else to acknowledge and invite out?
Then, I invite you to think of a time, if you can, when you witnessed a gift in someone else and you encouraged them to share that gift.
And then, on the flip side of all of this, have you ever had a gift that someone else actively denied or denigrated or sabotaged? What was that like?
Have you ever had a group or someone with power ignore what you had to say? And even if it turned out you were right, no one gave you credit?
Then, let’s be honest with ourselves, have there been times when you have ignored or denied someone else’s gift or voice or contribution? I know I have.
What was at play for you in that, when you’re honest to God? Prejudice? Power? Self-absorption? Envy? Jealousy?
And what do you think was at play when someone else denied your gift or your voice?
Then, back to the positive experiences, what do you think was the deeper motivation when someone else witnessed your gift and your voice and drew it out? Why was that important for them?
Why has it been important for you to help someone else cultivate their gifts?
These are all important questions – not just important but vital, especially for a community of faith that endeavors to walk in this way of Jesus, knowing that the broad and boundless love of our Creator motivates us and challenges us to see and uphold the dignity and gifts of each person and all people, especially of those whose dignity and gifts are most often ignored or trampled over.
It’s necessary, not just nice, but necessary to our vitality as a communal embodiment of the Spirit of Christ to be guided by what we heard in our reading today:
“the members of the body of Christ that society deems least significant are those most needed. We respect the disrespected. We recognize the value of the quiet ones, the strange ones, the misunderstood, misrepresented, and under-resourced ones. We lift them up and honor them, that the whole body might be restored to its natural balance, as God intended.” (from a modern remix of 1 Cor. 12:4-26)
It may be helpful to share with you that a key part of my own story in becoming a minister was someone drawing me out to share gifts that I didn’t know I had.
I was a shy kid, and shy teenager, always stuck in books, and in my early adulthood I was adrift in a solipsistic haze. Now, I had all kinds of privileges, I was in no way trampled on, this is not a story of my overcoming oppression, just shyness and being overly self-revolved. But as the person you’ve called to serve as the pastor of this church, I want you know that for many years of my life it would have been unthinkable for me to have this kind of public leadership role. It took other people ministering to me the way that I’m encouraging us all to minister to each other, to grow the gifts that each of us has to offer.
Here’s what happened. In my early and mid-twenties, I become deeply troubled by the violence and brutality in our culture. I knew there had to be a better way to be humans together than relying so much on dehumanizing violence. But I had no idea what to do about it.
Then friend of mine invited me to a weekend workshop that she was helping to organize with the Quaker meeting where we lived. The training was called Creating a Culture of Peace. This sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so I signed up and I participated. It was facilitated by two amazing people: Janet Chisholm, who is a leader within the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and Elliott Adams, who is a Vietnam combat veteran who has dedicated his life to working for a more peaceful world.
The training was very active and interactive and involved a lot of story-telling, people telling their own stories, and hearing stories about others. What this all did was challenge us to understand better the dynamics of violence, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the powers that we have as human beings to address violence in a way that actually promotes spiritual, physical, emotional wellness. It was all a revelation to me, very activating – I had been needing this. I really engaged in the training.
At the end of the weekend, Janet Chisholm, the facilitator, pulled me aside and said, “I’m going to be back in town in a few months to do a training for Creating a Culture of Peace facilitators, to train people who want to facilitate this workshops. You should really consider signing up for that. I would like to train you to become a facilitator.”
My first reaction was, “No way. That sounds terrifying. That’s not who I am. I can’t imagine myself doing what it is that you just did.” But she kept at me, and followed up a few weeks later.
So, I took the leap and did it.
It was an excellent training in how to facilitate. It forced me to start to learn how to serve as a facilitator of groups people. And I started to see that, yes, I’ve got a knack for this, Janet saw something in me that I did not see in myself. And I believed so much in how important this work is, that I saw I needed to step up and put myself out there even though that made me uncomfortable.. This forced me also to learn how to organize events and create spaces and experiences that are meaningful for folks.
I also learned that it really isn’t all about one person being a leader going it alone. It takes a team of folks who have different strengths. Right, this is what Paul is also saying in the letter to the Corinthians – everyone has gifts that we can contribute in working together to be the Body of Christ.
I got to work with a great co-facilitator in Albuquerque, Marta Dominguez, who is this amazing love-force of a human being, who could tell me head on to get over myself and get of my shell, no time to waste. We really complimented each other and worked well together to put on these trainings, and I saw how my introversion could be a gift.
The places we could find to do these trainings were church basements, of course. The kinds of folks who would show up were from all different walks of life. And what we’d do together helped folks to share about their own woundedness and the powers they have found to grow in soul force in the face of that harm. I came to see that I was meant to have a role in that.
That led me closer to surrendering to my call to ministry. And if Janet hadn’t seen potential in me that I didn’t see in myself, if she hadn’t invited me and challenged me, I probably would’ve been fallow and feckless for as long as I could. God probably would have graced me with another kick in the pants, that’s how God works, but still.
And the point of all this is that my story is not at all unique, and shouldn’t be unique. This is what we are meant to do for each other, to help each other know and grow in whatever gifts we have to offer to each other, to the realm of God on earth, to the greater good, in the spirit of Christ, to the glory of God. & to honor and celebrate how that looks very different for different folks.
Thank you for all of your gifts …. and thanks be to God.