“God is Ready to Use You”
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
This past week, I was leading a Bible Study at Henrico Jail East when one of the men asked the group, where does it say, “It is with your heart that you believe…and with your mouth that you profess your faith?” He looked at me as if I would instantly know the answer. But I didn’t know that verse. I wasn’t sure if it was scripture or something he had heard spoken so many times that it started to sound like scripture. So I shrugged my shoulders and said back, “I’m sorry I don’t know.”
But then one of the other men slowly spoke up. “I’ve heard that verse before. I memorized it as a kid. It is Romans 10. Verse 10, I think.” I flipped my Bible there, but he didn’t have to. As I put my finger on the verse, he read it out loud from memory, every word exactly what was on the page.
Sometimes when I go into the jail, I forget the gifts these men have. I forget their strong faith and willingness to pray. I forget that many of them have read and re-read and re-read the Old and New Testament more times than I have. I forget their wisdom and their ability to put the good news of the gospel into words. One of the men I met a few months ago could play a song on the keyboard without ever seeing a note of sheet music. Just by ear. A couple of the other guys made sure every night, as TV’s were blaring in their unit and other were pushing forward to use the phones, to separate out from that and gather for devotion, studying a new passage, praying with one another. They especially talked about how they could keep their faith up whenever they got out.
Many, many of these men know how to use their hands far better than I do. They know how to fix cars, play instruments, build houses, and plant gardens. They have callings from God: mentor youth and make sure they don’t follow same path they have, go back to school and, serve in their churches, become the fathers they know they can be. To be honest, there are a lot of weeks that I go in exhausted, but come out full of energy because I get to see God using and calling these men.
I know many of you have seen that as well. Whether it is in Bingo at Burnt Ordinary or talking to neighbors at the Harbor or serving meals alongside residents of Motel 6, sometimes the people we think we are coming to serve, show us gifts and ministry and care back that we never imagined. I remember Gretchen telling us a month ago the joy and the faith of the people she met in Honduras. Every moment of that week they made sure to welcome her and show her great hospitality. And she found herself deeply moved when, before they left, the locals gathered together and belted out “How Great Thou Art” in Spanish, a hymn she will never forget hearing.
God doesn’t just call those we expect. God doesn’t move just through those that fit the stereotype. The body of Christ is far bigger than that. The Holy Spirit moves without labels.
In our reading today, Paul is writing to Christians about the great ministry and lives they are about to live out. But he’s not doing it to those we expect. He’s not writing this to wealthy landowners or the top class. He is not writing to one specific ethnic group or gender. He is writing to people whatever their background is. And he is saying, “We need your gifts. You have a big part to play in the gospel.”
He specifically is speaking to those who are still slaves, those who are forgotten, and those who of different ethnicities and backgrounds. They think they need to fit a certain label, a certain grouping to be a part of the church. Do we need to be Jews or Gentiles? Slaves or free? Male or female? Do we need to have money and influence, or do we need to live as wandering hermits without any wealth of our own? What is the other label we need to have upon us before we can be Christian, before we can serve God?
In reply, Paul says, “Do not be concerned about it.” God is ready to use you and call you and welcome just as you are. You may not think you’re enough. The world may not think you’re enough. But God does. “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.”
In Corinth, people were taught that your social status – your wealth, your class your freedom, your ethnicity, that was the most important thing. And you only fit in if you had the right one. Paul is saying back, all of those labels, all of those divisions, all of those things which separate us are nothing compared to the life Christ has called us into.
We may still hold onto some of those thoughts today. Maybe we still think that some of us can’t be used by God. “What if I didn’t grow up in the church? What if I’m not a great public speaker? What if I don’t have a lot of wealth to give? What if I don’t know all the things there is to know about being a Christian?” Well, then, you would be just like all of us – called by God with lots of room to grow.
About a year ago in our new member’s class, Rick Koehl was sitting in, and the topic came up about the structure of the Presbyterian Church. I mentioned that we are member led – we elect elders to serve for three years who help guide and lead the church. And I mentioned that Rick is one of them. And then Rick spoke up himself. He talked about the moment when he was first asked to be an elder. He didn’t think at all he was ready. “What do I know about polity and church government?” He thought he had to have all the answers. But something led him to say yes. And then he said, “But once I joined I realized, I didn’t need to have all the answers. The session members welcomed me immediately. And I realized my job was to love God and serve this church next to each one of them.”
And I have to say we are very fortunate to have Rick and all of our elders who have heard that call. There is a great spirit and care for our community in every member of our session. But that message Rick had stuck with me. Because while it’s a great message for those called to be elders, it’s also a great message for all of us in the church. We don’t have to fit a perfect label. We don’t have to have all the answers on our own. Next week, we will hear Paul talking about spiritual gifts and how our differences all work together as unique and essential parts of the body of the Christ. All of us have gifts and a calling from God. It just takes us being open and trusting to use them.
Being a part of the Body of Christ means that we are fully welcomed by God. But it also means that each one of us, no matter what our status is defined by the world, has a part of play and a calling from God. Our walk of faith isn’t to live as people who only receive. It is meant for us to be active and serve and give back. It is meant to be a part of God’s hands and feet, part of the great healing work of redemption.
Sometimes we may doubt that upon ourselves. “I have too many questions. I’ve made too many mistakes. I don’t fit in with the ideal picture of a Christian.” God doesn’t care about any of that. God just wants you to join in. Beause you have something worth sharing. You have something this world needs. You are part of the good news that Christ is alive and God is still at work. Come and join in what the Lord is doing. Amen.