Steve Lindsley

Ephesians 4: 1-7, 11-13, 15-16; John 6: 1-13

 Back in 1926, the United States Congress authorized a huge auction.  The items up for bidding were patent models sent to Washington DC over many years by idealistic inventors that, for whatever reason, did not catch on.   More than 50,000 items were on the auction block that day.  Folks came from far and wide to bid and, frankly, be amused – as some of them were really quite odd.

For example – there was a giant plastic illuminated cat, designed to glow in the dark and scare mice away at night.  There was a device, submitted by a Kansas farmer, which churned butter and rocked a baby’s cradle at the same time.  One of the more interesting inventions was a long curved pipe, used when you went to bed.  It was designed to keep you from snoring too much – how?  One end of the pipe went into your mouth and the other into your ear.  That way, in theory, if you started snoring, you’d wake yourself up.

All of these items were lovingly crafted by someone who thought that their ingenious invention would meet a need, solve a problem, serve a purpose.  All were created by someone who made the decision to put their gifts to good use.

We talk about much the same in our Christian faith.  It’s fundamental to what we believe as followers of Christ; that we have been created in the image of God, and thus have been bestowed with various gifts and abilities.  And in the church we are called to use these gifts and abilities for two primary purposes: one to carry out the work and ministry of the church; and two, to share the love of Jesus with our community and with the world.  And we have, among others, the apostle Paul to thank for this; in particular the words he pens in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

It’s always fascinating to me, the way that Paul’s letters address specific challenges and issues facing churches almost 2000 years ago that, in many ways, are not all that different from the challenges and issues we face today.  In the case of the Ephesians, it was a church that had all the potential in the world but was struggling to find its footing; struggling to discern the direction that God wanted it to go.  But even more than that, it was a community of faith that was seeking to overcome the greater cultural divides that had slowly been creeping into their fold.  All of which sounds eerily familiar to what we are facing today.

So Paul’s letter hits hard on a couple of things – one, the unity of the church.  The word “one” appears over and over again – one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one, one, one.  Paul encourages the Ephesian church to lean into its “one-ness because there was so much more that brought them together than anything that might’ve torn them apart.

But Paul knows more is needed than just a sermon on one-ness.  It involves intentional action.  And so he offers up this:

The gifts Jesus gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

 ….and this part is important….

 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….

I actually like the language The Message translation employs here:  God handed out gifts, it reads Something about that feels more accessible; more like a done deal.  God handed out gifts. It sounds great; makes perfect sense.  And yet, we have to wonder why Paul is having to bring this up in the first place.  Perhaps this idea of God handing out gifts was not as obvious to those Ephesians as we might think it to be.

In fact, truth be told, this is not uncommon in our biblical story; this notion of people not feeling equipped to serve their God.  I’m reminded of a little meme that makes its way around social media every now and then; perhaps you’ve seen it.  It goes something like this:

The next time you think God cannot use you, consider this:  Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Gideon was afraid, Rahab was a foreigner, Timothy was too young, Isaiah preached naked (which is true, by the way, for three years, in fact), John the Baptist ate locusts, Peter was hot-tempered, the disciples fell asleep while praying, Zacchaeus was too small, Paul was too religious, and Lazarus was dead. 

 And yet every single one of those people served their God with the gifts they’d been given – once they came to see those gifts.  Sometimes it really is all that easy – and all that hard – as seeing the gifts that are in us.

That young boy saw his, eventually.  The young boy we come upon in the scripture Rebecca read earlier.  We sometimes miss him, with the focus on the amazing miracle taking place that day.  But look again.  Look again at that boy.  Let’s imagine he’s around ten years old, shall we?  He just happens to be in the crowd that day, curious as to what all the fuss is about.  It’s hot and dusty, and he can tell most of the folks did not plan ahead for this journey.  But his momma raised him right; and he’s grateful that he packed a few things in his backpack before he left that morning.

The sun continues to rise and the crowds continue to swell; and as the day wears on, our boy picks up on the grumbling of his fellow travelers, worn from the journey; their legs aching from all the walking and their bellies aching for lack of food.  And there isn’t a marketplace in sight.

It’s about that time that he hears a stranger’s voice meandering through the crowd, asking if anyone has food to spare.  The man, with a thick beard and well-worn sandals, is close to him now.  Kudos for the effort, but really, what good could this possibly do?  So many people!  No way there’s enough food out there to feed everyone.  Certainly not in his backpack.

But what if it is?

The thought pops in his head, and he has no idea where it’s coming from.  What if it is enough?  At first he tries to discard it, but it will not let him go.  It’s a patently crazy thought; even his ten-year old brain knows that.

But the thought will not let him go.

So much so that, as the man with the thick beard and well-worn sandals passes him by, the boy calls out to him.  The man turns around and looks above him where the eyes of a grown-up would be, before looking down to see the boy.  Handing the man his pack, the boy simply says, “I hope this helps.”

Almost an hour goes by and he’s now regretting his act of generosity, as his stomach is grumbling and he knows his mother will be none too pleased when she hears how he gave his lunch to a total stranger.  But just as he’s preparing to head home and face his mother’s wrath, he hears a sound he had not heard all day: the sound of cheering, of laughter, a rising swell of joy.  It begins far in the distance and is heading his way.

