My friend James was on a flight from Dallas to Raleigh when the fellow sitting beside him slowly leaned over and collapsed on James’ lap. James is an officer in the US Army. He has seen combat in Afghanistan and served in several over-sees settings. And, he’s a medical doctor. He immediately sat the man up and checked his pulse. None. By this time, the flight attendant was there and they maneuvered the man into a prone position on the floor of the aircraft. James administered CPR. Soon, the fellow was breathing again. The story ends well. At the end of the flight, the James walked the man off the plane to his awaiting family. James says that the best he could determine was that the fellow had had a ‘cardiac event.’
James has a gift—he’s a physician. He understands the human body and how it works. He knows what chemical compounds will have what effect on the body. He knows how to increase the likelihood of healing. He has a gift that most of us don’t have. If I were flying from Dallas to Raleigh and had a ‘cardiac event,’ I’d want James beside me!
We all have talents, gifts, abilities, skills. Some are born with these things—they just have a “knack” for something. Some work for or earn these things—they put in the time, the hours, the practice. Some are God-given, divine—God gifts us for the work we’re called to.
The Apostle Paul writes especially about this last category—gifts given by the Spirit of God to the people of God. Every Christian, everyone who has received the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, through faith has been gifted by God. Take a look at I Cor. 12:1, 4-6. Different gifts are given to different people—and only God knows why one receives one gift and someone else receives another.
However, one thing is clear—we don’t receive gifts so we can be better people. God does not give us gifts so I can be a better me. Rather, I Cor. 12:7 points out that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Not for my good—for the common good...the good of all.
What would have happened if James responded to the situation on the plane like this: “Uh...you know, I’m an Army doctor, so, I just do my doctor-thing when I’m on base, in uniform. Sorry....” What would happen to my friend, Marcos, if when he got home the A/C goes out and his wife asks him to work on it, and he responds, “Oh, I do HVAC at work; not at home. I’m tired....”
How many skilled, gifted, talented people DO take that attitude? We have educators, accountants, organizers, singers, painters, electricians, musicians, cooks, gardeners...people with the gifts of wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, guiding, encouragement, giving, generosity, hospitality, leadership, mercy. And how often do these gifted and talented people separate their lives into compartments, drawing lines—this is my work; I don’t do this at church. This is my spiritual gift that I use at church; I don’t do this in the community. What has happened to the idea of ‘common good’? Why do we not use our gifts, talents and abilities everywhere we can?! Imagine how strong our congregation would be! Imagine how our communities would be impacted!
So, let’s remember yet again those words we’ve read several times already over the last few weeks:
Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?
Our service—our use of talents, gifts and abilities—is to be a habit in our Christian lives. Sadly, all too often people do not bring their gifts and talents to the church. And, sadly, all too often the church has been possessive, guarded...not allowing everyone to bring their service to the church. If our congregation has been this way, please forgive us. From this day forward, we are the ‘open’ congregation God meant for us to be, and we want you to bring your gifts and talents to the needs of this fellowship. (If you are interested in knowing more about ‘spiritual gifts,’ just let us know—we have an inventory/worksheet that can point you in the right direction...)
When we serve out of our strengths—our gifts and talents, we have a Church Strong...and our lives of faith are stronger as well.
Sometimes the sermons we preach do something to us, something we don’t expect. The preaching of this sermon actually changed the trajectory of my life. Because of this sermon, I really examined my life—my talents, skills, abilities—and asked if I was actually using my gifts and abilities for the ‘common good.’ I was not. I have determined to do things differently, to use my gifts and talents in ways that impact more people in more places. I’m grateful that God spoke to me in this way. God has again transformed my life!