Sermon Title “Many Gifts” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! Today’s scripture, as Joe just read for us, talks about gifts which build up the body of Christ. Sometimes gifts take a while to discover and affirm: like when I requested a Hostess gift, and someone brough a dozen Twinkies. Or when I received the gift of a sticky deck of cards, which was pretty tough to deal with. Or the time I got a drum with a broken head — nobody could beat that. OK, those weren’t actual gifts; I just want to see if you’re paying attention.
I want to tell you more about the little quarter sheet piece of paper you were handed by the ushers, if you are here in person. The inspiration for these cards is partly this text from Romans 12, but mostly a verse from James: “Shower the people you love with love.” That’s James Taylor, of course, not the book of James, but it’s still a pretty good quote. The body of Christ has many members, and not all of those members have the same function, but each one has something to contribute. We strengthen the body of Christ when we recognize and celebrate what each member does: that’s where these cards come in. I would strongly encourage each of you to fill out at least one of these cards, and share it with someone at Creekside. I have tried to make this as simple as possible. Write the person’s name at the top, include a single word or phrase or a sentence about what you see as their gift, sign it if you want, but you don’t have to, and then hand it to them or put it in their Creekside mailbox. Do you think you can do that?
Here’s why I think this is important: people who share their gifts in the name of Jesus Christ are witnesses in our community, they care for others in this congregation, they enable us to have and to livestream this worship service, they keep the lights on and keep the lawn mowed and make it possible for us all to continue the work of Jesus. Creekside Church could not function without each of you sharing in the ways that you do.
But there’s a deeper reason to share these cards with one another. When I was in elementary school, I loved Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day utilized skills that I was good at: my brown bag decorated with the hearts which I had cut out and glued on looked great; I wrote my classmates’ names on envelopes and signed my own as neatly as I could, because I knew from an early age that handwriting is important. But here’s what I loved about Valentine’s Day: I went home with a paper bag full of Valentines: some kids even included a piece of chocolate or some of those sugar Conversation Hearts. I wasn’t the most popular kid in my class by any means, but at my school, if you brought Valentines, you had to bring one for everybody in the class, even the mean girls, even the boys you didn’t like. Even the quiet girl with the nice handwriting.
I don’t expect each of you to write a card for everyone in the congregation — but if you want to, we’ll print as many as you need — but when we affirm the gifts of every member of the body of Christ, we are pointing toward an important theological truth, the bedrock of our faith. And that is: God loves you. God made you with a special gift, maybe even a couple gifts. You are of value, and the world needs the gifts which you have to share. There’s more to Christianity, of course, but God’s love is a pretty important place to start.
Paul knew, when he was writing this epistle to the Romans, and from the several letters he wrote to the church in Corinth, that every gift is important to God, but that humans tend to raise some gifts above others. If you are a professional athlete or a well-known actor, you are probably making more money than a really competent social worker, or a factory line supervisor. Of course we’d all like to be recognized for our gifts, but human standards don’t necessarily line up with what is valuable in the kingdom of God.
So here’s what I am asking you to do. I know that Joe Kohler prepared and did a great job leading worship today — I bet you saw that, too. Thank you, Joe. If you want to write Joe a card, go ahead. But I’d challenge you to think of gifts which may be less obvious, or people who share gifts that may not be front and center on Sunday morning. Including me — especially me. How about some notes of affirmation and encouragement for the quiet kids in the back of the class? Maybe you don’t know anyone at Creekside. If that’s the case, it had better be because you just started attending here. Because if you’ve been a member of this church for the last eight years and you don’t know what anyone’s gifts are, you need to pay more attention. This body of Christ may have some years of wear, but it is alive and kicking; we have all kinds of people here who make things happen, and if you want to be part of a church which makes things happen, you have come to the right place. Bring your gifts and come on in. We should be celebrating that.
Paul gives us a short list of gifts in verses 6-8 of Romans chapter 12. There are some significant things to note about this list: first of all, a financial gift — gifts of money — is not on this list. Generosity is on the list. Of course, your financial support is a key component to helping this body function. But the gifts on Paul’s list are not quantifiable: it is not the amount which is important, it is the impulse to share. A person with a lot of money who is not generous does not have much of an impact. Whereas a generous person is a giver: it is the character of giving — not the amount — which is most important. Likewise with prophecy and ministry and teaching and exhortation — it is the character of the preacher and teacher which Paul is concerned with, not the quantity. I found the last characteristic on the list intriguing: the gift of compassion with the character of . . . wait for it . . . cheerfulness.
Compassion means “to suffer with.” Someone who is compassionate is kind-hearted and sensitive and empathic. As I look out over this group, and think of some of you who may be on our livestream, I can think of a number of you who are compassionate, and it gives me some insight into the “cheerful” part of that. It is a gift to be able to listen to and to suffer with others, for sure. But Paul seems to be saying that the gift is not a capacity for suffering, it is a character of joy. To be able to be cheerful even when life is difficult, because being cheerful is a choice. And that choice is a gift from God.
You may think of gifts which are not on Paul’s list — I certainly can. But what this list tells me is that while the gifts may differ, the impulse to share what we have been given for building up the body of Christ is what makes every gift possible. The impulse to share is our choice. God has given us many gifts, but God cannot make us share them. If I choose not to share my gift because I’m afraid — afraid it won’t be valued, afraid I am not of value, afraid it is not enough — than it won’t be shared. If I choose not to share my gift because I have been wounded — than I need healing before I can offer that gift. If I choose not to share because I’m angry at those people — no one can make you share that gift. But who are you hurting, really? We serve a God who values each person, a Savior who was wounded for us and suffers with us, and the Spirit whose peace passes understanding. We are given, not only good gifts for building up the body of Christ, but the means to share them if we are willing to move past our fear and our hurt and our anger.
So let me get back to these cards. If you have already filled one out, thank you. There are more if you want them — they’ll be out next week, too. If you’re not sure it’s worth your time and effort to recognize someone else’s gift, let me just say that you don’t know — and I don’t know — what the result of encouragement from you will be. But if you could help someone else get past their fear or hurt or anger, why would you withhold that encouragement? Why not let someone know that you appreciate them? Why not affirm God’s gifts that you see in the body of Christ in this place? And finally, I want to say that I still love Valentine’s Day. Tim and I got the sweetest card from our deacons here at Creekside, and it reminded me of how important it is for each person to be told that we are valued and we are loved. Shower the people you love with love as testimony that God loved us first, Christ loves us best, and with the leading of the Spirit, we can share that love with others. God bless you.