Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Epiphany 2C

Those who know me know that I don’t do math. At least not well. I used to be ashamed of my inability to do algebra. It didn’t help matters that I once had a math teacher who seemed to think that my disabling lack of talent in doing long division in my head was some sort of character flaw.

Nor am I good with my hands. I don’t even own tools. If I have a leaky facet I’d rather pay someone a couple dollars to do the job right than have me fuddle about, get water all over the floor, hurl the f-word at the pipes, making things worse, before calling the plumber anyway.

Sometimes I’m worried that I’m marooned on my brain’s right hemisphere. Left-brained thinking - the logical, rational side - leaves me stumped. Which makes me glad that to have Fern crunching the numbers and the Trustees hammering in nails. You don’t want me in the same city block as a spreadsheet or skill saw.

I used to feel guilty about my inability to handle fractions or change the oil in my car. I don’t anymore. I don’t care what people think. I’m just not good with numbers or tools. Those aren’t my gifts. I’m good at other things.

Through the process of learning what I am good at and not-so good at, I’ve discovered that it takes time to understand one’s gifts, what one is good at. To discern, develop, and deploy our gifts means that we have a greater sense of who God made us, and how God wants us to fit into God’s saving plan. And such a process takes work. Hard - yet sensitive - work.

But that doesn’t stop folks from passing judgment on others, projecting expectations in an attempt to control other peoples’ behaviour. For me, it’s hard to fathom that some people have an interest in keeping people in the dark as to what their gifts might be. Or worse, clipping someone’s wings when they just learned they could fly.

I see this all the time. And it breaks my heart.

When I was in university I knew lots of people who were business majors because that was the only program their parents would pay for. If they transferred to a frou-frou course like English Lit, the parents would turn off the tap. It didn’t matter that some of these folks weren’t interested in getting into the business world. And it seemed to matter even less that they weren’t very good at it. All their parents were concerned about were their kids making a lot of money. And while, I’m sure that these parents were simply worried about their children being financially stable, I think they were forgetting that peoples’ lives add up to more than their bank balance. They were forgetting that there are as many ways to contribute to the world than how we shuffle funds from one account to another. They were denying their child’s unique gifts.

Or sometimes peoples’ fear of failure - or even fear of success - are projected on their friends or family. Here are some fears that I’ve heard people say just in the past month:

“Don’t bother writing that book. It’s impossible to get published,,,” Even though hundreds of thousands of books appear on Amazon each year.

“Don’t you know how hard it is to start a business in this recession? It’s nearly impossible in good times!” Even though small businesses are the fastest growing segment of the economy.

“Too many people are applying for that job. You’ll never get it. There’s too much competition.” Someone has to land the position, why not you?

“Get a marketable skill and you can play the piano at night,” even though thousands of people make a decent living making music.

“Just settle down, get married, pay the bills. Life isn’t like the movies. It’s not supposed to be fun.” Why can’t it be fun? If it isn’t, then what’s the point?

Have you heard these? I hear these kinds of comments all the time. I think what lies underneath all these are fear of failure hoisted on one’s friends and family. Or anger at how one’s life has turned out, resentment over lost dreams. Conformity to the status quo. Poor self-esteem. They didn’t do well in life, they settled for a stable yet boring existence, so you should be stuck in the muck just like them.

But that’s not how God wants any of us to live. The life that God wants for you is anything but dull. When you use your gifts, you feel in your bone marrow that you’re contributing to God’s creative, saving work. When you flex your God-given muscles, you participate in the on-going life of the world, creation’s never ending advancement.

When you use your spiritual gifts, you become a gift to the world. When you DON’T use your spiritual gifts, you are denying the world your brilliance. And the world is poorer. Diminished in potential. Lesser than what God wants for it.

That’s what I think Paul was getting at in his letter to the Corinthians. He says that he doesn’t want the folks at First Church Corinth to be “uninformed” of their spiritual gifts. He was probably worried that someone was trying to mould them into something other than who God wanted them to be. Someone might have been putting inappropriate expectations on them out of some other agenda than that which God gave them.

Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to live God’s mandate in their own way. Paul seems to be asking:

What makes your heart sing? What do you dream of in your life? What makes you excited about living? When you close your eyes at night, how do you know you have fulfilled your life's purpose?

Those are hard questions to answer. At least for a lot of people. I know they’ve been tough for me.

Those questions are meant to be hard. They’re about why we’ve been put on this planet by a God who believes each one of us here is part of God’s saving plan; that God needs EVERY gift to do what God wants to do in this world. No one gift is greater than another, and no gift is devalued. God has created YOU as YOU. Don’t let ANYONE tell you that your gifts are lesser than other peoples’.

This is why I’m offering the “Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life: You and Your Spiritual Gifts” workshop starting next Saturday morning. Check the sign-up sheet in the Place of Welcome. It’s MY job to make sure that each one of YOU are growing into the fulness of who God wants YOU to be; to grow in the gifts that God has given you. For YOU to grow as God has made YOU.

