Gifted (2): Together

She’s sung at Carnegie Hall and popular national and international venues.  Identified as an amazing singer at an early age, she’s well into a third decade of music-making.  She’s a role model –especially for young women—and fosters self-acceptance, female empowerment and friendship wherever she goes.  Her glittering eyes and thousand-watt smile leave an indelible impression.     You’ve probably recognized who I’m talking about:  No, not Taylor Swift.  It’s Charis Smith.   Our truly dynamic director of music.

We are a gifted congregation of God’s people.  Among our members are compassionate physicians who not only heal but through research discover new treatment options and advocate for more equitable health care.  We have attorneys in family law, patents and intellectual property, business transactions and employment.  One serves as chief deputy attorney general of Colorado.  Several members are published authors; we have fluent Spanish speakers, innovative architects and engineers, dedicated school teachers and classroom volunteers, corporate leaders and small business owners; stay-at-home moms and dads; great sales people; financial experts; owners of the marketing firm overseeing the re-opening of Casa Bonita. Our members serve on boards of non-profits and plan fundraising events.  They  play music, sing, dance, make prize-winning photographs.    One member entirely rebuilt a 1968 Pontiac GTO.  Another met baseball icon Stan Musial when she waited tables in St. Louis . . . .

….and I know that barely begins to describe the talented, fascinating, and generous people who make up this beloved community.

In this second of a series on giftedness, we’ll consider how all this individual talent becomes a single entity, and a divine one at that.  The apostle Paul continues the theme we explored last week, that every person has been gifted by the Spirit in thrilling and diverse ways toward a common purpose:  for good.  In today’s text the apostle uses the image of the human body to describe the paradox of individuality and unity.  Many, yet one.   It’s a clever and compelling metaphor. . . until suddenly it gets real.  A reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, in the twelfth chapter, verses twelve through twenty-seven.  Listen for God’s Word to the Church.  [I Corinthians 12:12-27]

So if you were here last Sunday you were invited to complete a short questionnaire to help identify your spiritual gifts (additional copies of the survey are on the volunteer table in the lobby if you would like to complete one).  The gifts included giving, administration, teaching, preaching, compassion, prophecy and service.  Teaching and administration were identified in half the responses. Least checked were gifts of  strong convictions and the need to express them (thanks for leaving something for the preachers! …..althought the words of St. Augustine hang on a plaque in my office reminding me, too, to preach the gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.)  By far and away the most evident gifts among the folks last week were compassion and service, described with words very much like our vision statement:  you feel compassion for those who are suffering and perform deeds to reflect God’s love. . . . you identify and meet the needs of others using personal as well as other resources. . .

These are all gifts this congregation values in our mission.  We offer many opportunities to express them, whether or not you are a member of Central.  Summer of service projects, mission trips, Habitat for Humanity builds, preparing and sharing dinner with men in the shelter, accompanying migrants as they begin to build a life here—-all of these are significant ways to put your giftedness to work for the common good.

And we have other ideas!   Could you express your appreciation for Central’s welcoming presence by volunteering a few hours a week in the main office, answering phones, greeting folks, responding to staff requests?  Are you gifted in interior design?  Our beautiful renovated space is aching for some artistic attention.   Are you a handyperson with time to paint, repair drywall, lay tile, perform simple fixes along with Building manager Jon Dreux?  We can put your gifts to work!   Are you an events person who likes to envision ways to bring the community together for food and fun? We’re your people—just let us know!    Maybe you’re ready to put volunteer energies a little more broadly.  The Presbytery of Denver invites you to complete a “Passion Discovery Form” online which links your interests to a taskforce or work group in the new streamlined structure.   That word “passion” is key.   The last thing in the world anyone wants is to be recruited by guilt or like my Dad used to do with us kids.  Who wants an outdoor adventure? he’d say enthusastically, and then hand us rakes or dandelion forks and point us toward the yard.    The Spirit wants to help you connect your passion and gifts with the church and the world’s needs.

And of course your gifts can be expressed in any and every area of life—not just church work.  Think of the difference you can make in the your profession as you adhere to higher standards than expected, by forgiving failures and offering a second chance,   in the ways you show compassion and understanding to people, in the kindness you extend to strangers, how you prioritize your time and financial resources—-all of these and more can be shaped and even transformed through the exercise of spiritual gifts.  We took time to consider our individual gifts because we may or may not be aware of how they manifest in our lives—or where they show up in our life together.   We were transported to the gates of heaven  in worship last week, when 90-year-old  Sally Raines sang the very difficult Malotte version of the Lord’s Prayer with passion and sensitivity, her high soprano nailing the “kingdom and the power and glory forever.”    It’s my gift, she explained, and I wanted to offer it to God in my new congregation.

I love the extended metaphor the apostle plays with, imagining a converation with the various body parts trying to make the case for the supremacy of their own role (When I was a youth pastor, I turned the text into a puppet play with the nose puppet complaining about the ear, and the eye puppet lording it over everyone else. Honestly, I don’t know if the kids understood it, but they had a great time picking the nose puppet and poking the boastful eye).  I’ve also known folks who vastly underestimate or devalue their role, thinking it’s not good enough (aka I’m not good enough) to do this hard thing, whatever it is.  The apostle acknowledges diverse parts as well as the relative strength or weakness of those parts, yet insists that God has gifted every one of us with Spirit and every one plays an indispensable role in the functioning of a healthy body.   This even applies to absent members, when we remember the phenomenon of “phantom pain” after a limb has been lost, for example.    The health of the body is all the more critical in view of study after study showing the epidemic of loneliness gripping our nation, among individuals of all ages and stages.  We truly are part of a whole, and what injures one, hurts us all; what elevates another, raises us all.  No one forgotten, no one alone.  Everyone matters.  Everyone belongs.

Right?  Right.  The apostle’s counsel was directed to the church, but it applies equally to all groups of people.  We function better together.  We pool individual gifts, skills, and experience for the larger purpose of the whole.  All this is true in nations, in companies, in organizations.  And then comes the zinger.  Paul moves from the general to the very, very specific:  You, beloved community, are the body of Christ.  We are not just a voluntary organization of members who associate to do some good in the world.  We are the living, breathing presence of Divine Love here and now.   We are Jesus, healing, proclaiming, giving, serving.   Let that sink in, friends.   Who we are and what we do puts human flesh on divine spirit.   Can we even imagine how others might experience the living God through the witness and action of you and me and the church together?

Sixteenth century mystic Teresa of Avila put it plainly:  Christ has no body on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Oh yeah?   Oh, yeah!

Thanks be to God!