Rev. Caroline East
During this, our Trinity Sabbatical Summer, we’re taking time to dig deep and gratefully participate in our worship together, take seriously God’s command for us to rest, and we’re exploring God’s gifts given to us. We know that far from here, Pastor Steve is modeling Sabbath taking, because he told us his plans: He’s worshipping and spending time with friends and family away from Trinity, resting, reading, and learning how to play the cello.
How do you think we are doing with our Sabbatical? I’ve had God’s gifts to us on the brain for a few months now, even as I prepared to spend the summer with y’all. The Bible talks about our unique gifts, skills and traits in a lot of different ways. One of the most famous comes from the metaphor that the members of the church are like parts of the body from 1 Corinthians 12- all different, but no less necessary- it’s got that great line, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
Or maybe you’re more familiar with the passage from the letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 that says that, “The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” But I didn’t choose any of those passages for today- quite intentionally.
As Rebecca reminded us in last week’s scripture reading of Psalm 139, each one of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. Knit together in our mother’s womb. What I’ve been playing with in my mind these months is this: What if some of our gifts are simply gifts given to make us unique, to make us fun, to make us exactly as God has created us: with joy and pride in our creation. And for no other purpose than that.
I asked a group of friends recently about their God-given gifts and I noticed something. They all started naming gifts that the church or the world could consume- each of them listed something could easily be deemed useful. They said things that felt right out of Ephesians’ notation that gifts can be used for the work of ministry or the building up of the church.
“I am a preacher.”
“I am a teacher.”
“I have the gift of hospitality.”
“I am a writer.”
“I am a prayer warrior”
But here’s a funny thing… One plays piano and I asked her why she didn’t name that as one of her gifts, and she quickly brushed me off, saying, “I play, but not good enough to fill in at worship or have a concert or anything…” And it sort of broke my heart. There was an unspoken threshold for their gifts. The gifts seemed to have to be ‘good enough’ or useful enough or the person felt that they weren’t worth mentioning.
Ruminating on this, I did this experiment again at the swimming pool this week. I asked some of the neighborhood kids what their gifts were, and with the wisdom of childhood, they (mostly) didn’t speak of their gifts from the perspective of consumption.
With great enthusiasm, shouting over one another they said,
“I can do a flip off the diving board!”
“I can sing all of the songs in Frozen 1 and 2!”
“I can dance so pretty”
“I hug my baby sister”
“I can build a lego tower that is so tall!”
…Somehow it seemed telling- no one has yet told them that the world (the church even) places a hierarchy on gifts- and their worthiness– Thanks be to God.
Let’s turn our attention back to today’s scripture passages. Our Psalm, 147, is towards the end of the Psalms, and is one of near constant praise of God. It begins and ends with the expression “praise the Lord.” And it has two great lines that have ideas that I think we need to sit with- Here they are: a few verses in, the psalmist reminds us that God’s understanding is beyond measure. And just a little further along comes out with the bombshell, “ [God’s] delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” God’s joy comes from giving us all unique gifts that we can enjoy, not in how successful the world deems those gifts to be.
Jesus himself reinforces this in the Gospel of John- tucked right into an incredibly important speech. He says “ I came that they- the people- may have life, and have it abundantly.” And there’s the kicker. Abundant life.
[https://blog.cph.org/worship/gods-generous-gift-of-music] As blogger Marie Greenway put it, “Food. Water. Shelter. Oxygen. Not much is required for a human being to exist. Appropriate nutrients and an appropriate atmosphere. That is essentially what we need to survive. We human beings, though, are created for life, not mere survival. God has created us [with joy, and] for communion with Him. As such, God gives us far more than we need to survive, far more than simply oxygen, food, water, and shelter. [God] gives to us lavishly and generously, leading us to live a good life of joy and hope. Like so much else that is unnecessary to existence, gifts from God are generously bestowed upon us not to help us survive but to help us live.”
I am a preacher, a teacher, was once a decent athlete. I am a chaplain and a friend, a good mother and a great cook-depending on the dish. And all those are gifts from God. Mostly they are useful ones, too. But let me tell you about another gift I received. I’ve got freckles shaped like a near perfect heart on my forearm. And I love it. It’s like a little message straight from God to me that I can’t wipe off, can’t ignore, can’t miss.
When do we decide that God’s gifts, our unique skills or traits have to pass a certain threshold to be good enough? Is it an age thing? A confidence issue? What if some of the gifts we are given may not have any purpose at all except to enjoy? Who are we to decide whether something is a gift worth appreciating or celebrating or cultivating?
The God who created the phospholuminescent glowing jellyfish- with no brain, no blood, and yet a life, must have a sense of humor. The God who filled us with gifts and skills that are no more useful than rolling our tongues is the one who gave us the gift of chocolate and coffee from beans (!?) must know and appreciate joy, and love offering it to us. The God who, upon coming to earth as one of us for all of us, spent his days eating and drinking, going to weddings and staying with folks must think the uniqueness of our humanity is absolutely beautiful. Remember, this is the one who rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep.
So I asked some friends on a clergywomen social media group: “Do you have any unique gifts, skills, or traits that seem ‘useless’ in the world’s eyes, but might be something God gave you, simply because God delights in us as we are?” And oh boy! Did they come through for me.
I have weirdly good hand/eye coordination and reflexes. Great for high school & college softball (and catching toddler tosses), but not so much elsewhere!
I don’t have a good sense of direction but I always remember where I’ve parked my car
When I meet someone new, I will listen to the things they say as well as the things they don’t. I read their non-verbal cues, I can sense certain things about them. I will remember all this the next time I see them. I will not, however, remember their name.
I have a great sense for what food people will like.
I can wiggle my ears. It serves no purpose other than inspiring awe in children.
My spouse is ridiculously good at doing voiceovers for dogs. It serves no purpose other than making me laugh until I cry.
I am really good at restoring vintage objects from scratch, as in pulling something apart with no directions, cleaning it up, and managing to get it to work again.
I can almost always pick exactly the right size container for leftovers.
I always know which way is north. (but I’m terrible with right and left)
I have one of those smiles that nearly closes my eyes, so even in mask-wearing situations my smile is unmistakable
Maybe this isn’t the summer when you learn to play the cello- Maybe after the year we’ve lived through you find the idea of cultivating your gifts for the Glory of God stressful- as though it is something to add to your to do list. But here’s something- maybe it is well past time for all of us to celebrate all that God gives us as gifts. God created you in all your weirdness, your uniqueness, and God delights in the person that you are. Share your gifts with the world and with the people you love. Appreciate the gifts- big and small- bestowed upon you by your creator. Jesus himself came so that we might have life- and have it abundantly. Thanks be to God. Amen.