Preached October 13, 2013
Texts: John 14:15-17, 25-27; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
In two weeks – on the last Sunday in October – the Protestant Church will celebrate Reformation Sunday. We don’t generally mark the day much in our congregation, except perhaps to sing the great Martin Luther hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But it is a part of our history, nonetheless.
The day remembers Martin Luther’s posting of now-famous 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. The theses challenged the status quo and called for renewal within the church, and sparked what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation was build around three core beliefs:
- Sola Scriptura – the Bible is the final Christian authority.
- Sola Fide & Sola Gratia – salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone – not earned through good works
- Solo Christo – Jesus Christ is the only intermediary we need to approach God; our relationship with God does not depend on another human person.
This last point is often called “the priesthood of all believers,” drawing on language used in 1 Peter 2:9:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Following Martin Luther’s lead (and the teachings of Scripture!), we in the Protestant tradition believe that we can approach God directly. We can pray directly to God, and listen for God’s voice. We do not have to send a representative, as the Israelites sent Moses up on Mount Sinai in Exodus; God can and does speak to any and all of us “regular people” right down here on the ground. We have God’s ear. We are “a royal priesthood…a people belonging to God.”
We have tended to forget, however, the other side of being a priest. Moses approached God on the people’s behalf – but he also spoke to the people on behalf of God. Priesthood goes both ways – carrying people to God, and carrying God to people.
1 Peter recognizes this two-way nature of priesthood: we are priests “so that we may declare the praises of him who called you…” And just a little bit further in the passage, it adds: so that others “may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Pet 2:12).
This means that every one of us – ordained or not, new to following Jesus or lifelong Christian – every one of us is a minister and a priest. Every one of us has a role to play in bringing the world to God, and God to the world. Every one of us has a God-given gift to share.
Yet somehow, as the church grew in complexity and bureaucracy, we lost sight of this truth. Somehow along the way, ministry became “the pastor’s job” and church became a place we go rather than who we are.
You know, I wonder sometimes if God looks at us and shakes his head with the sort of combined bemusement and frustration that a parent feels when a toddler opens a gift and then wants to play with the box instead. You know what I mean: when you’re sitting on the floor trying to show a child the lights and sounds of their new toy, and they are more interested in the wrapping paper!
I suspect that is how God feels when we consider church as another place we go, rather than who we are. I suspect that’s how God feels when he gives us Spirit-inspired gifts, and we fail to use them because “I wouldn’t be good at it,” or “surely there are enough other people to do the job,” or “my life is too full to make time for another committee.”
Thankfully, God accepts that we will be distracted, and continues to draw our attention back to the gifts we have been given. Jesus told his disciples, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Sometimes the Holy Spirit reminds us of our gifts with that little tug inside whenever we hear about a particular need or ministry. Or maybe the Holy Spirit reminds us with the passions that rise up in us – passion to feed people, or to care for children, or to bring healing.
This morning, we were reminded again through the membership vows, in which we promise to uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. And we were reminded by the words of Ephesians, where it says that each one of us is “called” and “prepared…for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:4, 12).
The Holy Spirit continues to remind us that followers of Jesus – all of us, not just a few – are called and prepared and gifted for service to God, and to the world! The Bible teaches that when we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit plants and nurtures within us particular gifts that build up the Body of Christ and point other people toward God.
Some of those gifts are named in Ephesians – gifts of evangelism, telling others good news about God’s love; pastoring and teaching, nurturing the faith of others; prophecy, speaking truth clearly in a world of many meaningless words. There are other gifts listed elsewhere in Scripture – gifts like:
- assistance or “helps”, caring for the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes jobs;
- administration, bringing order to our work together;
- healing, leading others to wholeness and health;
- leadership, guiding and equipping others for service
- discernment, hearing God’s voice in the midst of the clamor of our lives
- mercy, caring for hurting people with compassion and gentleness
- giving, joyfully sharing the resources we have
- hospitality, making others feel welcome and invited in
And the list could continue! No scholar that I know of argues that the lists of gifts in the Bible are exhaustive; they are examples, but the Spirit may give many other gifts too!
The point is that there are particular gifts that you bring to this Body that are needed for us to “come to maturity” as the Body of Christ in this place and time (Ephesians 4:13). For our congregation to grow and flourish and multiply – as healthy, mature things do – then each of us must use our gifts in service to others. Every single one of us has a part to play.
And the best part? The best part is that when we find our place – when we use the particular gifts God has given us to serve others and build up the Body of Christ – then our service becomes a joy. It fills us up and energizes us for more, rather than draining our energy away. It may take a great deal of effort, but it isn’t hard. We serve naturally and joyfully when we use our God-given gifts.
Next Sunday, on Laity Sunday, we celebrate the gifts that God places in each one of us, and the ways that we come together to accomplish a common mission. We will share an update on our Miracle Sunday offering and the next steps for our Emerging Vision. You’ll see the way that some of our members are discovering and using their gifts in leading us toward the future. And you’ll be invited to discover and use your gifts as we grow and mature together.
The invitation today is to pray through the week about how God is calling and preparing you for works of service in our life together. Go to a home group (see times and places in your bulletin) and talk about the varieties of spiritual gifts. Affirm in someone else the gifts you see in them. And we’ll see you next week!