SERMON for 8-21-11: “We Have Gifts”

Romans 12:1-8

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We Have Gifts

You may have already looked at the scripture for this morning and said to yourself, “Self, the pastor is going to tell you just how much more you need to do in the church.” You would be justified in that assumption. It wouldn’t be the only time a pastor has taken this passage from Romans and used it to beat their congregations over the head with how much more they could be doing in service to God. There are plenty of scripture passages which come up in the lectionary which give the pastor license to preach a subject which they feel the congregation needs to hear. And by “need,” I mean they get it in their heads that the congregation is going to get their comeuppance. This is not one of those sermons.

I do want to take this opportunity to talk to you about a couple items you may have in your house right now. Has anyone ever had a computer which died and quickly become a large, dust-gathering desk-weight? Maybe you have had a drill-press which has ceased to drill while it presses? Maybe you have a sewing machine that “seams” (pause for laughter:) not to be working? What happens when these things stop working as their were intended? First, they go to an out of the way corner of the house or garage. Next, they are looked at with disgust as they continue to gather thicker layers of dust and dirt. Finally, they are begrudgingly–or gladly–gotten rid of.

We like the things in our lives to work, and work for the intended purpose, don’t we? When they do, life just seems great. You may have noticed some changes with the displays this morning. Nicer graphics. Smoother transitions. That is the result of new software which was installed on the computer this week. It is easier to work with and easier for the person working the display, as well. However, it is a large and complicated program that I have worked with in the past. Let me tell you, it has given people more tech-savvy than me bigger problems.

To make a long story short, I spent a great deal of time working on getting this stuff up and going with little guarantee that it would work. I installed the software, inputted all the information and made as sure as I could that everything was perfect. So, I brought the computer into the sanctuary, turned everything on, and opened the software. Voila! All the pretty little pictures began to scroll on the screen and I felt a great deal of accomplishment and relief.

When things in our lives don’t work like they are meant to, it can be extremely frustrating. When things in our lives work exactly like they should, things just seem great. Just so there is no confusion, I am talking about the things in our lives–whether they be disappointing drill-presses or cooperating computer programs–being like the gifts which are given to us by God. I do not only mean the fact that when we do obey and fulfill God’s will for our lives he is no doubt blessed by that. I am also talking about the fact that we have to understand that when we do not fulfill God’s will for our lives, we can disappoint God.

This is understandable for the reasons I stated above. God has created us for a purpose. He designed us to each have an individual skill set–or gifts–which we use as he intended. Paul refers to this gift-giving by God as His grace. In verses 3 & 5, Paul–as the author of Romans, this statement of faith to the church in Rome–talks about the grace of God being responsible for the gifts we have been given. Amen. We have what we have by the grace of God.

However, we need to look outside of this passage for context behind why Paul would tell us these things. He had just spent the last three chapters telling of the faithfulness of God to Israel. He is sharing the extent to which God is willing to go for His people. In chapter 12–and on into chapter 15–the letter shifts to a series of community exhortations. These are things Paul is calling the church in Rome to do. So, the structure of this letter is as such: a section telling the church of God’s faithfulness and a section on what the church–and the individual–should be doing. Is that a clear enough message for you?

As a response to God’s faithfulness, it is a right and good thing to use those gifts he has given us in the proper ways. Actually, just to use them at all. The Christian does these things as a response to the presence and providence of God in their lives–His grace and Him having given it to us. This is, of course, the time where a good protestant preacher takes time to remind the listener that we do not use these gifts in order to receive the grace of God. We use these gifts and serve God with our gifts because we are grateful. We use these gifts as a response and not as a provocation. We cannot win, or in any other way, achieve the grace of God but by His willingness to bestow it upon us. So, out of God’s faithfulness comes our service.

Contained within this passage about the grace of God and the gifts we receive as a result of it, Paul talks about the two functions of service to Him. The first is a corporate function. Right before Paul goes into the examples of who is to do what function within the community of the church in Rome, verse 5 says “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” This is common imagery used in the first century to illustrate reconciliation in community. The idea of each of us being a member of the same “body” is incredibly useful in demonstrating the importance of community and the importance of each of us to that community.

Within the community of faith, there are teachers, doers, givers, exhorters, those who show compassion, etc. Maybe you know which of these things you ares, or maybe you don’t know what your gift is. The point is that there are jobs that each of us have been crafted by God to do, and believers within those communities should be doing them. If God is faithful–as you have no doubt seen in your own life–then why wouldn’t His people be faithful in return. If this part of the message sounds like a stewardship message, that’s because it really is. Not stewardship like what goes into the offering plate, but what is done everyday.

The importance of the community using its gifts is best illustrated by a game. One might think it would be dominoes, a game where the one falling away causes the rest to follow suit. The church isn’t like that; it isn’t built upon just one person–or least it shouldn’t be. I think it is better to use Jenga. You can lose one Jenga piece and still have a tower of Jenga pieces that is just as stable as before. However, when you start to move the pieces–and they become awkwardly stacked–that is when the tower becomes unstable and at risk of falling over. Our reluctance to use our gifts within the community of faith is like moving those Jenga pieces into position to topple the tower.

God gifted us with those things which need to be done within His community. When those gifts aren’t being used by the very people which God gifted, that is where the whole thing gets to be in trouble.

Just as important–but on a personal, spiritual level–is the attitude we take towards using our gifts. Verses 1 & 2 of this chapter may seem disconnected from the rest, but it is still talking about the grace of God and humans relationship with God because of it. Paul calls those things which we do by God’s grace “spiritual worship.” Let me ask those who did it: did it feel like “spiritual worship” when you were watering the flowers around the church in 100+ heat indices? If it did, more power to you. What I am saying is that whether or not you feel like it, the work which you do according to the gifts God has given you is a form–possibly one of the higher forms–of worship.

Think back to our computer, drill-press and sewing machine from earlier. For a tech-savvy guy like myself, there is nothing more satisfying than having a computer turn on and do everything you ask it to in a timely manner. That may be sad to some of you, but that’s how I feel. How about when that sheet metal you drilled lines up nice and helps you finish that project you’ve poured so much of your time into? How about when you look at the dress you made and see the seams line up perfectly? What better sign of our love for God is there than to do the thing which he created us for.

It’s a beautiful thing. Service as worship? It’s far better than what happens when we let our talents go to waste.

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa–the city of his birth–but only on condition that the instrument never be played upon. It was an unfortunate condition, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay. The exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic.

Do we want to become sad and valueless as a worm-eaten violin? How discouraging is it for us to go by places from our childhood–no longer in use–and see that the edifice is in decay from lack of use? A violin can play some of the most beautiful sounds in the world, but not if it isn’t being used. A Christian can do some pretty amazing things, but not if that person isn’t doing that which God gifted them to do.

And what credit is it to God when we let our talents go to waste–unused and unwanted? What do we say to the world about God when we–ourselves or the church–stand by without showing the world what God can do through his creation. A worshipful life can happen in many ways. We can gather as a community on Sunday’s. We can sing his praises while fiddling around the house. Or, we can be an example to the world of what it is God desires to do in and through each and every person.

Not that it”s about one person, but one person can certainly be a testament of “spiritual worship” to a God who is faithful to His people. So, let us give thanks to Him.

AMEN.

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