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Sun, Aug 02, 2015

The Gifts He Gave


Our Second Reading for today comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4 verses 11-16. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which is more like a sermon, would have been circulated among the churches of Asia Minor. The city of Ephesus and its church would have been the central hub of Christian ministry there. The first half of this letter is more theological in nature describing the new life that has come into being in Christ. The second half of the letter is filled with exhortations for how Christians are to live in light of the transformation they know in Christ. Our text for today picks up one of those exhortations. Let us hear this Word of God.

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

One day after church the pastor was shaking hands. He saw a man he hadn’t seen in a while, so he pulled him aside and said, “Sir, you need to join the Army of the Lord!”

The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, pastor.”

The minister asked, “Then why is it that I only see you on Christmas and Easter?”

The man pulled the pastor close, and whispered, “Because I’m in the secret service.”

Now, I do not think that “secret service Christians” is exactly what Paul is talking about in our text for today. No, he seems to think that the cosmically transforming, life altering gift of salvation that we have received in Jesus Christ should have some public, visible, active impact on our life. Reaching back to verse seven and continuing with our text for today, we hear Paul say:

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … The gifts he 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 the building up of the body of Christ.

Yes, this public ministry of a variety of gifts is a common image for the church and we love it for we are the body of Christ. But, even then, I think we often miss the point of this text in two important ways. The first is that we get stuck on Paul’s list of gifts. “Some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” While elders and deacons aren’t specifically mentioned here, Paul certainly mentions them elsewhere. And it tends to be those who are leaders in the church who stop after reading this list. Yes, we say, “Christ has given me a gift and called me to this place of leadership. Therefore I must do everything by myself.” No need for a committee, even if I am chairing one. No need to involve the rest of the congregation. No need to ask anyone else, I’ll do it all myself.

It would be like a baseball pitcher who decides that he needs to strike out every batter. And, even more, if someone hits the ball, the pitcher must field it himself and get the batter out. “No need for teammates, I can do it all myself.” It’s a crazy idea on a baseball field, and it’s a crazy idea in the church too.

For God does call particular individuals to leadership in the church, but He doesn’t call them to do it all by themselves. No, if we continue to read past the list of offices, we find that leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” And that equipping is not just passing on knowledge or helping someone accumulate skills. No, as commentator G. Porter Taylor has written, “The word ‘equip’ comes from the Greek noun katartismos meaning ‘the setting of a bone.’” Thus, to equip is to align, to reorder, to restore, to place oneself alongside God’s intentions and purposes. So God both gifts and calls leaders in the church so that they might equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is so that they might help other Christians align their lives according to what God is doing in the world. And as we all do that, we build up the body of Christ. So, first we can say that God does call leaders in the church, but not to go it alone. God calls leaders to collectively build up the body of Christ.

Likewise, there is a second way in which we also often miss the point of this text. It comes out something like this: “Each of us is given gifts from God. That’s great. Everyone has ministry – everyone can do this job!” Occasionally you’ll see it on a church bulletin if you visit another congregation. Under the staff listing it will say: “Ministers – the whole congregation.” Now, perhaps they really mean that and I’m sure it is listed with the best intentions. But practically, how does it work out?

Typically when we as human beings believe that everyone else is gifted, we tend to believe that ministry in the church is always someone else’s job. We don’t have any problem letting that elder or deacon lead an entire ministry themselves – it must be their gift, right? We don’t have any trouble turning down the Children’s Ministry Committee or Youth Committee when they call us about teaching Sunday School – isn’t it the parents who have that gift? We don’t have any trouble passing on an opportunity to participate in a transforming mission experience here in our own community or around the world – that’s someone else’s gift. Even if we once were active in the church, we begin to believe that the church doesn’t need us or our gifts anymore. There are others who should do things now. We ourselves fade back into the Christian secret service.

My friends, the idea that ministry is someone else’s job is not only wrong, it is unfaithful. Consider the story of the preacher who died and went to heaven. He’d had a long and fruitful ministry; he’d been the pastor of small churches and large churches. He’d preached a lot of sermons through the years. Some of them were pretty good and a few he’d rather forget. But he died and when he got the pearly gates he saw Peter standing there. When it was his turn in line, Peter found the preacher’s name in the book of life and said, “Because you’ve been a faithful servant of the Lord, you can ask one question before entering Paradise.”

The old preacher thought for a minute and said, “I’ve been a preacher for longer than I can remember. I know I was a pretty good preacher, but not the greatest. So my question is, ‘To whom did God give the greatest gift of preaching during my lifetime.”

Peter didn’t hesitate and said, “During your lifetime, it was Arthur Perry of Des Moines, Iowa.”

“Arthur Perry of Des Moines, Iowa?” the old preacher responded with disbelief. “I’ve never heard of him. I thought for sure you’d say Peter Marshall or Billy Graham or James Forbes or even Barbara Brown Taylor. Are you’re sure it’s Arthur Perry?”

Peter looked at the old preacher and said, “You asked me to whom God gave the greatest gift of preaching, not who best used the gift.”

My friends, you have an opportunity today to use the gifts that God has given you. During the lunch and the ministry fair, you will have a chance to see and learn more about a wide variety of ministry options here at Reid Memorial. All of them could use the gifts that God has given you.

And even more than that, I pray that you will sign up to be part of our InAsMuch Day of worship and service and fellowship on Saturday, August 22nd. We have been praying for an opportunity for our entire congregation to join together in service to the Lord in real and tangible ways here in our community. Taken from Jesus’ parable when he says, “In as much” as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” Saturday, August 22nd will be a day for you to use the gifts that God has given you. There will be active, construction or clean-up projects you might join. There will be quiet, air conditioned projects like knitting and card making and visiting. There will be projects where you meet those in our community with whom you do not often interact. There will be projects extending care and grace to those within our own congregation. Some projects will take most of the day. Others projects will be just an hour or two. We will begin with a light breakfast and worship. We will return for dinner and sharing. But there is a place for you and the gifts God gave you. We need you to join this effort.

My friends, everyone has been given grace according to Christ’s gift. Yes, everyone is gifted, but that is not an excuse. Christ has given you a gift to be used according to God’s purposes and plans to build up the body of Christ. It takes all of us working together, each of us with our own particular gift and talent, to build up the body of Christ. The elders and the deacons cannot do it alone – it is unfaithful for them to try and unfaithful for the rest of us to let them. Christ needs you; this church needs you. Do not let it be your name that Peter calls when he responds, “You asked me to whom God gave the greatest gift, not who best used it.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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