Giving Our Gifts in Service
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Psalter: Psalm 19
Old Testament: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Perfect Light of revelation, as you shone in the life of Jesus, whose epiphany we celebrate, so shine in us and through us, that we may become beacons of truth and compassion, enlightening all creation with deeds of justice and mercy. Amen.
We tend to rank tasks and talents in order of importance. That is why we label certain jobs as menial labor. It may indeed be true that some jobs require different skills and to complete other tasks requires that someone be highly trained. But all jobs require some kind of training to one extent or another. It is unfortunate when jobs are deemed of lesser importance because they are not tasks that bring fame, fortune, and prestige. When any task is not accomplished there is a void that is felt beyond the task itself. The community is diminished when the individual responsibility is not fulfilled.
One of the more popular images of the church in the New Testament is God’s people as Christ’s Body. Paul begins this epistle lesson by reminding the greatly divided and fractured Corinthians that together they make up the one Body of Christ. Since they were baptized in one and the same Spirit, they are one Body together in the midst of all of their diversity. As disciples of Jesus Christ they can no more remove themselves from Christ's Body than diminish the role of others in that same Body.
It is the diversity of the church that promotes unity. Whatever our gifts, whatever our talents, whatever our abilities, whatever our resources God wants to use each and every one of us that the one church of Jesus Christ might reflect the image and character of its Lord. All are to exercise their gifts for the greater good.
This is a very difficult message to convey in a consumer culture where even Christians tend to see church involvement as a transaction where I give (particularly my money) to receive something in return. Thom Rainer writes,
But many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.
Please hear me clearly. Church members should expect some level of ministry and concern. But, for a myriad of reasons beyond the scope of this one blogpost, we have turned church membership into country club membership. You pay your dues and you are entitled to certain benefits.
The biblical basis of church membership is clear in Scripture. The Apostle Paul even uses the “member” metaphor to describe what every believer should be like in a local congregation. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul describes church members not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give.
As a pastor when I ask people why they are attending such and such a church, more often than not I get a reply that involves something the person has received in being part of that congregation. In all my years only one person has ever responded in a different way. That person said to me, “I am here because this is where God has called me to be in ministry.”
We expect pastors and missionaries to have a calling. Why not the laity as well? After all, we are all members of this one Body of Christ. God has appointed all of us the serve one another in Christ that in our unity we may fulfill our mission in the world.
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