|An example of the gifts in our congregation: Kissing Hands Mittens knitted for Sandy Hook by one of our Handmade Ministry members.|
Here are the thoughts I'm having in preparation for my sermon for 1/20/13 on 1Corinthians 12: 1-11. Feel free to comment.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Our congregation just had our annual “Star Gifts” distribution. (If you don’t know about this fun tradition, read about it here.)
Our congregation, like many Christian congregations, is filled with gifted folks. In fact, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that the gifts within our congregation are extraordinary both in number and in quality.
Alas, like every other congregation, our congregation is filled with sinners—not terrible criminal types, mind you, but garden-variety sinners—short-tempered folks, impulsive folks, spendthrifts, misers, gossips, nit-pickers, messy people and neat-freaks, and the like. In short, our church is filled with human beings, people who are not perfect, but are mostly good most of the time.
In spite of their flaws, (or maybe even because of them, for all I know), as individuals, our folks do a lot of good in the community. Collectively, alas, our congregation can sometimes be less than the sum of its parts.
The Church of the Savior, a somewhat famous mission-oriented church in Washington DC, requires each of its members to re-commit (or to choose not to re-commit) to the congregation each year. This idea terrifies most congregations. We tend to think of a worst-case scenario—like, what if the church is going through a rough time, and a group of people quits en masse? But the truth is, that can happen anyway, regardless of whether or not the congregation has a formal, annual process of membership renewal.
And another truth is that a crisis, whether large or small, is always either just beginning, just ending, or looming in every congregation.
The Chinese word for crisis is the word for danger merged with the word for opportunity. This is a fact that has fascinated me for a long time. So much so that I once asked a native Chinese speaker to draw this for me. (I used to keep it taped over my desk but it got misplaced in a move.) Individuals, as well as groups (including churches) sometimes do emerge from crisis situations stronger, wiser and better than ever before, but usually not without some pain in the process.
I believe that being part of the Church means being in ministry, whether you are a pastor or a lay person. We are called to different ministries in our lifetime. Just as pastors are called to a church and then called away, sometimes lay people are called to join or leave a congregation as well. Making it an annual event just acknowledges that fact.
I have no authority to change the bylaws of my congregation regarding membership, and I don’t think I am going to try. But I am going to preach about this idea. And whether you are a member of my church or another church, I think it is a good idea to ask yourself, perhaps annually, or maybe just when the going gets tough, “Where is God in this situation? What is God calling me to do?” And then just listen. God will tell you what to do.
I have been in that situation in the past, in churches and in other situations. Sometimes God leads you away from a difficult situation. Other times, God calls on you to change.
A little over a year ago, I realized that God was calling me to change. In my desire to be more kind and loving I had turned into kind of a doormat. At first I tried to change the people who were wiping their feet on me. Then I realized I was the only person I could really change, and so I asked God to help me change. And God told me to stand up and defend my piece of ground, and to call out oppression and bullying and bad behavior when I see it.
And so if you are reading this and you know me personally and you have been thinking that I have changed and I am suddenly kind of a pain in the neck, no, you aren't imagining things. I don't believe that I have created a single crisis through my changed behavior, but I do believe that by pointing out this or that crisis and saying "we have to do something about it," (or in some cases, to be honest, "are you going to do something about this?) I have put some noses out of joint, at least for a while.
It hasn't always been easy. At any given time now more people are angry at me than I ever remember happening at any other time in my life. But some of them have started to get over it. And when they get over it, those relationships vastly improve. My life is slowly and steadily getting better than ever. I feel more myself, and also more the person I feel God is calling me to be. I feel like I'm becoming a better person--a better pastor, a better boss, a better mom and wife and friend and sister and cousin and even, at nearly fifty, a better daughter, which should show you that it is never too late to make changes in your life and your self.
God wants to manifest gifts through you in the most effective way possible. The vehicle that God has given us for this is churches, which are human institutions, and therefore, like the humans who make them up, sinful and imperfect. By its very nature, the human experience is the experience of God's perfect love clothed in imperfect vessels. Under other circumstances, a person that has thoughtlessly hurt your feelings on many occasions might be quite willing to die for you. And, admit it, you might be very willing to die for a lot of people who mostly kind of annoy you, should circumstances demand such a sacrifice. That's God's perfect love at work in us.
We may not be perfect, but we can be awesome. And our churches can be awesome. God is willing. Are we willing?