Evangelectionary for Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lectionary (Year C): Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Theme: Gifts-based Ministries

Call to Worship:

ONE:   We are called to be the church, the body of Christ, hearers and doers of the Word, to continue the work of Jesus.  We are called….

ALL:   To welcome those who yearn for community.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To be disciples, and to disciple others.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To walk alongside those in need, sharing the love of Christ.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To offer healing, of mind, body and spirit.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To model holistic health, in its many forms.

ONE:   We are called…

ALL:   To be reconcilers, to restore Christ’s peace and to work toward unity among all people.

ONE:   We are called to be the church, the body of Christ, hearers and doers of the Word, to continue the work of Jesus.  Amen.

 

Message:  Body Parts

Last night at my church several newly called deacons were welcomed to their first meeting of this body. As they learned more of what their roles might entail, it became clear to at least one of them that, for the most part, all deacons in our congregation are asked to do pretty much the same things—to be as comfortable quietly holding the hand of someone in the hospital as they are seeking out and welcoming visitors; to be as prepared to organize a funeral meal for 150 as they are baking a casserole for a family of four; to be as content with mundane tasks like buying grape juice for communion as with the privilege of serving it. “Aren’t we all gifted in different ways?” asked this new deacon. “Shouldn’t we minister to others based on our respective gifts, rather than trying to be all things to all people?”

The answer, of course, is yes. While most everyone reading these comments is familiar with spiritual gifts conceptually, to what extent do we actually pay attention to them in our ministries? What if, rather than on “filling slots” in our existing ministries, we started over and let our congregational ministries evolve based on the gifts of the Body? Does it make sense to continue a ministry your respective faith community has offered for as long as most can remember, if at this point you don’t have anyone particularly gifted for—let alone passionate about—that ministry? What if we no longer had people organized according to what are often task-oriented roles like stewardship formation, worship practices, outreach, Christian education, and building maintenance, but rather that our ministries were based on our gifts, on holy practices like healing, hospitality, encouragement and teaching?

First, it might provide a better opportunity for everyone to be involved; everyone is a member of the Body, and all have been given gifts of the Spirit. Maybe I can’t see myself as a member of the Witness ministry, but if someone calls out my gifts of writing and says that the church needs some content written for the website, I’m pretty likely to say yes. Maybe I have no interest in teaching Sunday school, but if you mention that I seem to be able to discern common needs of the congregation, maybe I’ll help decide what adult electives might be helpful. Focusing on my gifts and my passions for the good of the community as a whole is more about true discipleship to me than having my name on a list as a member of a particular ministry group.

Gifts-based ministries might bump up the level of creativity in our faith communities. As long as we have a set list of ministries, each with their own set list of activities, we are very likely going to do the same things year after year, and it’s just as likely that the same people will be doing them. How creative is that? How welcoming to new members and attendees who might be looking for a way to get involved, only to find that there are certain ways we do things here, and that their gifts, their ideas, just don’t seem to fit? How unlike the ways of Jesus this is, the man who saw gifts in the most unlikely people and encouraged them to do things no one had imagined, things that changed the world forever.

Finally, it might mean we were being truer to scripture. It might mean that we would start to see everyone as gifted, including ourselves. It might mean that we start thinking in new ways, that “the old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful” (The Message, 1 Corinthians 12:13); that labels like board chair, elder, or even “church basement lady”, are no longer helpful or even applicable. “We need something larger, more comprehensive” (The Message, same passage). It might help us see ourselves on a more level plain, rather than in terms of “greater” and “lesser” gifts. The volunteer who loses sleep over whether the furnace will work another year is certainly just as vital to the health and happiness of the congregation as the deacon chair who oversees Eucharist. When Paul spoke of striving for the greater gifts, I don’t believe he meant that we should all want to have the more visible or “powerful” ministries as our goals, but rather that we should each strive to make the most of the gifts we have been given. What are my own “greater gifts,” and how can I use them for the good of my sisters and brothers?

Paul ends this passage with what today we would call a “teaser”. I don’t know if whoever read this letter to the church in Corinth immediately continued into what we know as chapter 13, or if he saw that the sun was going down and ended that day’s lesson those enticing words, “And I will show you a still more excellent way,” followed by, “OK, folks, come back tomorrow, same time, same place, and we’ll see what that excellent way might be.” Regardless of when they learned of this new way of living, they learned that the greatest gift is love. Have we, centuries later, learned that lesson? Hardly. But if we use our giftedness, finding ways to practice our passions, I can’t help but think that we will come a whole lot closer to the ideal of love that God has in mind.

 

Music: “There are Many Gifts” words and music by Patricia Shelly, 1976, Many Gifts, 1997.

Opening Prayer

God of grace, we ask for your presence with us today. We hold this moment in silence, listening for your voice.

God of all of us, God of each of us, we ask that you open our eyes to the ever-present opportunities to continue the work of Jesus the Christ. As we open them now, we pray for your guidance. Amen.

Intercessory Prayer:

Creator God, giver of all good gifts, we pray that we may use those gifts to serve and support those in need, to see the opportunities you put before us each day.

We pray for those in the pews around us, for heartaches spoken, and held close within.

We pray for those just outside our doors, people we pass each day but never see. Their needs are like ours; their needs are beyond our imagination. Give us ways to show them that we see You in each of their faces. May that simple seeing give them your strength and courage.

Lord, we pray for our sisters and brothers across our country and around the world. They are our neighbors, too, even as they live lives of unthinkable violence and pain and hunger, lives we cannot fathom. Let us not forget that though we may never meet, all, each one, is a vital part of your Body. Amen.

Benediction:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” In our joy and in our suffering, let us hear our own lives reflected in the lives of our sisters and brothers, and draw closer to living together in the one Spirit. Amen.

Posted in WeeklyReflection.

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