Monday, May 28, 2012
You Are Not a Leftover
I wonder if you’ve ever heard a close friend, when talking about his or her professional occupation, say something like this: “I feel guilty, you know, in this line of work, doing what I do. Early on, I never could have imagined that I could paid for this - would get paid for this - that someone would give me money to do what I do - to get up each morning and do what I love.”
Have you ever heard some version of these words from a friend? I wonder if you’ve ever said them yourself.
Strangely, these words give you no hint as to what your friend actually does.
Has to be a ballplayer, right? I can easily imagine those words from a big league star - millions of dollars to run around, play a game. “I get paid to do this?” A rush, no matter the team, unless of course it’s the Cubs, and then that’s another matter... That must be it; these words belong to the major league baseball player. But can these words equally belong to a teacher? (Maybe this is a bad time of year to ask.) Can they belong to a small business owner? A seamstress? An accountant? A lawyer?
It may be obvious to the one who feels like she’s cheating the system - the scandal of her occupation, that she gets paid to do this - but the scandal is hidden from the eyes of the rest of us, just as the one who loves what she does equally cannot see why we don’t resent her for taking the opportunity from us, even though it is not at all clear that hers is an opportunity we would take if we could.
Take Jorge Flores. Jorge doesn’t get paid to lead our youth at the Sea City Work Camp, but every time he talks about it, that’s the vibe he gives, that he’s stealing from the rest of us: that he treasures the gift of climbing up on a hot roof in the South Texas mid-summer for a week, stripping and laying shingles, joined by twenty or so of his closest, smelliest and sweaty, high school friends. “What a gift,” he says, with no obvious signs of sarcasm. “I so look forward to that time...” He literally pays to do it.
Similarly, we’re sending Deb Gardiner out this morning on a two-week mission to Uganda, where she will work with women, leaders in their churches, from across two dioceses; Uganda, where her husband says Deb left her heart the last time she was there.
And that’s the way it is sometimes: the things you couldn’t pay one person to do for all the money in the world, someone else will sacrifice everything to do - for the blessing she finds in that same work.
Moreover, blinded by her passion, her love, her great respect for the work she’s been given, such a person will frequently lack the ability to see the uniqueness of her passion - loving what others find unlovable - as the first, clear evidence of God’s gift at work in her.
As your priest, I resonate with those who feel privileged to be doing what they love. (Most of the time.) As your priest, I also have a unique perch from which to see the many ways the church’s members - you - are sometimes tempted to discount your own gifting. I hear things like: “Me? Surely you can find someone more gifted/experienced/deserving. Yes, I’ll help...if you can’t find anyone else.” And maybe you’re just busy. Maybe you don’t want to do it. But I wonder if, maybe, like the person in love with and in awe of the work set before him, you doubt yourself more than God does.
If that’s the case for you, listen here: you are not a leftover in the economy of God's Kingdom. You are already a light set fire in the darkness.
So today is the great Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the giver of spiritual gifts, and I am reminded of those throughout the generations of the church who have shirked from the life-giving work of the Spirit because of fears like inadequacy - who am I? - and insufficiency, knowledge of their own smallness. I think of our reading from Romans this morning, Paul writing that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not even know how to pray as we ought. We are all too well aware, most of us, that we don’t know what do to next. To show up, to step out, in love when you don’t feel particularly gifted, prepared, or equipped might be the greatest gift of all.
“I don’t speak in tongues,” says one. “I speak in tongues,” says another. Depending on the person’s tradition of origin, either one could be grounds for your feeling out of place, doubting yourself. “I’m new,” says one. “I’ve been here so long that my season has passed,” fears another. “I’ve never taught, I’ll never know what to say.” “I’ve never taught, I never know when to shut up.” “I don’t have experience in the world.” “My experience in the world leaves me no time to participate in Bible studies.” A cacophony of conflicting voices all finally collecting in the unanimous chorus: “I just don’t have that much to give.”
Notice how these fears of not being enough project on to the Kingdom a sense of scarcity, of a god who demands things of you that you don’t have to offer: insecurity and fear projecting on to God’s estimation of you; but, listen, insecurity and fear are not the truest things about you; they are not how God sees you. The truth is that you are not a leftover in the economy of God's Kingdom. The truth is that you are already gifted for the good work of loving God and embodying that love with others in the world. If you can give yourself permission to love this work in spite of your fears about yourself, you will in time discover that you are already and richly blessed, deeply gifted, beyond all measure.
Theologian Thomas Smail writes about the Holy Spirit, whose gift the Church receives at Pentecost. He writes that “...the initial evidence of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community is not the manifestation of spiritual gifts but the confession of the Father and the Son.”
Lest you doubt the Spirit’s commitment to you, in you, see that you are here, lifting, singing, raising the praises of the Father and the Son.
I pray that you are never so blinded or intimidated by your love and regard for the good work before us as Christians that you lack the ability to see the uniqueness of your passion for God as God’s gift already at work in you.
Not everybody has it. Not everybody cares enough even to worry about their insufficiency for the task. In case you were wondering, the rumors you've heard are true: we live in a post-Christian world. There are plenty of people who don’t love the Lord, who don’t share your desire to love him with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. There are at least as many people who know the Lord but prefer all manner of pain-numbing fillers to the disciplined opportunity that is worship of the living God, the opportunity that you have availed yourself of this morning. Never mind whatever else you think you don’t have, if you’re here, you have that. You love him. And that is the first great gift of the Spirit in you.
The first work of the Spirit - and so the Spirit’s central movement in us - is praise of the Father and the Son and partnership with the living God in the proclaiming and practicing of the Gospel in the world outside these walls.
The other gifts are important, but this one comes first. Without a passion for praise and proclamation and living practice of the Gospel, the other gifts are like boats without bearings. That’s why the Spirit finds the disciples in a locked room this morning, because Jesus told them to wait. “Don’t even try to do this on your own; it’s not enough to be busy; be patient,” he told them. I think here of Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians - and here I’m using Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from The Message - Paul writes:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
And love in this context is the love of the Father, sent through the Son, the very Spirit of God in you: the movement by which we share and return the love we have known in Christ Jesus, whose love is for the whole world, whose partner in love we have become by his Spirit.
What I’m trying to say is this:
Your love for God is the greatest gift God has given you - will ever give you.
A great and terrifying gift. And this is what makes the great gift so terrifying: if God has given you the greatest gift you will ever need - the gift of the Spirit’s love for the Father and the Son in you - you are right to ask yourself what it would mean, what it looks like, to see all your other gifts re-scripted, reoriented, overshadowed by, in light of, this first great gift, such that in every gift you feel the claim of the living God. Of every, single gift in your possession, asking how it might serve the proclamation of the Father and the Son and the embodiment of God’s own love with one another.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sermon preached Pentecost Sunday, 5/27/2012
at May 28, 2012
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