Benediction Online

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Bringing our Gifts

A few months ago the choir spent an evening together at John Cribb’s home in San Luis Obispo singing  through the program for Christmas. As I was driving home along Los Osos Valley Road, I was almost to the church when there was a flash in the sky. A shooting star, but so much more than a shooting star - the biggest meteorite I’ve ever seen. It was astonishing to see this sudden bright light streak through the sky. I went on thinking about it for days afterwards. I don’t know what the wise men from the East saw that made them set out for Palestine, but I know it was an even more powerful event– a star in the sky that was new and called to them.

Sometimes we too have powerful callings -times when God seems to split our skulls open with new perceptions and new understandings - times when suddenly everything becomes clear. But for most of us those times are few and far between, however much we long for them – we long for God to reveal Godself and God’s plan for our lives, and nothing seems to happen. I’m sure for the magi it was a once in a lifetime experience. They saw a star that was special. So special that it sent them outside their comfort zones, away from their own country, away from everything they held dear, with only a general sense of their goal – to find the child who had been born King of the Jews and to pay him homage.

And so they took gifts with them, gold, frankincense and myrrh. I imagine that they worried along the way about whether their gifts would be acceptable to a king who was so important that his birth was writ large in the heavens. Perhaps they may had previously taken gifts to other kings and recalled how those were received. Perhaps they even argued as to whose offering would be most acceptable.
It seems to be a natural part of being human, to compare ourselves to others. Am I as well-liked, as attractive, as intelligent, as organized as the next person? Will my gifts be acceptable? Will I be accepted and loved?

It can be difficult for us to remember that we are all equally loved and equally valuable even though that is completely true. We are all as valuable as each other. In fact, each one of us has our own calling, our own areas of ministry, and each one of us has exactly the gifts that are needed for those ministries. We are called to minister at different times in as many as six different spheres of life:
·        in our homes, caring for ourselves, our environment and those live with and ministering with our use of money;
·        in our families – ministering to and for those who are related to us;
·        at work - ministering to co-workers as well as customers and clients;
·        in volunteer activities –ministering both through the tasks we undertake and also in the relationships we build;
·        among our friends,
·        and finally, last but not least, in the church – playing our part in building up the Body of Christ.

These are all important ministries but they may not be glamorous or exciting. We imagine the magi coming on their camels with beautiful robes and extravagant gifts, though the observant reader will notice that the camels are strangely absent from the Bible narrative, and the reality is that it probably wasn’t an easy journey. It probably wasn’t exciting or glamorous or even very pleasant. And it’s not just the camels who are absent from the Biblical narrative – we hear nothing about the support staff. There must have been an entourage of people travelling with the magi to carry food and supplies, put up the tents, dig the latrines, feed the animals and take care of everything that a long journey requires.

Their work was as important as the three magi’s call and their journey and gifts. Without the support staff they probably wouldn’t have gotten very far.  It takes a lot of people ministering in support positions for a few people to take center stage and look good. The majority of ministry isn’t upfront and obvious. The majority of ministry is behind the scenes and often over-looked.  Yet it is still vital. In fact, the work behind the scenes is not only vital but it is more honored in the reign of God where the last shall be first and the first last. Here in the church you see Donna, Mary Elizabeth and I upfront, together with the Eucharistic Ministers and the lectors but it takes a whole team of people working together to make it seem relatively effortless . Like the swan who glides smoothly along the surface but whose legs and paddling fast beneath her, so all of us are called to minister often in unseen ways which make the community’s life and worship possible.

And we are given the gifts we need for ministry. We already have them. Sometimes they need to be developed or discovered, but we are always given what we need for the ministry that God is calling us to do. Whenever a baby plays with his toes, or an archaeologist makes a huge new discovery – both are just discovering what is already there.  It’s like that with our gifts. They are already there, because God has already given us everything we need, we just have to discover them.

As we start to think about every area of our life as a form of ministry, and as we offer our gifts to God for God’s work, so we will begin to discover them in a new way. The question then becomes one of discerning exactly what is yours to give in each area of your life’s ministry. The answer will change over time and so it’s good at the beginning of the New Year to review our ministries. How are you ministering at home, at work, in your family, in your volunteer activities, among your friends and in the church? Perhaps its time to make some changes or to identify gifts that are waiting to be discovered or developed. What is God calling you to?

You probably won’t get the answer to that question by discovering a new star or seeing a message in the clouds. It may come as dramatically as a meteorite in the night sky, but chances are that it will come quietly as you look at the gifts you have already discovered, and the needs of the people and situations around you. You may even have some false starts along the way. After all the wise men made the mistake of heading for the Palace – thinking that surely the King of the Jews would have been born there. But make no mistake, your gifts are as important as theirs in God’s service and your ministries are vital in building the reign of God.


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