And, for the record, I didn’t choose this text from 1 Corinthians the week before we’re starting the Spiritual Gifts class so I could have this 10 minute commercial. It is the assigned reading for the second Sunday in Epiphany - Year C.

Coincidence? Confirmation? You decide. But God is clearly saying something if Paul’s writings on spiritual gifts conveniently show up six days before the class begins.

I’ve shared this quote with you before, and it bears repeating. It never gets old. At least not for me. It’s a reminder of what God wants for us.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. As we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So let your light shine. Fill the world with your unique brilliance. Serve others with the gifts you have, not the ones others wished you had. Take a risk. Play your special role in God’s saving story.

And sign up for the spiritual gifts workshop.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of Jesus

We met John the Baptist in Advent. And we encounter him again today. And he’s in no better a mood now than he was then.

The folks who put the lectionary together left out the juicy bits. They took their scissors to the parts where John’s venom is most poisonous. John had a few choice words for King Herod and his wife. John didn’t like the fact that Herod married his brother’s wife. In fact, it was against Jewish law. And if Herod didn’t like John’s well-aimed preaching he should have taken it up God, not John. John was just doing his job.

It might have been that joltingly honest preaching that drew Jesus to John that morning at the Jordan River. John was refreshing. Unique. Different from other preachers who either told people what they wanted to hear, or lined their pockets with the pennies of little old ladies. John wasn’t warm and fuzzy. But you knew that he’d give you the straight goods when it came to the things of God.

That day, in the river of freedom, where thousands of years prior, God’s people crossed from slavery into the land that God promised them, was where Jesus joined himself to that saving story, where his mandate as God’s Son was given to him. Where the affirmation of the Almighty wrapped around him like sun-soaked blanket.

“You are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased...” Who wouldn’t want to hear that from God? Or from any parent for that matter.

But lying underneath this affirmation of divine was a summons. A calling that might have made Jesus’ blood turn to ice. If Jesus was God’s Son - Israel’s Messiah - the one to save people from their sins and create a world of justice and mercy, then that didn’t mean that he could simply bask in the warm embrace of heavenly approval. He couldn’t walk around town all Messiahy cashing in on his sacred status.

Being God’s Son meant he had to go and do things that the messiah was supposed to do. It wasn’t just a state of divine being. It was a job description. A letter of conscription from the only one in the world who won’t take “no” for an answer.

Although, I’m sure saying “no” crossed his mind. And so, I wonder if before he dipped his toe in the water for his heavenly bath, he was tempted to take another walk around the block. Or hop on the next bus out of town.

Maybe Jesus’ temptation didn’t begin or end, like we assume, in the desert to where he ran after being dunked by John. I wonder if his temptation anxiety started well before he found himself in the Jordan River. I wonder if he was tempted to run away from his calling. From his task as God’s Son. I wonder if he was tempted to escape and hide from who he was.

If he was tempted to stay in Nazareth and take over the carpentry business from Joseph, maybe settle down, get married, and crank out a few kids, I don’t think anyone would have blamed him. After all, it wasn’t a bad life. The work was steady. He was close to family. And there were no crosses following him wherever he went.

I’m sure he had all that in the back of his mind when he followed John into the water. I’m sure he knew that, once he was dipped in the muddy river, his life was over. Everything he was and did was gone. He knew the weight that was being placed on his shoulders. It was a new beginning for Jesus. A call into God’s vision of the world that he had to follow. A path that led to the Kingdom of God - the kingdom that dwelled within his very being.

“You are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased...” The next, unspoken, sentence was “Now get to work.”

Work on healing the sick and raising the dead. Work on preaching good news to the poor and setting the captives free. Work on giving sight to blind and comforting the broken hearted.

Work on showing God’s Kingdom love to a world in pain. Work on forgiving people’s sins. Work on setting the world straight through mercy and justice.

That’s quite the job description, isn’t it?

I’m glad that’s his job and not mine. I wouldn’t want to be saddled with such a burden.

But then again, who were all those people who being baptized with Jesus? What did God want for them?

As it turns out, God was calling them into the same life that God was calling Jesus into. Baptism isn’t just a ritual that we perform as an entry way into the church family. And baptism isn’t just a one-off salvation ticket.

Baptism is about being recruited, conscripted, into a movement. In baptism, we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we can live resurrection lives in a world so often more interested in death.

Baptism is about God’s light shining through us in a dark world. It’s about binding the world’s wounds. It’s about being part of a movement that is bigger than ourselves, God’s movement of renewing everything about the world, where God wipes every tear from our eyes, where crying and pain are extinguished, where the hungry are satisfied, and the dead rise breathing new life.

And today, DRAYDIN is being recruited into God’s new movement. DRAYDIN, in this water, God is saying to you, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased. Now your life belongs to me. You are now part of my saving plan for the world. All your skills will be in service to others. Your heart will be as big as mine. You will walk the earth as a healing presence. You will never be abandoned.”

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;” God is telling you through the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,...everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

That’s what God is saying to Draydin. And that’s what God is saying to everyone here who has dripped the waters of freedom,

“You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased...Now get to work. You have a job to do.”

May this be so among us. Amen.