As the sound gets closer he sees hands reaching and grabbing for…..something.  Grabbing it and passing it on.  He can’t make out exactly what it is.  Not until someone in front of him turns around and passes him a piece of bread.  But not just any bread.  His bread.  He is sure of it.  And then he notices that his bread is being passed over here.  And over here.  Everywhere, his bread is being shared, far more than he brought that day, far more than he had given that man.  And it keeps coming and coming and coming.  How is this even possible!

And before he knows it, fish is getting passed around.  His fish!   The two from his backpack; but then he sees three, four, five – he loses count.  So many more than he brought; but it is his fish, there is no doubt, and it keeps coming, like waves on a sea, it keeps coming.  Until he’s had his fill.  Until everyone has had their fill.

It’s only later that he learns about the man from Nazareth that everyone had come to see that day and the unbelievable miracle that took place.  He would never understand how it happened – no one would.  But here’s what he does know, for the rest of his life: that it was his bread and his fish from his backpack – his gifts – that Jesus used that days to feed thousands.

You know, it’s worth noting the way Paul begins the fourth chapter in his letter to the Ephesians: I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling, he writes, to which you have been called.  Not “the calling should you choose to believe it” or “the calling if you decide to accept it.”   But “the calling to which you have been called.”   It’s not a matter of whether we think we’ve been called; whether we think we’ve been handed gifts.  It’s only a matter of whether we are willing to embrace the fact that we have.

So what do you think, Trinity?  What gifts has God handed out to you?  How are you being called to serve God’s church?

And believe me, your pastors, we get it.  We know that you love your church and want to see it flourish and grow.  But we also know that schedules are tight and bandwidths short.  Or maybe you’ve been asked to do the same thing over and over again, as churches are prone to do, and you’re just kind of tired of it.  Or maybe you’re just unsure of how your passions might align with any gifts you can give.

Which is why Rebecca and I are excited about something we’re going to be leading you all in this month; what we’re calling “Ministry Match.”  You should’ve received an email about it this past Friday.  We’re working with an outside organization called Ministry Architects to help us with this.  The basic premise of Ministry Match is this: everyone, like the apostle Paul says, has gifts to give for building up the body of Christ.  To be clear, it’s not whether one has gifts, but whether one chooses to discover them.

Ministry Match is a way to help you do that.  It involves taking a short three-minute assessment on your phone, your computer at home, or if you prefer a good old-fashioned paper copy.  This assessment does more than simply ask about things you’re interested in doing; the old “time and talent” surveys that, if we’re honest, never really worked all that well.  Ministry Match goes deeper to your passions and desires, to what moves your heart, to the unique stamp of the Holy Spirit on your spirit.  And then, Ministry Match helps you discover where God might be leading you to put those passions and desires to use in the life of the church.

You should know that your session have already taken this assessment, and over the next few weeks Rebecca and I are going to ask you to follow their lead.  We’ll provide some time in worship to take it as an act of worship, but you can take it anytime, using the link on our website home page or in the upcoming Weekly Words.  And we really want everyone to participate.  Even if you don’t think this applies to you, even if you think you already know what the answers are going to be.  Because the truth is, you very well might be surprised.

I love the story Ministry Architects tells about a church they worked with and a long-time member who took the assessment, even though he wasn’t sure he needed to.  See, he was pretty convinced he already knew what his gifts were.  As a general contractor, he was always the one the church reached out to when something needed fixing, when the annual workday was coming up, when there was an open spot on the Buildings & Grounds Ministry Team.  It’s just what he was known for in the church. And even though it sometimes got old, always being pigeon-holed for the same thing, the fact was that he loved his church and was happy to help.

When the church rolled out their Ministry Match assessment, he almost didn’t bother to take it.  But he ended up doing so because – surprise – his church asked him to.   And when he got the results from the three-minute assessment, it did indicate skills in the kinds of things he’d always been involved in.  But what really surprised him, what caught him off-guard, was that it was not at the top of the list.  What was at the top of the list was something he’d never considered before: and that was working with youth.

Totally surprised him, and at first he thought he had messed up taking the assessment.  But like that little boy in our scripture reading he wondered, But what if it’s true?  What if this is a gift God has handed to me?  And so he decided to give it a shot.

And as it turned out, not only did he possess some serious untapped skills in working with young people, but he also possessed a deep passion to go with it.  And in no time he became a beloved youth advisor and confirmation mentor.  More importantly, he loved it!  He loved serving the youth of his church, and he loved that he had discovered a new gift that he could give.

This is the kind of thing that Rebecca and I are inviting you to do over the next few weeks – a journey of curiosity, of discovery, of listening for and leaning into the Spirit.  Because that spirit is what makes the body of Christ the difference it can be in the world.  All from our crazy ideas, our bread and our fish, our gifts we have to offer.

Beloved, God is in the business of handing out gifts.  Which ones, I wonder, will you discover that God has handed out to you?

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.